No one likes to be excluded or have their needs and feelings not considered. At least, I know I sure don’t.
Growing up, my parents always told me to treat others the way I want to be treated. For me, this means (to quote my favorite artist, Harry Styles) “treat[ing] people with kindness”, doing my best to be inclusive, and always considering others’ feelings. This has stuck with me throughout my schooling, and now into my professional life. As I discovered, this isn’t just a value to have - it’s a life-long process of learning.
A love of learning
Last year, I started working at the Canadian Digital Service (CDS) as a student on the Outreach team. At that time, I was in my fourth year of Carleton University’s Communication and Media Studies program. Throughout my schooling, I completed electives in pretty much every subject (except math – that’s a no from me). I learned about topics from gender, to race, to Indigenous studies, to social work, and to dinosaurs (yes, there’s really a course on dinosaurs!). As you may have guessed, I love learning.
Working in communications at CDS has been fun for me because I get to learn new things every day. While I’m not a tech person, my role is to learn about tech things and communicate it to the public in a simplified way. Using plain language has been key to making the content accessible, but as I found out, there was a lot more to learn.
Knowing what I don’t know
As a federal public servant, my job is literally what the role says: serve the public. This includes everyone in Canada. That’s a lot of people – each with diverse needs. To serve them, my work (i.e. the information I communicate to people through social media) needs to be accessible and inclusive. I realized there was a gap between my experiences and some of the people I would be sharing information with. For example, I’m not blind nor do I have low vision, but many of the people who would need to access CDS’ social media content are.
Since we don’t all have the same experiences in life, our feelings and needs for inclusion are different from each others’. That’s why it was important that I educated myself on experiences outside of my own. Learning to be inclusive is not a one-time thing; it’s a life-long commitment of trying to be better.
Embracing my love of learning
The more I learn, the better I can understand people’s needs, and how my work can be improved to meet those needs. I’m not an expert on accessibility by any means – I’m just an everyday person that’s using tools available to us all, like learning from my teammates and searching the internet for things like blogs, websites, podcasts, and social media content.
After doing this for a year, I gained a deeper understanding of how I can better ensure people don’t feel left out when they’re trying to access the government information we share on our channels. I even started helping the rest of the team do better!
Sharing the love
I decided to share those things more publically, in case people outside of CDS were interested too. So last November, I wrote a Twitter thread on what I’ve learned with tips about being more accessible on Twitter. Turns out other people were interested in this, as many responded with tips they’ve learned! It was amazing to see so many people taking steps to being more accessible and inclusive, and openly sharing their learnings with the world.
My tips for creating more accessible Twitter content
Add alt text to visuals and include captions or transcripts for videos. It’s super easy to do!
First, add the visual to your post (image or GIF), then click “Add description.”
This is where you describe what the visual is showing for people using screen readers or other assistive devices.
Once you’ve added the description, click “Save” - and you’re done!
You can also check out the Government of Canada’s tips for writing alternative text.
Emojis break up the text on screen readers, making it hard for people to understand what the message is. To avoid this, keep emojis at the end of the message.
Since alt text for emojis always aren’t always bilingual, people may not understand the message from their screen reader if their first language isn’t English. So, use words instead of emojis to describe things. For example: Use the word “love” instead of the heart emoji.
Remember: The alt text description for an emoji may not communicate what you think. You can check the descriptions of emojis in the Emojipedia. For example: the fist emoji reads as “face punch”, not a fist bump - very different messages.
Hashtags and capitalization
When using hashtags with multiple words, capitalize the first letter of each one. This way, the screen reader will read them separately, not as one long word. For example: #SocialMedia instead of #socialmedia
Avoid writing words in all capital letters. It makes the content hard to read - so people may not understand your message. For example: “Thanks for sharing!” instead of “THANKS FOR SHARING!”
GIFs can make it hard for people to focus on the message. Try using an image instead of a GIF when communicating a message on Twitter.
If you find GIFs distracting, you can turn off the auto-play in the account settings under “Accessibility”.
- Include a descriptive prompt for any linked content so people know what they’re clicking. For example, use: “Read the help page for more info: [URL]” instead of including a link with no context.
Always more to learn
Even though I’m not a student anymore, I’ll never stop learning. My research so far has taught me how to be more accessible on Twitter, but I know there are more things to learn so I can better understand other people’s experiences. This openness to learning extends to all of my work, and even my personal life - helping me to be more inclusive and kinder in my day-to-day too.
Have any social media accessibility tips to share? Reach out to us on Twitter. I’d love to hear (and learn!) from you!
Stay safe and treat others with kindness.