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In our ongoing work to assess and improve our practices, M+R has been digging into a more comprehensive approach to developing ethical creative.
For organizations with big missions to make the world a better place, it’s essential that we consider the context in which we are producing creative. Our society is marked by inequities of race, gender, ability, and more—and the content we create can either challenge these inequities or reinforce them. As well-intentioned as content may be, when done wrong it can disempower, objectify, or misrepresent those we intend to serve. The good news? It is possible to do better and make sure the content you create is as ethical as it is effective.
Many organizations have come to understand this responsibility more and more in the wake of last summer’s uprisings for racial justice. Maybe you’ve pledged to work with more LGBTQ creators or feature more BIPOC faces in your stock imagery. Maybe you’ve made a language guide to be mindful of how your chosen words may fall short of respectful representation. These are all excellent and necessary steps. But inclusion on social media isn’t just about what you post—it’s about how you post as well.
According to a recent study, 15% of people around the world live with a disability. From hearing impairment to colorblindness, these disabilities affect the way people receive and process information. Your approach to developing ethical creative must include a commitment to ensure everything you create can be appreciated by all, regardless of ability.
Let’s talk about a few steps that you can take NOW to make your social media content more accessible for everyone.
As video content on social media continues to reign supreme and audio-only content, spurred on by Twitter Spaces and Clubhouse, grows, it’s important for nonprofits to prioritize accessibility when publishing content online. Captions are an important tool to make sure your content can be widely consumed.
Video-first platforms like YouTube have provided auto-captioning for quite some time now, while Tiktok launched it in April of this year and Instagram is testing functionality in Stories. Auto-captioning is a great tool to take advantage of when in a rush, but it isn’t the end all be all.
Auto captioning is easier, but a lot of times it’s not as accurate as the captioning done by your social or creative team would be. And to be honest, it doesn’t always look that great. Whenever video content is being created, having open captions designed to fit your nonprofit’s branding and to be as accurate as possible will better serve both your audience and your own goals.
And heads up! We’ve noticed a common practice on TikTok: referring to open captions as “CC” or “closed captions,” which is incorrect. Closed captions are captions that are not on by default, but rather have to be toggled on. These are the types of captions on movies in theatres that are screened on ViewFinders or the kind you have to opt into when watching TV or a movie on Netflix. Open captions are on by default and include every spoken word as well as any auditory cues like music, background noise that is integral to the message, etc. These captions shouldn’t be used to just provide a summary of what is being said; they should detail everything.
Audio descriptions and text readers have become more common now that TikTok has added that capability, but it’s important to remember to always pair audio descriptions with captions on video content.
Over the years, platforms like Instagram and Twitter have added increased functionality when it comes to adding alt-text to images uploaded into their feeds. Taking the time to type up alt-text for all of the image-based graphics posted on your nonprofit’s feeds is an easy addition to your content creation process that makes it that much more accessible for followers.
Avoiding Inaccessible Typefaces
There are a few things to consider when selecting a typeface for accessibility.
Non-serif typefaces are much easier for people to read on graphics. And when shown at low-resolution, they are easier to make out than serif typefaces, which can sometimes blend together.
But be aware that not all non-serif typefaces will work equally well for your audiences. Look for typefaces that make clear visual distinctions between similar characters (say, f and t ). Some people with dyslexia rotate characters as they read them, so an f can easily look like a t—the right typeface will help avoid those issues. When in doubt, Arial, Helvetica, and Calibri are among the most universally accessible typefaces to use.
Additionally, you may see special characters used to create artistic typefaces for profiles on Twitter and Instagram. While these may look interesting and make a person’s profile name stand out, they are not accessible. Many visually impaired people use a text reading software when scrolling through text-based social media feeds like Twitter. These tools are unable to decipher what text these special characters are trying to convey. To be more accessible, be sure to skip these fancy additions and instead stick to the default typeface on the platform you are posting on.
Speaking of text reading software, it’s also important to keep in mind the way that these programs detect and read out hashtags. If a hashtag is made out of multiple words and only the first letter is capitalized, then the software will read it out as one long word. Instead, be sure to #AlwaysCapitalizeTheFirstLetter of each word in the hashtag so that the software can detect where to start and stop.
Big, bold text graphics are a common sight on social media feeds—but some color combinations are especially hard for some viewers to distinguish. It’s important to consider the different ways that people perceive color, especially when it comes to layering colored text on a colored background. Use a tool like the one at www.WhoCanUse.com to better understand how your color palette looks to someone with color blindness.
For text-heavy platforms like Twitter and Facebook, link sharing may be a major part of your social media presence. When adding links to your post, be sure that the accompanying text is related to this content, and consider adding an indication of what kind of content you are linking to—whether it’s a [PHOTO], [VIDEO], [NEW YORK TIMES ARTICLE], or something else.
Also, when linking out, do your best to source content that is accessible on its own site. This means that if you are linking out to a YouTube video, make sure that it includes accurate captions before posting. Or if you’re linking out to an article, double-check that the website it’s hosted on has accessibility features included.
There are over 60 million adults in the US with a disability. They are your constituents, your supporters, your staff, and the people you serve. Our tips here are just a few small steps you and your social media team can take to make sure that your accounts are accessible, welcoming, and inclusive. There’s always room for improvement, and we’d encourage you to do your own research, engage with local disability advocates, and create an open discussion with your online communities to find out what’s working and what could be done better.
Rachel is a Social Media Account Executive in M+R’s Oakland office. When she’s not helping build content strategy for world-changing clients, you can find her in the garden—scrolling memes and growing veggies. Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Abby is a Social Media Account Executive here at M+R. When she’s not writing up copy for social media, she’s chilling with her cat Peggy or trying out a new baking recipe. You can reach her at email@example.com.