Tackling Social Media Accessibility with Alexa Heinrich

Tackling Social Media Accessibility with Alexa Heinrich
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If you’re not sight-or-hearing impaired, you might not think very much about how accessible your web and social media content is. It doesn’t make you a bad person…just someone who needed to have some attention called to the issue. 

Alexa Heinrich is one of the people who are 100% out there calling attention to the issue.

She’s the Social Media Manager at St. Petersburg College, and is an advocate for digital accessibility on social media. Today she joins us on the Agency Ahead podcast to talk about making your social media content more accessible. This is a don’t miss that can help you get more customers for your clients while simultaneously helping them to avoid lawsuits. 

The highlights:

  • [1:38] Defining accessibility for social media.
  • [2:29] The state of accessibility.
  • [6:05] YouTube auto-captions.
  • [7:03] Baking accessibility into your process.
  • [10:16] The business case for improving accessibility.
  • [12:34] The accessibility of different platforms.
  • [19:42] How Twitter is doing accessibility right.
  • [23:04] Biggest accessibility pet peeves.
  • [25:05] Alexa’s cause.

The insights:

The State of Accessibility

When Alexa is speaking of accessibility she is focusing on hearing-impaired and vision-impaired users who need captions, alt text, and screen readers to access content. She focuses on social media because it’s often overlooked.

“Most brands and organizations are predominantly focused on making their websites accessible as that’s the more commonplace digital asset we focus on.”

Yet Twitter is working hard to catch up, beefing up different features. 

Even though social media is catching up, accessibility is still off-radar for a lot of marketers.

“It’s still so new that the people who manage the digital marketing for brands don’t really know about it, which is kind of where I come in. There are other individuals out there, but I focus primarily on social media content from a marketing standpoint.”

As it happens, there are easy ways to do that.

“I love to remind people every week that you should be putting your hashtags in camel case. It means if you have a hashtag like #SocialMediaRocks, you’d be capitalizing the first letter in each word. This will tell an assistive device, like a screen reader, that these are 3 separate words, not just one long word.”

She also stresses that alt text is very important.

“A short physical description of an image that a screen reader picks up on, and either says aloud to a user or transcribes it into Braille. So it’s super important and is kind of the invisible accessibility feature. You need to caption your videos so that deaf and hard-of-hearing users can actually access the content. I would say that’s equally important.”

Sometimes platforms offer tools, but you can’t rely on them 100%. One example is YouTube’s auto-captions.

“Go back in and edit the captions. They’re pretty decent, but they’re not going to have punctuation. They’re not going to know about proper nouns and names. You can let YouTube do the heavy lift, but go in and make the captions accurate before you make your video public.”

Baking Accessibility into Your Process

Alexa says she does not have to set aside any time to make her content more accessible, because she’s baked it right into her process.

“For example, if I get sent an event flier, I’m very polite about it. I tell people: thank you for the flyer. I’ll use it to pull information from, but I’m not just going to post the flyer because it’s not accessible.”

She says most people she works with are understanding.

“It’s about setting those boundaries and understandings with people who do supply you content.”

She’s taught the video team at her college to send videos captioned, right out the gate.

They’re either going to bake them into the video with open captions, or they’re going to send me the .SRT files, or it’ll already be on YouTube with the .SRT file. Having that as part of my process really cuts down on the amount of time that I need to add in order to make my content accessible.”

Alexa says there are basically three components to making content 100% accessible. They are:

  • A visual component for people who rely on sight.
  • An audio component for people who rely on their hearing.
  • Readable text that a screen reader can pick up on for people who need an assistive device to access that information. 

Alexa stresses that you can’t just think about someone who is blind or someone who is deaf.

“”There are people who are deaf-blind. What do they do? They need an assistive device and they need readable text for that device.”

The Business Case for Improving Accessibility

Alexa says she has a 3-pronged argument when she’s trying to make the case for accessibility.

“The first argument I’m going to reach for is you should care about other people and the experience they have when they engage with your brand online. If that doesn’t work, I go for the marketing approach.”

  • 2.2 billion people have a vision impairment or experience blindness.
  • 466 million people have a serious hearing impairment.

“That’s a lot of people you could possibly be not connecting with because you’re not creating accessible content. There’s also the very well-known statistic that 85% of Internet users watch videos with the sound off. I do that. That’s me. That’s a lot of people. When you create accessible content, you’re probably reaching those people.”

She says if that argument doesn’t work, she goes for the scary one.

You could get sued. It’s not unrealistic to imagine that eventually brands and organizations are going to be facing lawsuits for not creating accessible social media content. Dominos was just sued in 2019 because their website wasn’t accessible for blind customers.

It’s not unrealistic to think social media is soon going to enter the legal realm of: we need to be digitally compliant with accessibility standards.

The Accessibility of Different Platforms

Alexa says that Twitter is doing the most for accessibility.

“Facebook is okay. They’re one of the first platforms that really introduced auto-captions. Their auto-captions are designed to learn, so it’s AI-backed auto-captions. They’re okayish. They have live auto-captioning for their live videos which is more impressive.”

She says Facebook is confusing her though because they recently did a big update that took away features that made things more accessible.

“I can’t do alt text to event images anymore.”

On the other hand, Instagram, owned by Facebook, is adding more captioning features.

“They have a captioning sticker coming out for stories. IGTV already has auto-captions which are okay. I think Facebook is so large at this point that it’s hard for them to really focus in on this specific issue, which is a problem.”

She says LinkedIn is nice because you can upload an SRT file if you upload a video directly to their platform.

“You can do alt text super easy with them, and it appears as a button as soon as you upload an image.

My only real complaint with LinkedIn and their alt text is they have a 120 character limit with spaces. That’s exceptionally short. I’m not really sure why they decided to do it that short, but if it could be longer that would be great. That’s a complaint I hear most often from people.”

Pinterest, meanwhile, did offer some alt text features. You just click right on the “alt text” button and add it.

pinning a unicorn picture on pinterest

Time to pin a delightful unicorn made entirely out of rainbows and sass, and to write some alt text to that effect.

“I do know they just had their Pinterest Presents business webinar. I had people tagging me in their tweets because there were not only captions. They had someone doing ASL interpretation for their presentation.

They apparently did their whole section on accessibility and Pinterest. I’m pleasantly surprised that Pinterest was like: yeah, we need to talk about this.”

The platforms that aren’t doing so well? TikTok and Snapchat. Some content creators on these platforms have found workarounds, but there are plenty of complaints.

How Twitter is Doing Accessibility Right

Twitter learned how to get better about accessibility by facing a lot of backlash.

“They launched a beta test of audio tweets in the United States. There was no transcription option. There were no captioning options. Is this feature just not for deaf and hard of hearing users? Do we just ignore this? They came out the next day, apologized, said: we’re sorry, we completely messed up, we’re going to do better.”

Alexa didn’t really believe they would, but…they did.

They’ve been very transparent about their efforts to be more accessible. They’ve built full teams around accessibility. They’ve hired new people. They’ve done town halls, virtual town halls with people to weigh in.”

Alexa says Twitter has gotten better, exponentially, in the past two months.

Biggest Accessibility Pet Peeves

Alexa hates fancy Unicode characters from external websites.
You see it a lot on Instagram, it’s made its way onto Twitter, it’s all over Clubhouse. Basically, people go over to external websites, type in a sentence or a couple of words, and the website will generate different Unicode characters and different fonts, so you can make your fonts in script and bold and italics.”
Not all assistive devices can translate those, so they don’t identify those as characters.
They’re also just plain ugly. Why would you subject your brand to that?”
She has an alternative to using those fonts and scripts.
“Be a better writer. Then you won’t have to rely on fancy fonts to jazz up your content.”

What's your right now cause?

“I would definitely say supporting the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. There is a huge GoFundMe campaign right now. I have a lot of friends in the Asian American Pacific Island Community. Seeing the violence in that community is devastating to me.”

Stop Asian Hate: Together, We Can Make a Difference We must act now. A horrific and heartbreaking surge in violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) is happening across the US. Together, it is our responsibility to condemn hate and create lasting social change. GoFundMe stands with the AAPI community and remains committed to rectifying the racial inequalities in our society. Support the AAPI Community Fund to uplift and protect Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

You can join Alexa in condemning Asian American hate and creating lasting social change by donating here.

Want to learn more about Alexa?

Learn more about Alexa, or accessibility, by visiting:

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Garrett Sussman

Garrett Sussman

Garrett is the head of content at Traject , a suite of digital marketing tools, and host of the Agency Ahead podcast. When he's not crafting content, he's scouting the perfect ice coffee, devouring the newest graphic novels, and concocting a new recipe in the kitchen.

Tackling Social Media Accessibility with Alexa Heinrich

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