Icons of multiple social media platforms including Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, etc.
Author: Nicholas J. Hoekstra; Michelle S. Patterson;
info@ciddl.org

How can I make my social media more accessible? Social media provides teachers boundless opportunities to build communities while offering a flexible resource they can access anytime or anywhere, when their busy schedules allow. The variety of platforms have also helped to reframe the concept of professional learning, turning teachers from content consumers into content producers (Prestridge, 2019). This trend does not reflect only the younger generation of teachers: a 2018 survey conducted by the educational marketing firm MDR found that teachers of all ages turn to social media to find ideas, connect with other educators, and participate in online communities. 

The flexibility that social media offers also can support Universal Design for Learning (UDL) by providing both teachers and students options for how they access information, engage with content, or express themselves. The UDL framework is a scientifically validated educational framework that proactively supports the design of an inclusive classroom. The UDL Guidelines are based on three principles: provide multiple means of representation, multiple means of engagement, and multiple means of action and expression. These core principles reflect the natural variability found in a diverse classroom of learners, or even among a diverse learning community of teachers. 

A 2014 featured story on the PBS News Hour discussed how social media has offered quiet and reserved students a space to communicate. This is in line with the UDL principle of multiple means of action and expression, as it demonstrates how offering students options in how they express their learning is important for students who might be reluctant to raise their hand in class. At the same time, teachers can benefit from the same flexibility offered by social media to contribute to conversations during breaks in their schedule, after school hours, or whenever their schedule might allow. 

The ability for students to find content that interests them while connecting with other classes from around the world promotes the UDL principle of multiple means of engagement. Teachers, too, can benefit from this wide variety of resources found on platforms such as Twitter or Pinterest to generate ideas, inspire them to share, or find new colleagues to collaborate with. 

No matter if you are pinning, posting, or tweeting, approaching social media through a UDL lens can help ensure your content is accessible to everyone. This article will walk you through some general tips that you should keep in mind across all social media platforms, before delving into more detail on the popular platforms of Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok.

General Recommendations Across Social Media

As mentioned earlier, some of the strengths of social media lie in how people can interact with it at their own time and in their own way, supporting multiple means of action and expression, as well as the wealth of diverse topics that can be found, ensuring that there is always something to engage you or your learners. However, there are additional considerations to keep in mind when creating content on social media. For example, it is always useful to produce content in a variety of formats to support multiple means of representation. This benefits not only individuals who may struggle to perceive visual-only or audio-only content, but also individuals who may be cooking (and unable to watch) or on a noisy bus (and unable to hear). A common philosophy of UDL is that “what is necessary for some is often good for all.”  This can be highlighted with the example of using subtitles and captions in social media posts. Besides the necessity of subtitles for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, many people choose to watch videos with the sound off. A 2019 survey conducted by Verizon found that 50% of U.S. consumers report relying on captions to watch videos while waiting in line, when without their headphones, or while multitasking. This embodies what researchers have termed the “curb-cut effect,” in which a design feature initially intended to assist one particular group can benefit all of society. The following tips apply across all social media platforms and can help ensure your content respects the three UDL principles:

  • Minimize the amount of text on images;
  • Include image and video descriptions; 
  • Ensure good color contrast between text and images (darker fonts on a lighter background or light font on a dark background);
  • Avoid the use of green and red/pink in your content, as these colors can be difficult for people with color blindness; 
  • Use Camel Case when writing hashtags, meaning that the first letter of each subsequent word after the first is capitalized. #thisIsAnExample; #SoIsThis. This ensures that screen readers will pronounce each separate word. For example, #myHashtag is read aloud as “my hashtag” whereas #myhashtag is blended into “myhashtag;”
  • Remember to add alternative text, “alt text” to pictures. For advice on how to write great alt text, check out this article by the Society for Editing;
  • If you use GIFS, make sure that the same content from the GIF is communicated in another way. Platforms are only beginning to provide accessibility support for GIFs, so the information conveyed may be lost to users with visual impairments;
  • Use subtitles in videos. As with so many accessibility features, subtitles benefit not only people who are deaf or hard of hearing, but they may also help with greater comprehension for anyone watching your videos;
  • Use link shorteners. Link shorteners created with real words, such as bit.ly/AccessSocialMedia, are easier for people who use screen readers than longer links of random characters; 
  • Use emojis with care. A screen reader will read each emoji. Consider if a user needs to hear “smiley face” repeated 10 times.

Recommendations for Specific Social Media Platforms

Pinterest

Pinterest is one of the most popular platforms for teachers to find and share ideas. It also provides great support for organizing and storing information, allowing teachers and students to create different boards across topics or ideas, a feature that can help scaffold executive functioning for students and teachers alike. Some of the following accessibility tips unique to Pinterest will help ensure multiple means of representation: 

An image of Pinterest interface
  • Font, size, and placement of text: When text is used, avoid using decorative or stylized fonts. Consider larger, bold text placed somewhere in the top or middle portion of a pin so that it is easier to locate;
  • Alt text: When images are pulled from the web, any accompanying alt text will be pulled with them. Alternatively, you can easily add your own alt text when creating a pin. Pinterest allows for a maximum of 500 characters for alt text. A description for how to add alt text on both pictures and videos is provided at Help.pinterest.com;
  • Image size and quality: Ensure that your images are clear and in focus. The larger the picture, the better. Pinterest recommends using images that are a minimum of 600 pixels wide;
  • Linking to other content: If you are providing a link to another website, ensure that the resource you are linking to is also accessible. Perhaps consider providing links to resources in a variety of different formats to help support diverse visitors to your board;

Instagram

Always keeping in mind the UDL principle, multiple means of representation, there are a number of ways you can make Instagram posts more accessible, whether you are sharing videos or photos. As discussed with Pinterest, alternative text is an important first step for making your Instagram posts more accessible. To add alt text, use the following steps:

An image of Instagram app
  • Select an image from your photo library or, alternatively, take a photo from within the Instagram app and click Next
  • Crop the image and choose the aspect ratio you prefer, then click Next.
  • Select any filters, then continue by selecting Next.
  • Now, click Advanced Settings. This button appears on the same screen where you would write your caption. 

Instagram allows you to add automatically generated subtitles to your stories by following these steps.

  • Open the story creation page by tapping on Your Story from Instagram’s home screen. 
  • Record a video by tapping and holding the shutter button, which is tagged with the text “take photo or video” for screen reader users. 
  • Once you have recorded your video, tap on the Sticker button followed by the Caption button. 
  • The automatically generated captions will be displayed. You can also choose the text style, move the text around on screen, and make edits to your captions by clicking directly on the text. 

To add auto-generated captions to IGTV videos, you should ensure that the option is enabled in both the general Instagram settings as well as the IGTV app.

First, to enable within your general Instagram settings: 

  • Open your profile page and click on the More icon, designated as three black horizontal lines in the upper right section of the screen.  
  • Click on Settings, followed by the Account button. 
  • Select Captions and ensure that Auto-Generated Captions is enabled. 

Then, enable the setting when uploading or recording a video in the IGTV app:

  • Open the IGTV video app and select Upload Video (+)
  • Record a video from within the app or, alternatively, select a video from your existing library, then click Next
  • From the same screen where you can write a caption, click Advanced Settings
  • Ensure that Autogenerated Captions is marked as on. 
  • Tap the Share button. 

By default, Instagram offers a textbox to add a static caption to all your posts, whether videos or images. This caption provides a great place to add further details or context that are lacking from subtitles or alt text. For example, you can describe sounds or music that would not be represented within subtitles for deaf viewers. Similarly, you can describe any visual information in a video that may not be clear to a blind listener. In either case, providing additional context to your video will help support all visitors to engage with your post. 

Currently, it is not possible to edit subtitles for anything other than stories on Instagram. For this reason, many users choose to transcribe videos themselves or use a third-party software to add and edit subtitles. Unlike other platforms that allow you to upload a separate file with subtitles, Instagram videos must have the subtitles burned directly into the video. For step by step guides on how to add subtitles to your Instagram videos using video editing software, consider this article on how to add subtitles with Camtasia, or this post on how to add subtitles with Capwing

Twitter

Twitter is used by many educators as a network for professional learning by following hashtags designed to allow the user to locate posts related to a topic of interest, such as #EdTech, and participate in online conversations, such as #ATchat and #UDLchat. Twitter users may wish to follow the Twitter Accessibility handle @TwitterA11y for up-to-date information on new accessibility features. For users of iOS devices, when audio is muted, captions will be enabled automatically for videos on your timeline when available.

To add image descriptions:

  • Click on the Tweet compose button, or press the “n” key to use the keyboard shortcut.
  • Attach your photo(s).
  • To insert descriptive text, click Add description.
  • Type your description of the image, up to 1000 characters, and click the Done button. To edit the description, re-open the Add description dialog prior to posting the Tweet

To add subtitles: 

  • Click on a video within your Media Studio library.
  • Select the Subtitles tab in the pop-up window.
  • Select the text language of your subtitle file from the dropdown menu.
  • Click Upload and select the desired .SRT file.
  • The file is now associated with your video. To update the file, click the Pencil icon.

Note: Social media users may find it useful to create their videos in Youtube and caption them within Youtube Studio.  

  • Sign in to YouTube Studio.
  • From the left menu, select Subtitles.
  • Click the video that you’d like to edit.
  • Click Add Language and select your language.

Under subtitles, click Add.

TikTok

Tiktok is a social media platform for creating and sharing short videos with music or original audio. Educators are using the platform to share strategies and philosophies as online communities, with hashtags such as #TeachersOfTiktok. Educators are also creating content designed to share with students, using hashtags such as #ScienceExperiments.  

To ensure that content is available to all, TikTok has built in accessibility features such as text-to-speech, auto captions, and static vs animated thumbnails. To support the diverse range of users, content creators can additionally set warning labels on content that may trigger photosensitive epilepsy, such as flashing lights and certain animations.  

To enable and set auto captions:

  • Record your video with sound (Note: captions only apply to original audio, not music files
  • Select the red checkmark to move to video editing step; this is tagged with the text next for screen reader users 
  • Click the Captions symbol, indicated by a small box with lines or tagged with the text captions for screen reader users 
  • Follow the prompt to enable auto captions.
  • Captions can be edited prior to uploading, but creators should be aware that it is not yet possible to edit captions after uploading. 

Content creators will also want to include video descriptions to support users who are visually impaired or blind. Video descriptions are similar to image descriptions as they provide information on the content that is only available visually.  When adding a video description, the creator will want to include this in the caption or in the comments and should include the following: 

  • Basic description of any persons and their facial expressions, animals or items relevant within the video
  • Transcription of text shown on screen
  • Actions on screen, such as dance moves by name or description

Multiple Means of Sharing!

In summary, social media platforms provide a range of functions for both educators and for students.  The variety of popular social media platforms support UDL by offering multiple means of action and expression – whether that be singing the quadratic equation on TikTok or quoting Shakespeare on Twitter – and providing the option for multiple means of representation through text, video, and audio. 

By considering social media accessibility as part of content creation, educators can ensure that information is accessible for both their colleagues and students. Why don’t you consider sharing your own story or tips with us through our social media, on Twitter @CIDDL?

Suggested Readings

Brand, D. & Beykpour, K. (2020, September 2).  Making Twitter more accessible.  https://blog.twitter.com/en_us/topics/company/2020/making-twitter-more-accessible 

Casa-Todd, J. (2019, April 5). Using a Social Media Account With Your K–12 Class. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/article/using-social-media-account-your-class

Dennebaum, M. (2019, March 28).  Subtitles now available in iOS and Android.  https://media.twitter.com/en/articles/blogs/2019/subtitles-now-available-in-ios-and-android

Glover Blackwell, A. (2017). The Curb-Cut Effect. Stanford Social Innovation Review, Winter, 2017, 28-33. https://ssir.org/articles/entry/the_curb_cut_effect#:~:text=One%20evening%20in%20the%20early,rolled%20off%20into%20the%20night.

Johnson, M. (2021).  Creating accessible social media posts.  National Center on Accessible Instructional Materials. https://aem.cast.org/create/creating-accessible-social-media 

Lafayette, J. (2019, May 14). Mobile videos often watched without audio, study finds. Broadcasting+Cable. https://www.nexttv.com/news/mobile-videos-often-watched-without-audio-study-finds

Leicht, G. & Goble, D. (2014, October 1). Should teachers be using social media in the classroom? PBS News Hour. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/education/social-media-valuable-tool-teachers

MDR. (2018) Teachers and Social media use. MDR Education Marketing Solutions and Services. https:/mdreducation.com/2019/01/17/achers-social-media-use/

Pinterest (n.d.) Add alt text to your pins. https://help.pinterest.com/en/article/add-alternative-text-to-your-pins

Prestridge, S. (2019). Categorizing teachers’ use of social media for their professional learning: A self-generating professional learning paradigm. Computers & Education, 129, 143-158.

Twitter. (2020). How to make images accessible for people. https://help.twitter.com/en/using-twitter/picture-descriptions

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