How to make your Instagram more accessible and why it’s important

By definition, social media enables users to create and share content and participate in social networking. However, many social media platforms are not designed to provide all users equal opportunities. This means the responsibility of creating accessible content is largely up to us as creators.


Forest setting with an Instagram user holding their phone up in the middle of the frame, blending their Instagram post of a wooden bridge in with the landscape in front of them.

Why is it important to make your Instagram content accessible?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 15% of the world’s population lives with some form of disability. Having an accessibility-first approach to your Instagram marketing will include people with disabilities and will have a positive impact on how your entire audience interacts with your content. Many experts will say that your company’s revenue will increase by hundreds of thousands of dollars to convince you that inclusivity is important; stated more appropriately, it’s just the right thing to do. If the content you create is accessible, your message will reach the largest audience possible.

Let’s talk about Instagram’s accessibility features

As of July 2020, Instagram boasts an active user base of over 1 billion people. If we consider the WHO data, that means there are potentially over 150 million Instagram users who have some form of disability. As an image-based platform, Instagram was among the less accessible social media platforms until 2018 when they announced improved accessibility support through alt text for images. Below are a few examples of things you can do to make your Instagram profile more accessible.

Add alternative text for images

Alt text is a written description of an image that can be read by screen readers for people who are visually impaired and also displays when images aren’t loading properly. Instagram automatically generates alt text for the images you post without you having to do anything, but the downside is that the alt text is generated through Artificial Intelligence (AI), so it isn’t very descriptive and is often inaccurate.

A series of three Instagram app screenshots: the first screenshot shows the location of the Advanced Settings option at the bottom of the New Post screen, the second screenshot shows the Write Alt Text option at the bottom of the Advanced Settings screen, and the third screenshot shows the Edit Alt Text option on the image’s Edit Info screen.

Image Description: A series of three Instagram app screenshots: the first screenshot shows the location of the Advanced Settings option at the bottom of the New Post screen, the second screenshot shows the Write Alt Text option at the bottom of the Advanced Settings screen, and the third screenshot shows the Edit Alt Text option on the image’s Edit Info screen.

Though it isn’t intuitive to find, there is a way to manually override the alt text and write your own. When you’re creating a new post, click into “Advanced Settings” at the bottom of the screen. Scroll down to the bottom of the Advanced Settings options and click on “Write Alt Text”. You can also edit the alt text after the image has been posted by editing the post then clicking “Edit Alt Text”.

The alt text you write should be relevant and descriptive. “Man dressed in summer clothing outside a coastal camp holds a kayak paddle as he walks down the stairs smiling”, for example, is much more descriptive and enjoyable to the person using a screen reader than simply, “Man standing outside”.

Add image descriptions

There are some instances where users with visual impairments may not be able to, or choose not to access the alt text using a screen reader. You may have seen people adding image descriptions preceded by “Image Description” or “Alt Text” to the bottom of their Instagram posts before their hashtags. This is a great way to improve accessibility to those not using screen readers, and it only takes a few seconds to copy and paste your alt text into the body of your post (for example, “Image Description: Man dressed in summer clothing outside a coastal camp…”). If you’re posting typographical content, your alt text should transcribe the text on the image. If the images you’re posting contain seemingly too much text to include as alt text, consider breaking down the content and including less text on each image.

Keep your posts succinct

You have a brief second to capture someone’s attention. Keep your content as concise as possible without compromising your message; make important information clear and break up long content into shorter paragraphs. This will improve the experience for users on the autism spectrum, with dyslexia, and who have heightened anxiety.

Limit usage of emojis

Emojis are a great way to communicate in a way that’s universal. They’re not language-specific, and they can add a lot of personality and fun to your Instagram content. 🤓 Be aware that screen readers will read the title of each emoji aloud, no matter how many emojis there are. So if you’re one of those people who write full sentences using emojis, or use three rows of hearts to convey your love, consider users who will have to listen to your emojis rather than just glance at them.

An example of emojis strung together to create the sentence, “Man loves shrimp more than man loves salad”.

Image Description: An example of emojis strung together to create the sentence, “Man loves shrimp more than man loves salad”.

Although funny and relatable, you can see how this would turn into one big emoji soup if read by a screen reader.

Place hashtags in your comments

You may have caught on to the common practice of posting hashtags in the comments instead of at the end of your post. While this initially seemed to be a strategy for getting around hashtag limits or decluttering the look of the post, it’s actually a much friendlier option for people using screen readers. Otherwise, each hashtag is read aloud as part of your post. Hashtags placed in your comments are still picked up by Instagram’s algorithms but not read by screen readers as part of your post. Using CamelCase in your hashtags is another great way to improve readability, for example, #InclusiveDesign #DigitalMarketing #AccessibleForAll.

Provide subtitles for video content

Adding video subtitles used to require access to video editing software, but now there are apps on iOS and Android that generate subtitles for you using AI. MixCaptions on iOS and AutoCap on Android are two reputable solutions for creating your subtitles automatically. They don’t work perfectly, so make sure you proof the subtitles for accuracy and edit as needed before sharing your video on Instagram.

Add video descriptions

Regardless of whether or not your video has subtitles, it’s best practice to provide a transcript within the body of your post or a short description of the video if it’s more than a couple of minutes long. Subtitles embedded within the video will be accessible to those with hearing impairments but not to those using screen readers.

Optimize color contrast

For users who are colorblind, you should be providing optimal color contrast for any text you’re overlaying on your image. When you’re posting Instagram Stories, use Instagram’s text tool to change the text color and size and add a background to make the text easy to read. Avoid using decorative fonts (even the ones provided by Instagram) as these can make it difficult for users to read your posts.

Avoid posting crucial information in your Instagram Stories

Unfortunately, Instagram Stories are not accessible by screen readers. If you’re making a special announcement or doing a promotion, make sure you’re posting that same content in your feed, so it’s available in both places. This will also make it easier for people to find the content after your Story has expired.

Instagram user scrolling through their feed at a coffee shop pauses to look at an image of palm trees at sunset.

Image Description: Instagram user scrolling through their feed at a coffee shop pauses to look at an image of palm trees at sunset.

Conclusion

Implementing these best practices will make your Instagram content more accessible to its 150 million users with disabilities and will improve usability for everyone. Even if you don’t have a hearing impairment, subtitles allow you to watch a video on a noisy subway or after the kids have gone to bed. And even if you aren’t on the autism spectrum, you’ll appreciate content that’s clear and doesn’t leave you confused or waste your time. If all of this feels overwhelming, remind yourself that it’s a privilege if you do not have to worry about these things while you’re mindlessly scrolling through your Instagram feed. Any steps you take towards accessibility will add up and become part of your routine in no time.

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