According to reports from the World Health Organization (WHO), there are an estimated 2.2 billion people worldwide who have some form of vision impairment, with about 253 million individuals experiencing a severe vision disability or blindness. There are also roughly 466 million people globally who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.
That is a huge portion of the world population that may need to use assistive technology like screen readers, text-to-speech programs, or captioning to access digital content like social media. These numbers could also be much higher because not everyone is comfortable disclosing that they have a disability.
It’s important to keep in mind that disability isn’t black and white but a full spectrum of possibilities. A person could have a sensory disability that ranges from mild like being near-sighted to severe like being legally or totally blind.
Someone also doesn’t need to have a visible or permanent disability to be impacted by accessibility practices either. It’s possible to have a disability that is temporary or situational.
This is important to keep in mind when developing your social media strategy. Just because you have highly visual content or content that relies mostly on audio doesn’t mean you can forgo implementing accessibility best practices. If you’re not making an effort to be inclusive online, then your content could be acting as a barrier for users with disabilities, keeping them from valuable information and communications.
From a marketing standpoint, implementing accessibility best practices just makes good business sense. When promoting a product, service, or cause, it’s logical to want to reach and engage with as many people as possible in the hopes of converting them into a connection, a customer, or a sale.
By making your social media content and the way you deliver it more accessible, you can avoid excluding a sizable portion of your potential audience and missing out on important conversions, conversations, and connections.
Like with a physical location or your website, you should also make sure that your social media and digital communications are meeting current standards for digital accessibility.
Currently, at least 23 countries have governmental policies related to web accessibility including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, China, and New Zealand. Even if your country does not have clear laws or guidelines specifically for digital accessibility on social media, it's best to be proactive about making your social media content accessible rather than reactive when any potential lawsuits pop up.
Social media professionals, marketers, and web developers should reference the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), to make sure they are meeting current standards for digital accessibility. These are the most universal set of standards currently available for digital accessibility around the globe.
Brands and organizations based in the United States should familiarize themselves with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination based on disability as well as requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities and necessitates accessibility requirements on public accommodations.
U.S. federal agencies are also beholden to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology. Under Section 508, agencies must give disabled employees and members of the public access to information comparable to the access available to others.
Above all, the most important reason for following accessibility best practices when you create social media content should be that you simply care about your clients, customers, and connections—established and potential—and how they engage with you online.
You should care if your content is clear and understandable. You should care if any part of your audience is experiencing obstacles online. You should care if people are not having an equitable experience due to inaccessible content on your social media.
Accessibility on social media is a small but important part of a larger objective: making the online world and digital communications truly inclusive for everyone.