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Making Communications Accessible for Remote Audiences: Emails and Social Media Q&A

Written by: Jonathan Avila

In Webinar #2 of the Making Communications Accessible for Remote Audiences Series attendees asked a lot of really good questions about best practices for creating accessible emails and social media posts. I’ve provided responses to them below, and for more information you can access the on-demand webinar resources.

Email Accessibility – Best Practices

Clients view emails using a variety of user agents that are not web browsers, (e.g. Outlook). Some of the standard tricks we use to make web content accessible, such as ARIA or visually hidden text, are not likely to be processed by an email program and therefore not communicated to someone using a screen reader + Outlook to view the email. How would you recommend handling this situation when deciding whether an email is accessible?
It would be best to provide that information as text in the email and to use standard elements like links. Another way is to provide a link to a web page with that same information and allow people to get a richer experience on your website.

When we import a perfect HTML email into Outlook, the program changes the coding up completely. Any suggestions?
There are plugins that may assist with changing the source of HTML emails in Outlook. However, we are not familiar with them, thus, unable to make a recommendation. In Outlook, it does not appear possible to edit the source of the HTML of an email you are composing without a plugin.

When creating hyperlinks, some have trouble reading them with their screen readers and identifying them as links. How can this be resolved?
The experience may depend on the email program that is used to read the email and the program used to create the hyperlink. Links can be created in almost all mail applications. The text of the link should provide a meaningful name that describes the purpose of the link without relying on the URL as the name. Avoid any mail programs that do not create real hyperlinks using the anchor tag and the href attribute pointing to the resource. Some templates or services may create clickable text that are not real links. These would not be accessible with the keyboard and likely do not communicate their role of “link” to assistive technology. Use of the Insert Hyperlink feature in Outlook will create real links that are accessible.

Email Platforms

Do Google (Gmail) or Outlook offer accessible templates?
We are not familiar with built-in templates for these programs. You can create your own templates, signatures, and themes in Outlook. If you do create one, you want to make sure the colors, contrast, and styles of content are accessible. You can also add alternative text to images in your Outlook signature.

What is ANDI and is it free?
ANDI is a free manual inspection tool for accessibility created by the Social Security Administration.

What are the best email campaign tools that have accessible email templates?
Tools that allow you to edit the HTML provide the most flexibility. Pardot by Salesforce has accessibility features. Adobe is considering releasing Project Access ACE for Adobe Experience Manager Platform and Campaigns. This project will help create accessible emails and check accessibility, among other things.

We often use Mailchimp for email campaigns and have Language errors when running through accessibility checkers. Any advice?
I have not used Mailchimp, thus, unfortunately I cannot provide any guidance on this particular error. If you can edit the html source, you can set the language. Some mail programs may repurpose the lang attribute for other purposes to communicate other metadata – this would be an inappropriate use of this attribute by those applications.

Social Media – Best Practices

For hashtags, do screen readers handle acronyms well, too? e.g. Would #getFIT be read “get-eff-eye-tee”?
Most speech synthesizers will attempt to pronounce words with the same case as a word – so getFIT would be pronounced as “get fit”. When words start with a capital most synthesizers will separate those words rather than running them together. CrowdFunding would be pronounced as “crowd funding” rather than as one string without pauses or an attempt to pronounce it as one word. Screen readers do have the ability to read character by character as needed or to spell words out. Some speech synthesizers will work differently, and certain punctuation will be ignored depending on user settings.

When you use a hashtag, you said to use camelCase and only capitalize subsequent words. Just curious – why not capitalize the first word also?
The first word can be capitalized as well – the subsequent words should be capitalized to cue that they are pronounced as separate words.

What is the max amount of characters that should be added as alt text for an image? What is the industry best practice?
Twitter allows a max of 420 characters per each image’s alternative text. Since alt text cannot be formatted, 420 characters is quite long. Generally, you would want to keep alt text to 150 or fewer characters. Our recommendation for longer description is probably to link to a separate page where you can use headings, list, tables, etc. to provide more formatting. Keep in mind that a linked page will also allow people who need to read text with text-to-speech software—such as those dyslexia and low vision—to use that software and read the text word by word synchronized on screen with a highlight whereas reading alternative text synchronized with the visual words is not possible.

When including a link to an infographic, should it just connect to a different web tab?
There is flexibility. Our recommendation is to provide a short description of the image as alt text and then a link to a web page with the longer description, table, or structured content.

What is the list of the accessible color palettes?
Any color that has a contrast ratio of 4.5:1 for default size text or 3:1 for larger text against its background should have sufficient contrast. This contrast ratio considers color perception but it’s always useful to use tools that show you what colors will look like with different color perception. If you are looking for tools that will help you create accessible palettes – Level Access’ Accessible Color Picker will propose nearby colors that meet the requirements. Colorsafe.co can also be used to help find color palettes.

Do you have to turn on the Facebook alt-text like Twitter?
The option to add alt text on Facebook is present from the edit icon without having to turn on a setting.

Any tips for adding audio descriptions to Instagram live or TikTok videos?
You can save and then upload your Tiktok videos to YouTube. Once on YouTube, you could use YouDescribe to provide audio description or edit the video with video editing software and add audio descriptions. With Instagram Live, you have to describe with speech during the live video.

Do people who are tagged in photos have the ability to withdraw the tag on the platforms that enable this?
To the best of our knowledge, some platforms like Facebook do support untagging yourself from photos and videos. Check the settings for further information.

How about Color Contrast Analyzer? What are the best color contrast tools?
There are several good tools available to analyze contrast. Contrast Analyzer allows for color picking as well and works outside of the browser. Level Access’ Accessible Color Picker can be found on the Google Chrome Store.

We have a requirement to only use linked text, but can that be a problem for individuals with color contrast challenges because we do not know how it looks on the receiver’s end?
It sounds like the question may be around links that don’t use underline or where you don’t know what they will look like in terms of color or underline on the users’ end. Our recommendation is to use underline or some other visual way to differentiate links from surrounding text in paragraphs. If other mail clients remove that styling you may not be able to control that – but you have done what you can to ensure it’s available.

What are the PTSD triggers and how do we write social posts that do not trigger survivors?
Examples of triggers may include (but are not limited to) images or content about assaults, violence, trauma, etc. External triggers vary by person and situation. In social media, if you are concerned a topic may be triggering to some part of your audience, you could put that content on your website so people would have to click through to get there. The social media post itself could serve as the “opt-in” where you list the subject matter. However, when it comes to content warnings, there is no one solution that fits all people. Do your best and be open to learning from your audience when they suggest ways you could improve.

Social Media – Accessible Platforms

Is Easy Chirp accessible for writing tweets?
Yes, Easy Chirp supports adding alternative text and longer descriptions to images, however, these images are not added to the tweet but rather uploaded to the Easy Chirp site. Thus, the Easy Chirp interface does not appear to allow adding alt text the same way the Twitter web interface does – but it does allow for longer descriptions. In addition, the Easy Chirp interface is also designed to be accessible to users with disabilities.

Closed Captions

When “burning” captions to a video, can screen readers still read them? Do we need to “pre-put” our own captions in a YouTube video so they can be read/seen by blind/low vision individuals?
Captions are used by many people:

  • those who are deaf or hard of hearing,
  • people in situations where the audio cannot be heard
  • those who have audio processing disabilities, and
  • people who do not understand the language of the video fluently

Burnt-in captions will not be available to users of screen readers. Even with closed captions, some captions will not be seen by screen readers. For most screen reader users who are blind, but are not deaf or hard of hearing, they may not use the captions because they can hear the audio.

The challenge is with people who are deafblind. They will likely use refreshable braille to access multimedia and can benefit from captions – but they would also need audio description. For this group of people, a transcript might be a better medium for some video. Thus, making sure transcripts are also available is important. In this case, a transcript should be a real transcript including identifying speaker, important sounds, cues, and other details including visual details.

Can a user edit errors in closed caption of a YouTube video?
Yes, only if that user is the owner of the video (i.e., the original publisher of the video). Owners can also allow for community contributions of captions and subtitles from others.

Can you address how to accessibly include links within YouTube videos. Like “Subscribe now!” type buttons.
The annotations or cards you can add toward the end of videos to link to other content are not keyboard accessible or available to users of assistive technology, to the best of our knowledge. We were unable to test the feature. However, we have seen others add links in the description or the video or in comments – so that is likely an accessible way to provide links under the video.

Is adding closed captions on YouTube a free functionality?
Yes, you can caption your own video for free. You can also allow community contributions for captions and subtitles.

Are there best practices for creating SRT files?
You can create files by hand, hire a service, or use a program to help create the file. YouTube’s captioning capabilities in Studio will help you create files if your budget is limited. If using a free tool to create the SRT file, the most important thing you can do is to create accurate and effective captions that are synchronized. We recommend Captioning Key for a great tutorial on writing captions.