Tweets as images of text

In March 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic Tallie Proud and I noticed a new protocol on social media. Key messages and important information from companies, organisations and government about the pandemic were being shared as images of text. Think back to the guides about how to wash your hands, rules about what you could do, who should shield, opening hours and availablity of supermarket slots. As things were changing so fast, this was a way to fit as much information in one place as possible, branded and clear.

But it wasn’t clear for everyone. It resulted in these channels being inaccessible for people who couldn’t access images. It resulted in them being excluded from independently accessing this information. Not just people using screen readers but those with low bandwidth, small screens and data limits. This is what a tweet looks like with the image turned off:

Sample tweet with the image turned off. Says: Important information from us about covid.

As the days went by, we saw more and more of these messages. We got cross and decided to do something about it. We set up a Twitter account – @CovidAccessInfo – to remind people that their content should be accessible to all.

We sent a lot of messages to supermarkets and high profile companies, publicly and privately. The ones which made us really angry were the official ones – government, health bodies, councils all sharing vitally important information using graphics and who should have known better.

10 Downing Street sharing an image of the letter sent to all households. No alt text. No description.

We also saw lots of videos with no voiceover or text alternative (though this one did have an 8-thread tweet sharing the tips, just not linked to the original tweet).

Some listened, apologised and responded by offering accessible content. Some dismissed and some ignored our requests. We often ended up trying to add the accessibility ourselves that the tweet should have included. We replied to lots of tweets, just sharing the text on the image so there was an alternative available somewhere. Later-on charities like RNIB took up the mantle and worked with government to sort out their comms.  

2021 and we’re still here

Now a year on, the issue of inaccessible information in text graphics continues. Over the last few days, we’ve again seen organisations choosing to respond to issues with a statement in a graphic with no other way of reading it. 

We can’t let this be the norm and let it go unchallenged. Social media needs to be a place which is accessible to everyone. We all need to do our bit. Being busy or not thinking about it is not an excuse.

How to make your tweets accessible

  • If your message is under 280 characters, post it to Twitter as a standard tweet, particularly if it’s a reply to someone.  
  • Turn it into a thread if it’s longer than 280 characters.
  • If you have to use a text graphic, include the text in the tweet. Either (1) add a link to a webpage where the statement is in html (not graphic or PDF), (2) add the text as a thread underneath or (3) add the text in the image description.
  • Text graphics shouldn’t be posted on their own with no accompanying text. 
  • Text videos with no voiceover shouldn’t be posted on their own without accompanying text. (Also don’t make videos with no voiceover).

Plus:

  • If sharing non-informational images (ie photographs / illustrations), use the alt-text option describing what’s in the image. 
  • Use a strong contrast between text and a background on a graphic.
  • Choose a large font.
  • Keep the text short and simple. Complicated language can also exclude people. 
  • Include subtitles on videos.

Examples

Do your bit

Want to learn more about accessibility on social media? Helpful Digital have written a useful guide. 

If you see a business posting text graphics without any consideration for accessibility, let them know. Here’s a @covidaccessinfo tweet calling out bad practice in case you spot one and want to say something. Also, point them to this post or the Helpful blog post linked above.

>>With thanks to Tallie whose post this is based on.

4 thoughts on “Tweets as images of text

  1. Hi Madeleine Thanks so much for this brilliant reminder. I’ve forwarded to our comms team who are usually pretty good but I’m sure there is more we could do.

    I’m a little confused as when I checked RNIB a while ago it seems ‘See it right’ guidance has changed since we worked there and is saying we don’t need to do as much as we used to eg no image alt text unless the image contains important info. Is this correct? Or not doing URL alt texts.

    Hope you and your family are well.

    Ruth x

  2. Hi Ruth, as a rule of thumb, I’d say always include alt text if your image is adding something – so if it is sharing information or adding to the aesthetic. If the image is just a placeholder, don’t. This stands across social media and all digital comms.

    For example, if you are tweeting a lovely picture of spring blossom or soggy dog, why wouldn’t you add a description so someone who can’t see that picture, gets some of the joy of it.

    I avoid literal descriptions (there’s a big brown dog, a labrador, with a yellow collar and its tongue out. It’s wet) – who has the time or interest to read that to make sense of the picture? Instead I try to describe the essence of an image (a big dog looks very happy with itself after jumping in the lake).

    Thanks for sharing this. Hope you are ok too. 🙂

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