Blogging Tips: 5 Easy Ways to Make Your Blog More Accessible for Screen Readers (+ Bonus Social Media Tips!)

 
 

I have to admit, before I started using a screen reader (software that reads text and page elements aloud) for my own health problems sometimes, I didn’t think much about the accessibility of my blog. I didn’t even know there were certain things I could be doing that would make it easier to navigate or use for anyone who uses a screen reader, which can include (but is not limited to) people who are blind or visually impaired, have learning disabilities, or have other types of health problems. But now I do know, and I thought it would be helpful to share some of what I’ve learned with all my fellow bloggers out there.

And don’t worry! None of this requires knowledge of coding or web design. Most blogging platforms offer easy ways to do these things with the click or two of a button (though you may need to search for a how-to for your specific platform). These are all simple things you can do or changes you can make going forward when creating content online if you want your blog (and social media) to be more accessible for blind and visually impaired visitors or anyone who uses screen readers!

*Note: I can’t speak for every screen reader user or every screen reader out there, and this is definitely not an exhaustive list, but these are the things I’ve personally noticed as common but easily fixable problems.*


Use Alt Text for Images

If you’ve ever wondered what the alt text is for, this is your answer! It’s to describe the image so that anyone who can’t see it can still know what the image is showing. Sometimes it’s not super important (e.g. a decorative break between sections), but sometimes it is (e.g. something you’re referencing in the text, or a book cover if you don’t state the title in the text). And honestly, even when it’s not important, I’d rather hear a brief, simple description of “decorative line break” than “fhjertewanfdklgrtagi3455ngklet3qnt.jpg”.

Edit to add: Also don’t add unnecessary extra words to your alt text! (E.g. No keyword stuffing) Thank you, Cee Arr, for pointing this out in the comments!

Use Headings for Sections

Headings are great because they make it easier to navigate! When you’re using your eyes, you can easily scan a page to get an idea of the main points, or to find what you’re looking for. Using heading tags (h2, h3, h4, etc.) allows anyone using a screen reader to do the same.

Use Blockquotes When Necessary

If you’re quoting something, blockquotes really are helpful beyond just how they look. Without them, when using a screen reader, it can be hard to differentiate between the quoted text and the blogger’s own words. Hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.

Make Link Text Descriptive

Instead of linking to another post or webpage like this:

Here’s my post about how to make your blog more accessible.

Make the text you use for linking more indicative of what it links to, like this:

Check out my post on how to make your blog more accessible.

If someone is using a screen reader to quickly scan through links or find a specific one, it’s much more helpful to hear what the link is for.

Be Aware

Just be aware when you’re putting out content. Pop-ups and moving parts on a site can be confusing when using a screen reader. Some comment systems are difficult or impossible to use. Visual captchas are obviously inaccessible to anyone who cannot see.

I’m not saying you can never use a pop-up or something, but it’s good to try and keep accessibility in mind, to find accessible plugins for what you need if possible, and to understand that some people may be unable to visit or interact with your blog or website if certain parts of it are inaccessible.

And now some bonus social media accessibility tips…

Add Descriptions to Images and GIFs on Social Media

I’m editing this section to include all social media, since originally I only mentioned Twitter (that’s the only social media I use, so others just kind of slipped my mind). But anywhere you share images publicly online, it’s good to include alt text and/or description!

For Twitter, it’s so simple! I believe it’s automatically turned on now, so all you have to do is click “add description” and type in a description when you add a photo or gif. But here are instructions for adding image descriptions to tweets if you need them.

Here are instructions for adding alt text to Instagram.

Here are instructions for adding alt text to Facebook.

Goodreads also supports alt text for images in reviews. You just include alt=”describe image here” within the img tag. (And, you know, actually describe the image.)

If you use any other social media sites, I’m sure there are more tutorials out there!

Capitalize Words in Hashtags

For example, instead of #hashtagsarefun make it #HashtagsAreFun because that makes it easier for screen readers to read aloud properly.

Don’t Use Unnecessary Symbols on Twitter

Symbols may look like letters, but they’re not letters. So they’re not spoken like letters. Same goes for using a ton of emojis or symbols in your name. And tweets that use certain meme formats (e.g. text that’s meant to be read in columns) are indecipherable for people using screen readers. Here’s an example of what something like this can sound like to a screen reader:

Say Things Aloud Instead of Just Putting Text on the Screen in YouTube Videos

This one’s just for YouTubers, and it’s a more nebulous piece of advice since it’s not going to apply to every video or everything in every video. But one of the things I’ve been able to do, despite my health problems, is listen to videos! Except, unfortunately, many videos will often put text up on the screen or hold something in front of the camera, without also saying it aloud. So then I have to look and give myself a headache, and if someone is blind or visually impaired and cannot look, they’re just completely out of luck.

It’s understandable that you can’t speak everything you’re doing or everything on screen aloud for every video, but there are times when it does make sense and would be very easy to say something aloud. Making a list and putting text on the screen for each item? Say them out loud too! Holding up a book because you’re gonna talk about it? Say the book title and author! Taking Buzzfeed quizzes or playing trivia? Read the questions and answers out loud instead of just assuming people can see the answers on screen!

Who knows, maybe one day YouTube will add the option for creators to add audio descriptions to videos for users to turn on or off, like captions. But for now, the more you can say aloud, the better your videos will be for anyone who can’t see what’s happening (or even anyone who’s multitasking and not looking at the screen).

Final Thoughts

Nobody’s perfect, I’ve definitely made some of these mistakes myself, and I’m sure my own blog is not perfect, so I’m not trying to call anyone out! But the more we all start at least trying to make the world more accessible for everyone, the better it will be!

 
 
 
 

Talk to me!

If you use a screen reader, do you have any other tips for making blogs and social media accessible?
If you're a blogger, did you find any of this info helpful?

 

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  1. Greg

    Wow I had no idea there were so many easy ways to do this, and to be honest I haven’t thought it nearly enough. This is good to know and I like how you explained it easily and well too. I had no idea, for example, that capitalizing hashtags would make such a difference. Most of this I didn’t know, so thanks!

    1. Kristen Burns

      Yeah, that’s the thing, most of the things are super simple! It’s just, you need someone to tell you, or you don’t even realize. Some of these, mostly the Twitter ones, I learned because I saw someone else tweet about it. I’m glad you found this helpful :-)

  2. Laurie

    Thank you for this post! It’s good seeing more and more awareness for screen readers now, but it’s just the beginning.

    In the Netherlands we have a seperate platform for audiodescripted Youtube videos, but it’s unfortunately not on Youtube itself.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Yeah, accessibility for screen readers and visually impaired technology still has a long way to go. I realize that now. That’s cool you have some form of audio description for YouTube! I tried to look into that and couldn’t find anything helpful. It would great if YouTube could start adding that functionality.

  3. Suz

    This is a great post. I’d never considered half of this stuff before.
    Thanks for the heads-up, and for the excellent ‘how-to’s’.

  4. Becky @ A Fool's Ingenuity

    Thank you for this post because I know I am guilty of not doing some of these things on my blog. I did realise about Alt Text but I know I am guilty of not always remembering to actually populate it with anything, usually, because I draft my posts in one programme, edit them and sort layout in another and then do a final sweep on Blogger to make sure I’ve missed nothing and during that process, Alt Text can get missed even being added. A while back I did try and start naming images sensible things in case anything ever got missed as a back up for me. I also try and do it on Twitter as the option is there whenever you add an image which is great. I feel like having it there to prompt you helps remind people as when you aren’t visually impaired these are the things you don’t think of!

    I hadn’t even thought of how basic HTML formatting in your posts can help make it easier for screen readers to process your post, though. I usually use Headers and blockquote because visually it looks nicer and also helps with formatting across all platforms, mobile and tablets, but it’s good to see there is another added benefit to it.

    And Youtube! I do celebrate all YouTubers who take the time to sort their CC to their videos (even if it is a little delayed) as sometimes I don’t want sound on with videos but hadn’t considered that whilst their sorting one side of accessibility there is little there for the visually impaired, which sucks. Companies should definitely do more.

    1. Kristen Burns

      It can be hard to remember everything sometimes, but it’s good to try at least! Naming images well is a good idea too, for both accessibility in case you forget the alt text, and also for SEO. What’s funny is that most of these tips are also good for SEO, maybe more people would do them if I had stressed that lol. I have no idea how alt text works on Blogger or how you draft your posts, so I have no tips for remembering.

      I found that interesting too, to realize that HTML isn’t just for aesthetics or even SEO but also really has an impact on using screen readers.

      Yeah, captions are talked about a lot now, online companies are making it easier to include them, people have more awareness, they’re available on TVs and whatnot… but audio description still has a long way to go. I couldn’t even figure out how to do it on my TV or if there was a way at all, most big companies don’t even bother with it. No one thinks about it online. Except Netflix. They add audio description to almost all their originals, so that’s cool!

  5. Cee Arr

    Great post! I would also add that the SEO tip of ‘fill your alt-text with keywords’ is not accessibility-friendly – you need to descibe what’s there, not pimp the image to Google.

  6. Tammy @ Books, Bones & Buffy

    These are things I have honestly never thought about, and you really have given me lots to think about now! And I imagine most bloggers probably don’t know any of this stuff. I didn’t even know what a screen reader was๐Ÿ˜ฌ

    1. Kristen Burns

      I think it’s the kind of stuff we all tend to not even realize unless we’re told or experience it ourselves. But that’s why I thought it’d be a great idea for a post!

  7. Jessica

    I never realize that, but you are right about certain blogs and websites. I have used a screen reader once because I wanted to able to listen to ebook (before I got an mp3 player), but the screen reader wasn’t doing too good. It would speak out words if it didn’t know them. So I stopped using a screen reader.

  8. Roberta R.

    This was a well though-out tutorial! I must admit I’ve never used alt text for images or described my Twitter gifs because…uh…that’s extra work ๐Ÿ˜ณ, but I’ll try to make a habit out of it. All the rest I’m already doing, so I guess I’m not a horrible human being after all ๐Ÿ˜‰. And BTW, I’m aware that my blog can be difficult to navigate if you’re daltonic…I need to find a way to have it become more accessible, maybe add a script that would let people switch to black and white if there’s one?

    Oh, and I will link to your post in my next Tooting Your Trumpet installment!

    1. Kristen Burns

      It’s extra work, but only a few seconds :-) That’s good if you’re already doing the other things! Tbh, I use a Firefox add-on that makes all webpages dark background with light text because that’s easiest on my eyes and better for my headaches, so I don’t even know what anyone’s blog looks like anymore.

  9. Sam @ Spines in a Line

    Thank you so much for these! Accessibility is something I’m learning more about every day. I’ve been using Alt Text and recently learned about capitalizing hashtags but have been working more on image description, as I just learned that image descriptions in Instagram captions are helpful in addition to Alt Text. Gonna bookmark your post for later so I can work on more of these on my site!

  10. Gayathri

    I agree with everything you said here. And I can sleep tonight because I do most of them already. All these are good SEO habits too.

  11. Flora

    Great post, Kristen. I write Alt text for images already, but I’m slowly going through my blog’s media library and added them to my older images. Your suggestion about link text is definitely something that I hadn’t thought about and will start doing that from now on. Thanks.

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  13. The Wheelchair Teen

    Thank you so much for this advice – As a disabled blogger myself, I’m always looking for more ways to make my blog accessible. I’ve thought for a long while about recording myself reading each post out loud and adding it as an attachment at the bottom. Would that be helpful? It would take a little extra time but I hope that it would be helpful to some of my readers.

    Love,
    thewheelchairteen.home.blog

    1. Kristen Burns

      I’m glad I could help! Honestly I’m not really an authority on this, but I would say you probably don’t need to record yourself. That’s what screen readers are for, they read the text out loud. And the screen reader I have is free, so it’s available to everyone as long as they have internet and can download and install it on the computer they’re using. I don’t know though, it’s up to you!

  14. Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    Oh, wow – this is FANTASTIC information, and I’m sad it’s taken me this long to come read this post (I’m obviously way behind on the Discussion Challenge linky). I will confess that I hadn’t given much thought to how a screen reader would read my posts, and I certainly wouldn’t have known what to do to make it better. I will be sure to keep these tips in mind in the future!

    1. Kristen Burns

      No worries, I’m behind on everything. I wouldn’t have known all this either if I hadn’t experienced it myself or come across a post like this, so that’s why I thought it’d be helpful, and I’m glad it is :-)

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