Improving the Accessibility of Social Media in Government

Social media is transforming how government engages with citizens, allowing agencies to share information and deliver services more quickly and effectively than ever before. As social content, data, and platforms become more diverse, agencies have a responsibility to ensure these digital services are accessible to all citizens, including people with disabilities.

To address this need, the Federal Social Media Community of Practice launched a Social Media Accessibility Working Group to collaborate with and deliver programs for accessibility communities and social media leaders across government. The Working Group, spearheaded by the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, will curate and share best practices so agencies can ensure their social media content is accessible to people with disabilities. It also will work with social media platform and tool developers, citizens and partners to encourage greater accessibility.

Below are a set of recommended, baseline strategies to improve the accessibility of government social media. These initial recommendations are categorized by tool:

Part 1: Recommendations for Improving Accessibility of Social Media

Part 2: Resources, Training, and How to Provide Feedback

NOTE: These recommendations are presented in a “living, open document” designed to progressively evolve based on continuous feedback from all areas of social enterprise, as new methods and tools become available. Agencies, organizations, and citizens are encouraged to expand this content with recommendations for other tools. They are the beginning of a shared inter-agency approach to this emerging field, one that will allow agencies to collectively advance towards better accessibility to public services through social programs for citizens.

The recommendations curate from a collaborative document shared at the #SocialGov Summit on Accessibility, contributed to by eight agencies: USGS, EPA, Department of Labor, Department of Transportation, NOAA, National Cancer Institute, National Human Genome Research Institute, and GSA. Also included is input from “Sociability: Social Media for People with a Disability,” by Dr. Scott Hollier, Western Australia Manager for Media Access Australia (MAA) and member of the Advisory Committee of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). 

Part 1: Recommendations for Improving Accessibility of Social Media 

Tips for Making Facebook Posts Accessible

For General Account Information

Ensure your website address is listed in the About section of your Timeline/Page in order to provide an easy point of entry to more information.

Include other ways to contact your organization, such as your 800 number, an online “Contact Us” form, or general contact email address for more information.

For Photos, Video, Audio

Always provide a link back to a .gov page that hosts a copy of the photo, video, or audio with full caption/transcript.

After posting the photo, video, or audio, immediately post a comment that directs users to the full caption or the full transcript.

If you have a YouTube channel, upload your video to your channel and make sure you enable closed-captions (you’ll want to upload your own transcript to make sure the captions are accurate). Then post a link to your YouTube video as your status update, rather than uploading the video into Facebook. This will ensure that visitors will be taken to your accessible version on YouTube.

For Composing Status Updates

Facebook provides ample space that allows you to spell out acronyms. Spell out the first instance of the acronym and add the acronym in parentheses after (e.g., U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)). This is especially helpful for those using screen readers, because after the name is heard the acronym is spelled out, and the user will associate the sound of the acronym with the full name.

Tips for Making Tweets Accessible

For General Account Information

Put your 800 number in your bio line.

If you don’t have a number, put a link to your accessible "Contact Us" form.

If you don’t have a “Contact Us” form, put an email link to someone who can provide help for those with questions.

For Photos, Video, and Audio

Put the following prefixes before tweets that have photos, videos, or audio. This allows people using screen readers to know what to expect before it’s read out loud. The uppercase formats are for further clarity to sighted users.

  • Photos: [PIC]
  • Videos: [VIDEO]
  • Audio: [AUDIO]

Link back to the page that has a copy of the photo, video, or audio with full caption/transcript.

Make your tweet serve as a descriptive caption so it has context for the item and then link back to your .gov for full accessibility.

For Displaying Tweets

Use the Twitter API or Embedded Timelines feature to display your agency's tweets on your .gov site.

Embedded Timelines feature on Twitter appears to have accessibility built-in even for those who do not have JavaScript. You can tab through all aspects of the timeline and use the functions. While it appears that Twitter is building in accessible content within the Embedded Timelines and Embedded Tweets features, you should still test it out on your site prior to making it live. Note that Twitter recommends caching the content you’re pulling from Twitter because there is a rate-limit.

Add a link in your bio, or occasionally tweet that you have an accessible format of your tweets at [provide link].

For Composing Tweets

Try to place any hashtags or @mentions at the end of the tweet. This allows a screen reader to voice the main content of the tweet more clearly in the beginning, and saving the service-specific speak for the end (the parts that sound confusing).

  • If possible, avoid using unfamiliar acronyms that would sound strange if read by a screen reader. If space allows, try to spell out the acronyms instead or use a different way to convey the information.
  • If the acronym is well-known and sounds the same when we speak as it’s intended to sound (e.g., NASA), you don’t need to spell out “National Aeronautics and Space Administration”.
  • Use "CamelCase" for multiple words for hashtags; that is, capitalize the first letters of compound words (use #SocialGov not #socialgov).
  • If possible, use the audio feature on your phone to listen to your tweet prior to distribution so you know now your message would be conveyed to a hearing-impaired person.
Tips for Making Videos Accessible

For Closed Captioning of Videos

All videos should have closed captioning. YouTube has a feature that will automatically caption videos less than 10 minutes. To increase accuracy of the YouTube machine translation, your video will need to have very clear-spoken words and little background noise.

Though YouTube has the ability to create captions based on your audio file, it's best if you have a written transcript already (get someone to transcribe it (e.g., intern, student, etc.).

To create a transcript, you can also use a dictation tool like the following:

  • On a Mac (Mountain Lion): Preferences > Dictation & Speech > Dictation (On). Then open up any typing program (TextEdit, Word, Notes, Stickies, etc.) and:
  • Play the video, pause, speak what you hear, and repeat
  • Or, if the speaking parts of the video are very clear, play it loud enough for the Dictation to pick up the voice.

Other applications you can use: Dragon (for desktop or the smartphone app)

After you upload your video to YouTube, make your video "unlisted" at first and turn off the machine translation version that is automatically created. Then upload your text transcript. Let YouTube sync it up. Then you can review and edit the captioning to ensure caption timing matches the video. Once your YouTube video has captions, you may wish to download the captions and use an editor to tidy them up.

You can use the YouTube captioning features even if you are not going to post your video to YouTube. Simply keep your video “unlisted” or “private” and just download the video file with the captioning. Depending on what you use on your own site for embedding video (e.g., JW Media Player), you may need to find an online converter to convert the YouTube SBT format to DXFP or other format that your video player supports.

For Creating or Editing Captions

If you wish to create captions for your video from scratch, or you would like to edit your existing YouTube captions, there are a number of free tools that can help:

A tutorial for creating captions can be found on YouTube. Other tutorials on using Overstream and CaptionTube can be found at their respective websites. Resources for MAGpie are available at

For Uploading Captions

To upload a caption file to your video:

  • Sign into your YouTube account.
  • In the Captions and Subtitles pane, select the ‘Add captions’ option.
  • Select the ‘browse’ option and locate the captioned file.
  • Select ‘Upload File’.

Part 2: Resources, Training, and How to Provide Feedback


Digital Government University (DGU) is preparing a series of trainings based on these recommendations and expanded guidance. Once announced they will be posted in DGU's Schedule of Classes.

On-demand accessibility classes from DGU include:

How to Provide Feedback

We look forward to your ideas for evolving these guidelines and continuing the dialogue so government can continue to improve the accessibility of social media programs to deliver better and more cost-efficient services.

Ways to provide feedback and engage on this topic:

We’re also looking to set up a collaborative space to make it easier for multiple contributors to add and upgrade the content. Stay tuned for more information.



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Content Lead: Justin Herman
Page Reviewed/Updated: April 23, 2013

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