Optimizing Social Media for Impairments

Navigating the world with an impaired sense of sight or hearing is difficult, but within the digital sphere, that challenge is even greater as we reduce the entire spectrum of sensory input down to sight and sound. What happens when one (or both) of those senses is impaired?

In health care, we face a stronger imperative than most to provide access for every ability level. Statistics suggest that around 15% of American adults report trouble hearing, and 2.4% of American adults report visual disability as of 2016. As our population ages, we know those percentages are only going to rise. In order to care effectively for every person who comes to us, we have to start by making ourselves accessible.


For social media and Web materials, the test is simple – would you understand the content of the post or page if the images were suddenly removed? If not, either use descriptive alt text that a screen reader could translate or incorporate the information from the image into the text. For reference, here is a good post about alt text best practices.

While screen readers can read most PDFs, they cannot read image files without alt text. For OSF HealthCare social media, we have been placing any image text alongside the stylized images we use for Monday Motivation posts. While it may appear redundant, it’s providing improved accessibility both for screen readers and for people struggling with hard-to-read fonts.

A screenshot of a Facebook Post from OSF HealthCare. The post shares a text-only image that reads, "enjoy every moment." The post's text also reads, "enjoy every moment" so that screen readers can read the post for the visually impaired.


In the realm of hearing accessibility, it’s best practice that any podcasts you produce should have scripts available or that the content also be available in another format elsewhere on your site.

At OSF HealthCare, more often than not, if we’ve created a video for a campaign, it’s also going to be archived on one of our YouTube channels, so YouTube has become our go-to for generating captions quickly. There are alternative solutions, but transcribing in YouTube is a straightforward solution for generating caption files that doesn’t require an accounting or IT approval process. For longer videos, it may be worth transcribing in Word first so you can save as you go. The last thing you want is to be 6 minutes into a video and have your Internet go out.

YouTube Captioning

To add captions with YouTube, upload the video to your channel, and then click on “Transcriptions” in the left-hand corner. Click “Add” under “Subtitles.” Select “Transcribe and auto-sync.” Play the video and type the spoken words and any sound effects relevant to the video’s narrative.

Why not auto-caption? Three reasons: your branding, doctors’ names and accurate health terminology. Auto-captioning has come a long way, but it does not know how to spell “Dr. Shabirhusain Abadin.” You’re going to have to help it out.

For our captions, we use “Dr. Abadin: “ to indicate someone speaking off-screen or differentiate when one or more speaker is sharing information. We use parentheses for sound effects like (crunch). However you decide to denote these things, set a standard and be consistent from one video to the next.

A screenshot of a YouTube video from OSF HealthCare. The video uses closed captioning and sound effects, such as "sneezes," are denoted in parentheses.

Three quick captioning tips:

  • Add “yt:cc=on” to the tags for the video to automatically turn on captions for people watching the video on YouTube.
  • When embedding, add “?cc_load_policy=1” to do the same for the embedded video.
  • From Transcriptions > (Video) > Published by Creator, you can also select “Actions” above the captions to download your captions in a variety of file formats. If downloading a .SRT file, you can rename it “FileName.en_US.srt” to have a Facebook-compatible caption file.

It Doesn’t Take a Bird Box

At the end of the day, we all want to provide excellent, accessible health care communications, both for internal and external audiences.

As search engines and virtual assistants increasingly determine what content people are served, remember that the search engines and assistants themselves are often subject to many of these same impediments to access. If Google can’t understand you, how can it help pass your message along?


Choose a message to share 
Optimizing social media for impairments:
Is it possible to optimize videos for people with hearing loss?
How can you make your social media content accessible to people with impairments?

What a useful post. Thanks!

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