Artists, make your work online more accessible!

I am well aware that being a freelance artist is, in fact, doing several jobs at the same time, and that, thus, time and energy tend to lack. As a chronically ill, disabed freelance artist, I know it all too well.
While most of us would probably love to spend less time managing our social media and online presence, and more time working on our art projects, art skills, and more time resting and taking care of ourselves, accessibility should be one of our priority. Why should disabled people not be allowed to take part of the art community? I do know that the art community means absolutely no arm, so I truely think we all should see online accessiblity as a bear minimum, as a standard.

In this post I don’t aim to create a perfect guide, but to share my knowledge a bit with my fellow artists. And if you are not sure of the best way to make any kind of content accessible, ask the disabled community! It is very active online and we’re nice people! If you see that I have forgotten something, please let me know so I can add it to this article. I will do my best to update this post as much as possible to make it easier to find information about how to make art content accessible online.

Now, let’s talk about the core of this post. To sum up, accesiblity is a pretty broad term used by the disabled community to express our right to have access at all places, informations, interactions, just as abled people do. It doesn’t mean that we, as disabled people, have to interact with the environment the same way abled people do: it means that we should have equal access toand enjoy places, informations, interactions, services. Hence, online accessiblity is about making sure you are not excluding anyone: make your texts easily readable, make your pictures and videos understandable for everyone.

Make your texts readable

Fonts

This part is intented for artists who run websites. The British Dylexia Association has a whole page dedicated to this topic, and you can find lists of dyslexia friendly fonts online very easily if you want to make sure it is accessible to our dyslexic friends. Basically, sans serif fonts with a larger character spacing and a large interword spacing, in a 12-14 size, make texts more readable.

Writing

This part applies to social media and to websites that include text. It is easier to read clear, simple sentences than long ones. It is for instance something I am working on, because as I’m not a native English speaker, I am still having some difficulties turning natural and simple sentences. The webpage linked above has a whole section about this topic!

Use of emojis and “aesthetic” characters

Blind visually impaired people use screen readers to navigate online. Screen readers reads literally every single character, including emojis. So, when there are many emojis, it becomes very, very annoying for the person, as you can read here for instance. The author of this post presents some dos and don’ts about the use of emojis, that I highly recommend reading. Basically, do not use more than 2-3 emojis, do not repeat the same emoji over and over, and put the emojis at the end of what you’re saying (wether a comment, a tweet, a post description, …), and you’ll be good to go!

Another thing that is certainly cute but horrible for screen reader users and thus not accessible are the little drawings you make with special characters. This applies particularly on twitter, as this is where it tends to be seen. There is a very simple way you still can use this that is accessible and makes the internet experience of screen reader users less of a nightmare: make a screenshot of your cute design and post it as a picture, you just have to add an alt text to describe your picture! Which brings us to the next topic: alt text and image description!

Images: alt text

In your at text, you should describe your image so that people who don’t see it understand what it is about. As artists, we usually post images of our works. So, in your alt texts, you should include anything that is relevant to give the user an idea of your artwork:

  • the medium you used to make the artwork
  • the subject of the artwork
  • anything that is important to you and relevant as the creator in the work: for instance, tell if there’s a particular color palette or a way to made the light

Stay concise and keep in mind that it’s not a way to add easter eggs or jokes.

Websites

To my knowledge, most website builders allows you to add alt text, meaning an alternative text you, as the author, write to describe the image. Screen readers read this description. Users have then fully access to your content.
(I say most because I was for instance using Big Cartel for my shop, and you only can add alt text to images on your custom pages, not on your product pages – at least from what I’ve seen and experienced.)

In wordpress, to add an alt text to an image: go on your media library, click on your image, click “edit”, and you can now add it!

screenshot of where you can add alt text from your media managing page on wordpress
(“Texte alternatif” means alt text in French)

You also can directly add an alt text to the images right when you upload them in your page or blog post: on the “block” site of the parameters when you click on the image, go on “image settings” and add your description.

Etsy

You can add alt text to your product pictures on etsy! For now, you can do it only on still images, not on videos, but I sure hope we will be able to do it for videos as well someday!

Go on your listings pages and open the listing you want to add text to. Point your mouse on the product picture and click on the pencil at the left bottom. Write your alt text, don’t forget to save it and voilà! You can do it for every product picture, even when you have different pictures for the same product/listing.

Twitter

Adding alt text to twitter and instagram is even easier than on wordpress!
You can do it from both browser and the app.

On browser: upload your image. Underneath it, click on “add description”, and voilà!

I'm showing where the "add description" button is on twitter from your desktop
Twitter on web browser

On the app: once you’ve uploaded your image, click on the “+alt” bubble in the right bottom corner that appeared on your image.

Instagram

The button to add alt text on instagram is more hidden than on twitter, and is only available for posts and carrousels – as far as I know.
It’s a the same step as adding your caption: at the bottom of the page, click on “advances settings” (or “advanced parameters”, I’m not sure which one it is because I’m translating from my app that is in French!). There’s an “accessibility” section: click on “write the alt text”. There you even can add alt text to each of your pictures if you’re posting a carrousel!

Videos

For video content, we have to make sure the topic is understandable for both deaf and hard of hearing people, and for blind and visually impaired people.

If there are visual effects that might trigger symptoms, such as epilepsy, make sure you warn your viewers in the description and at the very beginning of your video.

Tiktok

On tiktok, you can add a voice synthesis that reads the text you add to your video, which makes it more accessible for blind and visually impaired people. It’s called text-to-speech. I have to admit that for now I haven’t tried it as I don’t always use text in my tiktoks and never thought about it before writting this post – it’s something I’ll definitely add next time I make a tiktok with text! This article explains how to do it.

If you speak in your tiktok, please add subtitles! It has a feature that automatically adds captures to your video, that you can check and correct if needed. This article explains how to do it.

Twitter

Unfortunately, as far as I know, Twitter doesn’t allow us to add alt text to videos. To make up for it, I personally add a tweet with the description of the video.

However, twitter adds auto-captions to videos when muted. It’s not perfect though: it’s automatic and you can’t correct it if needed.

Instagram

Reels

You can add captions to your reels by taping on the “caption” sticker once you’re finished adding your videos and sounds. I must say, however, that I don’t find this feature in the app, even when trying several times with different videos and following the steps I found online

You can add text-to-speech though since fall 2021 (more to make it even more like tiktok but I guess at least it makes it a bit more accessible). Once you added the text to your reel, click on the text bubble to get do the three dot menu, and here select “text to speech”.

Stories

You apparently can add auto captions to your stories by using the caption sticker. However, I don’t have it so I don’t know if it’s something they’re still testing on some accounts (eventhough they added it in spring 2021, so I really do not know what’s going on with this).

Concerning the text-to-speech feature, it’s available only for reels as far as I know.

Youtube

Adding subtitles to youtube videos takes more time than for small reels/tiktoks, I’m not gonna lie, but it’s still pretty easy, and you even can have some help from your community to make them!

Once you uploaded and scheduled your video, go to the subtitles part of the settings of your video. You have here different possibilities, and can find all the steps on the youtube help page:

  • you can add the substitles by taping them by listening to your video, on a full text form that youtube will then synch with the audio of your video, or directly with time stamps. If you choose to let youtube synch automatically with the audio, I recommend you to wait several hours to let it the time to do it and then check if everything is correctly synched.
  • you can add automatic substitles. I do not use this method but the one I just talked about, so I can’t tell you much about it. All I can recommend you to do is to check the automatic subtitles because you just see when the creator didn’t check it, there’s a ton of mistakes and it’s not always very readable not unstersdantable. Make sure the words are right, and make sure of the punctuation.

Youtube stopped the option for the viewers to add captions to videos, even though the whole disabled community strongly disagreed and explained them why it was a step back regarding accessibility of their platform. It however recently added a new features to replace it, the subtitle editor permission roles. This youtube help page brings light on this new feature.

I highly recommend following A11yAwareness on twitter. This bot is tweeting facts and tips about online accesibility.


This is all I know about online accessibility that applies to artists. I hope everything is clear and that it will help you to make your content, your work, your art more accessible online!
Please let me know if there are things I did not speak about here that you think are relevant! This post is meant to change and adapt depending on the changes of the needs of people and depending on the features of the popular platforms!

By Mibyle

Freelance disabled 2D artist and illustrator living in the North of France

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