How to Make Your Content Accessible

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Blake: today we're here with Alexa Heinrich, but I'm going to call her Alex out Alexa is more professional, but I don't want to, I don't want to wake up the the Alexa over here, so I'm sure it's just it's probably been a rough life for you

[00:00:13] Alexa: last five years. Yeah, my life.

[00:00:17]Blake: Do you own any of those devices or do you use Google?

[00:00:22] Alexa: I do not own any of those devices. It's funny. Cause my cat's name was actually Serif. And if I say her name too fast, my iPhone will be like, can I help you? I was like, yeah.

[00:00:34] Blake: Oh man. We'll try to we'll make this yeah we won't go into that too much cause I'm sure you get the Alexa thing way too much.

[00:00:41]Just like I get the blockade joke all the time. I'm sure you've seen that. Yes. Let's let's just chat about the goal of this podcast really quickly because this one is going to be really informative in a different way. Maybe not so much step-by-step but more so opening our minds to what we don't maybe consider very often, which is accessibility.

[00:01:00] So my goal for this podcast is to help the creators that are listening in, understand the importance and also the how to, of creating accessible content and being more inclusive online. Does that sound like a plan to you? Yeah. Sounds great. All right. Let's dive right in. I would love to start more at the foundation here.

[00:01:18] So this is called how I built my audience. So we definitely want to talk about that too. And I'm guessing Twitter's probably the biggest place for you. Is that correct?

[00:01:26] Alexa: Yes, I'm a big Twitter user and that's a big reason that I've built my following. And that's where I have the biggest following is on Twitter.

[00:01:33] So I'm a big lover of Twitter.

[00:01:36] Blake: How did you make that decision? What were you considering doing? Like everything, the Gary V approach, or did you always want to keep focus on one thing and make sure you did that?

[00:01:44] Alexa: I think I've always just really enjoyed the. Just the way that Twitter works, honestly, just how the timeline works.

[00:01:52] I used to be a big hockey fan and there's a lot of hockey fans on Twitter. And I don't know, hockey games are already really fast, but then when you're like on Twitter, watching hockey with all the other hockey bands, everything moves even faster. And it's really exciting. So I just I'm really familiar with Twitter.

[00:02:09] And when I started talking about digital accessibility, it's the, it's one of the easiest platforms to actually network on and promote what you're doing. Obviously LinkedIn is made for networking, but Twitter feels more of a community. It's just easier to talk to people. People feel more accessible there.

[00:02:29]So yeah, I just started talking about it and I haven't stopped. So I, yeah, I really love Twitter. I do post up on LinkedIn and Instagram, but I definitely have more of a following on

[00:02:39] Blake: Twitter. I'm really interested to know from your perspective, just like technically speaking, if Twitter is actually one of the more.

[00:02:47] Technically accessible platforms versus some of the others like or if there is another one. So like LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter for people with accessibility needs, what's the platforms actually does it the best.

[00:03:01] Alexa: So I personally don't rely on assistive technology, so I don't use it in my day-to-day life, but I will say that of the major platforms.

[00:03:09] So LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram Twitter makes the biggest effort. And they're very transparent about that effort. And it's more of a recent thing just because we all know what happened with audio tweets when Twitter kind of. Release that beta test last summer. And there was a lot of backlash because it wasn't accessible and they realized we need to fix this.

[00:03:33] And it wasn't just a audio to use. Isn't accessible. It's a, we need to prioritize accessibility and they've been very transparent about that since that happened. So they've really built up their teams around accessibility. They talk about it more, they prioritize it more. And I just think it's really impressive because you don't see that from the other platforms too much.

[00:03:55]So yeah, Twitter to me is definitely one of the more accessible platforms and the point being when they released fleets. Fleets is the only story feature across any platform that has alt text capabilities. So you can make it accessible for people who are blind or visually impaired. Yeah. That is crazy because.

[00:04:14] They're the last platform to jump on the stories, train.

[00:04:19] Blake: Have you Instagram stories even been on there? Like it's been five years maybe or more,

[00:04:24] Alexa: and even like Snapchat, I think was the first platform that had stories and then Instagram and the Facebook and LinkedIn. And now I guess Spotify has it. Why not?

[00:04:35] Why not? But yeah, so Twitter really was the last one to do it, but they wanted to do it right. And I thought it was really impressive because I feel like the easier part to tackle with that would be captioning, but they're like, no, we're going to tackle the harder part first. And they did all text. So I was really excited about that.

[00:04:55] Yeah. So Twitter definitely makes the biggest effort.

[00:04:58] Blake: That's super interesting.  Taking it a step back then from the platform level, just for you, how did this all start? Why did you start. W, how did you becoming passionate about accessibility? What was there any particular thing or person, or just anything that really sparked it and made it have such momentum in your life?

[00:05:17] Alexa: When I worked in, so I'm actually from Chicago, I. I live and work in Florida now, but I'm from Chicago. And when I was working in Chicago I oversaw the web assets and mostly the social media for an institution that had seven colleges in it. So one day the digital strategists that I worked with asked me, Hey, are you putting alt texts on the website or on our website?

[00:05:42] And I had no idea what she was talking about. This is probably about four years ago, if I had to guess. And she had to explain it was, and I was horrified that I didn't know what that was. And then I started doing more research and I was like, Oh my gosh, I'm missing so many things with our social media.

[00:05:58]There are things I should be doing. But I just fell down this rabbit hole of research and learning about screen readers and Texas speech programs and how people who are blind or visually impaired interact with social media, how people who are deaf or hard of hearing interact with social media.

[00:06:16] And I just felt like more people needed to know about that. Cause I had never heard anything about it. It's not something that you. I have an art degree, so it wouldn't have been necessarily in my degree, but I don't think it's something that a lot of my friends who did go through marketing programs learn about, you hear about it with web dev, but not really marketing, at least not for social media.

[00:06:39]I started talking about it more because I wanted more people to know about it. And again, I just haven't stopped talking about it.

[00:06:47] Blake: It seems to be a really good niche for you. You're growing on Twitter and a lot of people know you as one of the accessibility people. There are a couple of people out there that talk a lot about it, but you're definitely one of the people for this and to be known as the anything is really.

[00:07:00] Kind of special on social because there's so much noise. So it seems to be a kind of a good corner for you to be in for a platform like this, like a podcast, for example, or a YouTube channel, what are things that can be done for that?  Let's just use this podcast right now as the use case.

[00:07:16]What can I do to make this very episode more accessible, to more people?

[00:07:22] Alexa: Captioning is definitely one of those things that you can do. People always kinda get a little nervous when captioning a suggested, because it feels like this monumental task. And I always encourage people that U2 is great for captioning.

[00:07:37] Actually, if you upload a video to YouTube as unlisted, it will try to auto caption your video for you. So if you give it a little bit of time and then you can go in and you can edit those captions for accuracy. So that's a really easy way to get started with captioning. There's lots of services out there that do it.

[00:07:53] I use an app on my phone called mixed captions. That kind of does the same thing as YouTube, where I can edit the captions after it gives its best shot. Captioning is a big deal with, with podcasts, there, there might be a visual aspect to it. Some podcasts do have visuals, some don't.

[00:08:12] But having just like a brief description in your description of the podcast, essentially of what those two people look like, what's going on in the podcast. It's great. Just to set the stage for someone who's trying to mentally picture what's going on in this podcast. So those are pretty easy things to do.

[00:08:31] I try to speak pretty clearly when I'm on a podcast, which is not always the easiest. Cause I get nervous, but I know it makes the captioning a deal a lot easier if I speak clearly and slowly, which is hard for me.

[00:08:46] Blake: Yeah. That's. Yeah, so that's really interesting. Cause the I've always done transcriptions for my private DAS.

[00:08:54] This is the first time I'm really focusing on the video aspect as well. So adding in the captions is a whole other element. And if there's anybody looking for a great tool for this, by the way I use de script, I don't know if you've ever heard of that, but that's, it's a fantastic tool. I love it. So that's also can make this really accessible for a lot of people.

[00:09:12]And then. Diving even deeper than so outside of the podcast, there's so many different things that we can be doing that most people aren't by self included, I feel so guilty. I need to be better at all this stuff, but would love to just go through specific instances of different things, of how we can make content more accessible.

[00:09:27] So you talk about things like camel case hashtags. You talk about emojis. We should try to be a little bit sparse with our emojis. We talked about closed captioning and all texts. ASC, I R I, is that how you say it though? Is

[00:09:40] Alexa: I've heard people call it ASCII art it's I think that's how it's supposed to be.

[00:09:45] Yeah. And it's actually interesting because I. That curious. I was like, wait, how does my screen reader say ASCII art? Does it say ASCII art? And it does ask the art because it's popular enough where screaming or knows. Okay. So yeah, if there's, so for people who weren't familiar with ASCII art it's, when you take letters, characters, punctuation, marks, stuff like that, and you make art out of it.

[00:10:06] So if you've seen like the bunny holding the little sign and you write something in the sign, that's asked the art, unfortunately it's not accessible for screen readers because the screen reader. Can't determine, Oh, these marks are making a big picture. Instead of I need to read the marks as they're Originally

[00:10:22] purposed,

[00:10:23] Blake: it would just read, like it would read 49 exclamation points. It would go excavation. Yeah. And

[00:10:28] Alexa: even with that, there are some marks that a screen reader doesn't read aloud because they're so common. Whereas if you have a curly bracket, it's going to say like left brace or something because it's not a common Mark.

[00:10:41] So it's very interesting. The more you like dive into it. But, I mentioned all texts earlier. That's basically designating a description for your image. So someone who is using a screen reader because they're blind or visually impaired can enjoy that image as well. Emojis people love emojis.

[00:10:58] You got to use them in moderation. You got to throw them at the ends of posts and tweets because they all have descriptions assigned to them that most people don't realize are there screen winners, use them to describe them to users. So it's yeah, there's a lot you can do. And then of course, Campbell case, which is.

[00:11:16] The one that everyone loves for whatever reason. Cause it's just funny is capitalizing all the words in your multi where it hashtags. Otherwise a screen reader tries to read it as one, like giant word. Got

[00:11:28] Blake: it. Okay. So a lot of it is on the screen reader side to make it accessible there. That's that?

[00:11:33] And then what about things like. Memes and gifs or jifs depending if you're the type person that says Jeff, I won't judge, but

[00:11:44] I was like how can you, is there anything that you can do about why the more interactive the contents getting, whether it's to a meme, to a gift, to an actual video cause an image you can describe it, but then you start adding more and more elements on top of it. And it's just adding more to the story.

[00:11:59] So I'm curious if you have strategy or thoughts on that.

[00:12:04] Alexa: So with memes, it depends on how involved the meme is. You can add all texts to it. Jeff's if you

[00:12:15] if you use the web version of Twitter or the mobile version of Twitter, you can add all texts to Jeff's, which is really nice. So they did adjust that. But I actually just joked the other day that it would be a really interesting exercise to do it in reverse of I write out a tweet that just says alt texts, and then describe the Jif because there are so many chips out there that are like super popular with people at the interesting to see if people could find the Jif that I'm describing, because that is definitely.

[00:12:48] A very creative exercise of writing all texts for Jeff's because I laugh every single time I do it. Cause it's just very strange. Like when you're writing for, I did and Hathaway in a cream colored dress, raising a glass that she had pain and there's a sparkle or something. If people knew what I was talking about, because everyone's seen that Jeff.

[00:13:11]But yeah it's a very creative exercise, but again, it depends on your content. If you can add all texts or

[00:13:17] Blake: not.  Want to go a little bit further in the Altecs as well, and best practices for actually writing that out. Cause I have a background in SEO and so I always learned coming up in the industry that you try to explain it as exactly as possible.

[00:13:31] So you try to eliminate ambiguity and just say like an image of. A man in a red shirt holding an umbrella or, trying to be as specific as possible, but is that actually best practice and how in-depth should you go? And how long should they be?

[00:13:47] Alexa: So you want to keep your Altecs concise to a certain degree.

[00:13:52] I've had people tell me, I've read articles before that some screeners actually cut your Altecs off after a hundred twenty-five characters. So I'm hyper wary of that. I don't know which screen meters those are, but it may be paranoid. But I still try to keep it short just because you want your user to keep moving along through your content and you don't want to bog them down and get stuck on this image.

[00:14:17] I don't feel the need to describe every single detail in a picture. I try to pick out the most important details and describe those so that you can still visualize the important parts of your picture in context with the rest of your content. I'm okay with including proper names, proper nouns. And the example I like to use is that when Elizabeth Warren was running for president, that's what her team did.

[00:14:42] They used her name and her title because it's her campaign and her social media. So why wouldn't you and then as far as SEO goes, there's. Not a lot of research to support that SEO for all texts on social media images actually does anything to my knowledge, it does it. So I always tell people if you can get your keywords in there, great.

[00:15:07] But do it logically, work it into the description like you would any other word? There's a trend on Instagram right now where people will write their image description. So they'll write their alt text and then they'll. It's like packing keywords, just like all these different keywords after that they couldn't fit into the Altecs and you should absolutely not do that because it's not adding to the actual old text.

[00:15:33] You are simply doing that for SEO purposes and all texts is meant to be an accessibility tool, not an SEO growth hack. So you want to, it's all about valuing. Your audience and their experience and prioritizing that over SEO or capitalism or anything like that. So accessibility is telling your audience, I care about you and your experience online.

[00:16:03]Blake: Yeah, and I'm really hands-on as a learner. So I'd be curious. I've never gone through Instagram, for example, a very visual platform and used it like, without. The normal functionality that I'm used to.  If I were going through Instagram and I were someone who was blind or had visual impairment, what would that experience actually be?

[00:16:25]Have you experiment with that and try to look at what other people experience basically based on different accessibility needs.

[00:16:36] Alexa: I have I test content all the time. If I get curious about an image, I'll turn my screen reader on just to test it out. So if F for those who aren't familiar, your mobile phone should actually have a screen meter built into it.

[00:16:48] So I have an iPhone, so it's called voiceover, Android devices have talked back so you can use a screen reader. If you have a smartphone, essentially. But I do a lot of content testing and I test out images on Instagram. I test tweets. I have a private Twitter account where I. Throw content in there just simply for testing it.

[00:17:08]I test stuff on Facebook, but scrolling through Instagram  is interesting. Just because it's hit or miss at the all text feature on Instagram works. Sometimes it works on my images, sometimes it doesn't. So I'm actually considering switching to just writing my image description in the caption and not putting it in all texts because it makes me nervous.

[00:17:29] That my all text doesn't seem to always work. So it's an interesting situation, but yeah, it's all texts. When you start writing all texts for your images, it definitely makes you pick more meaningful images. It makes you more conscious about the images that you choose, because if you're choosing images frequently that have flattened texts out of them.

[00:17:50] You have to put that in your alt text and that's a huge pain. So I prefer not to use images like that when I do my social media content.

[00:17:59] Blake: When so I just had this thought or this question on Instagram itself when you were scrolling through and you. Are visually impaired. So you have the settings on where the screen reader will take over.

[00:18:14] Will Instagram actually still serve images to those people that don't have all texts or will is Instagrams or other platforms already smart enough to know. Okay. So the screen reader or functionality is on. So we're not going to show any images that don't have that capability.

[00:18:31] Alexa: It will still serve those images.

[00:18:33]Mostly because Facebook and by extension Facebook products, which Instagram is owned by Facebook has an AI system that tries its best to write its own alt text. But it's exceptionally vague alt text. So it'll be like tree person outside beach. That's. Those are more, I would say those are more like all tags, which are super short.

[00:18:59] If you have an image of pancakes and all tag is pancakes, it doesn't really describe anything. So yeah. Instagram will still serve up those images because it's AI is going to try and do it's blown all texts and it's going to be terrible. But in no instance, I think would any Facebook product ever be like we're going to stop serving up all these images.

[00:19:20] Because someone has their screen reader on that just goes against everything. That's Facebook and Facebook products want to do. He nice if it did that.

[00:19:28] Blake: Yeah. It was just, it would make sense, serve the best possible experience to people. But I, yeah, but what you're saying is also true that Facebook doesn't they're putting their content first.

[00:19:37]They're not necessarily always putting us first, so yeah. That's a general theme with Facebook days, but yeah.  This has all been really informative for me, and I'm sure that there are a lot of questions that are going to rise up. So if later on in the YouTube comments or whatever, if I have more questions, I might come to you and ask more, but yeah, I think this is a really important step for a lot of us because myself, I know I'm guilty of this and many of us listening that we just don't.

[00:20:03] We haven't educated ourselves on accessibility because for a lot of people, maybe we feel that it doesn't impact us, but in reality, it impacts everybody in some way. And we need to be more empathetic towards people that, we maybe we don't understand exactly what it's like to have to use a screen reader.

[00:20:19] But we should optimize for that because everybody deserves the same chance to enjoy content, to have ideas, to spark their imagination, to, consume just like we do. And I think it's an important conversation to have. So I'm really thankful that you came on and set the groundwork, but there's clearly a lot more to go.

[00:20:37] Alexa: Of course. And I always try to emphasize to people that. We talk about accessibility and disability, but it's not just people who are permanently blind or permanently deaf. There are people who have temporary disability. There are people who have situational disabilities, so it affects your entire audience.

[00:20:57] And. It just makes you a better human to implement these best practices with your social media and try and be better about it. But yeah, if you ever have any other questions, you know where to find me and I am slowly putting together my digital marketing hub of here are the resources you need to have.

[00:21:15] If you want to be a more accessible social media presence.

[00:21:19] Blake: Yeah, I w I was just on your website actually in looking at the checklist, and that was super helpful already. So maybe if you want to talk about that really quickly promote anything else that you're working on, where you're at in your life right now, where you want to go.

[00:21:30] If you, anything you want to promote or chat about here the stage is yours as we close out.

[00:21:35] Alexa: Sure. So I have a website, which is basically my digital portfolio. It's the real alexa.com, which yes is throwing shade at Amazon. But I have been trying to put together a kind of a resource hub where people can learn about all texts.

[00:21:53] They can learn about captioning. They can learn about how to use emojis, Unicode characters, ask VR, hashtags, all that stuff for social media in an accessible way. So it's a labor of love because I am not a website designer and I get distracted really easily. So I have my Altec section up there and a little bit about disability and accessibility for marketing purposes.

[00:22:15] So I'm putting that together. I have a checklist that makes it really easy to go through your content before you posted did I do this and this. So that is available to download in my website. I've gotten a lot of people say that it's really helped them. It's helpful if you have interns that are newer to the marketing world and they want to learn about it in a really quick and easy way.

[00:22:36] But other than that, I'm just kinda. Talking to other marketing groups. I'm talking to more of marketing programs this year at colleges and universities, which I'm really excited about because I know that me and my peers did not have this in our education, or we didn't have it thoroughly sent, hoping to talk to the next generation of digital marketers before they hit the industry and get ahead of the unknowing by telling them about it while they're still in

[00:23:04] Blake: school.

[00:23:05] Awesome.What's your Twitter handle by the way.

[00:23:08] Alexa: It's a hashtag hail AXA. So literally the word hashtag.

[00:23:14] Blake: Yeah. Cool. Okay. So go follow her again. She's a fantastic follow for a lot of reasons, but if for nothing else learn more about accessibility, opened your mind a little bit more to it and learn about things that are going on around you that maybe you didn't understand before, or didn't even consider were happening.

[00:23:29] It's very important. I know that I'm going to be needed to do so thank you very much for coming on. Really appreciate it. And we will talk

[00:23:36] Alexa: soon. Thank you. Thank you for having me.