Someone in the Social Media apps folder on their iPhone

Social media is the name for websites and applications that allow virtual networks of people to come together to share information, communicate, create content and collaborate.

People use social media to stay in touch and interact with family and friends, interest groups, business and job networks and various communities.

Features and benefits

Text posts and comments, digital photos or videos and online interactions are what make social media such an effective and interactive way to communicate. Users can be anywhere in the world and don’t even need to have ever met in person to build friendships and develop online social networks of like-minded people.

Users can access social media services through web-based apps on desktops and laptops or download applications (apps) that offer social media functions to mobile devices (like smartphones and tablets).

Some of the most popular social media websites, with 100s of millions of users are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and LinkedIn.

How accessible is social media for someone with sight loss?

Many aspects of social media are very visual, with an emphasis on the sharing of images, photographs and videos. However, social media companies have worked hard to ensure that their platforms are accessible to blind and partially sighted users.

All social media platforms make it possible for users to add alternative text (alt text) to describe their pictures, so a blind or partially sighted person can hear a summary of what is featured in the image. Many have also started using object recognition software to add alt text to pictures, ensuring an audio description is available for all images. Learn more about automatic alt text in this article from technology website The Verge.

If you have sight loss it is possible for you to participate fully in social media and join in both following other people’s posts and creating exciting content of your own.

This short piece from In Touch on the BBC talks to blind and partially sighted people who are influential on social media about how they use it. Presenter Peter White also offers some general tips and advice about social media and where you can go for help. Click here to listen on BBC Sounds.

Here’s some further information about the most popular social media platforms and where to go for help with accessibility:

Facebook

Facebook makes it easy for you to connect with family and friends online. It is the world's largest social media network, with more than 1 billion users worldwide. Facebook allows you to send messages and post status updates to keep in touch with friends and family. You can also share different types of content, like photos and links.

Facebook have an accessibility team committed to ensuring the website and mobile app is fully accessible. Blind and partially sighted users can move through the functions and like, comment and share posts. You can adjust text size and contrast. Facebook is compatible with all the major screen readers and can be navigated using keyboard shortcuts (access keys).

Technology for Life Coordinator Madleen Bluhm uses Facebook. She says: "Facebook is so much more than just telling the world what I’m doing, or where I’m going. It’s my “go to" place for checking out other organisations that I might need to obtain services from, to interact with social groups near me, find a handy man and, of course, simple things like chatting with friends. I prefer using the app on the smart phone or the mobile browser: m.facebook.com The main Facebook site is cluttered with apps and game requests. But Facebook has definitely made me feel more included."

Twitter

Twitter is a news and social networking platform where users post and interact with short messages known as tweets. For most languages, these tweets consist of 280 characters and can include text, video, gifs, photos and website links. On Twitter you can “Follow” people, companies and businesses you are interested in and you can create posts yourself to build a following of people who are interested in what you have to say.

Many blind and partially sighted people use their smartphones to access Twitter. Both the iOS and Android Twitter apps are accessible using VoiceOver or TalkBack. Desktop screen reader users can access Twitter on their website, but many find it easier if they use a third-party app like Chicken Nugget or Night Owl for a Mac.

Instagram

Instagram is a free photo and video sharing app available on Apple iOS, Android and Windows Phone. Users can upload photos and videos and share them with your followers or with a select group of people. You can also view, comment and like posts shared by the people you follow.

The iOS and Android apps for Instagram are known to be accessible with VoiceOver and TalkBack. Here's a link to a video on YouTube by blind film director James Rath, who explains how a person with sight loss can use Instagram.

TikTok

TikTok is a social networking service that is all about video sharing. The social media platform is used to make and post a variety of short videos, from genres like dance, comedy and education, that have a duration from fifteen seconds to three minutes.

On TikTok you can follow people you know, friends and family or celebrities and search keywords to find videos that match your interests.

TikTok says it is “committed to maintaining an inclusive environment and supporting our diverse community”. The app and website is mostly accessible with a few issues for screen reader users. The platform has introduced a new text-to-speech feature that converts typed text to a voiceover that plays over text as it appears in the video. However, TikTok remains a primarily visual platform and many blind and partially sighted users report that they use it only to listen to videos and that they find the app cluttered and hard to navigate.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn describe itself as the world's largest professional network on the internet. It’s an effective way to connect with work colleagues, potential employers and professional contacts. Increasingly recruiters and employers with roles to fill are using LinkedIn to search for likely job candidates.

When you sign up to LinkedIn you create a profile listing your qualifications, the jobs you have had and your achievements. If you allow LinkedIn access to your email or phone contacts it will alert you to link with all the people you know who are already members. You can quickly create a network of connections in your sector, in your field of work, or at organisations where you could be a good fit for a new employment opportunity

The LinkedIn website is broadly accessible and well formatted, so someone using a screen reader can navigate the site. The mobile apps are accessible and give blind and partially sighted users access to all the LinkedIn features like linking with people, searching for jobs and editing your profile. However, creating a LinkedIn account on a mobile device may require sighted assistance as there are image-based elements.

Conclusion

Social media can be a great way to stay in touch with people you know, things want to know more about and subjects that are of interest to you. Platforms change all the time with updates that often make them more accessible (but sometimes changes make them less accessible as well). This article was correct when written in Autumn 2021.

Members of RNIB's Technology for Life team are early adopters of new technology and share their own experiences with the most interesting and useful apps in these reviews. This is not an official accessibility review or audit, nor have we reviewed sites for security or compliance with data processing law. For issues concerning accessibility please raise these with the developer via its website.