Becoming a Social Media Butterfly: Exploring Social Media as a VoiceOver User on iOS

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team


In this post I would like to focus on the topic of social media, and how you can use the said medium on your iOS device with VoiceOver. I also want to dispel any misconceptions that social media is a complete no-go area for members of the blind or visually impaired community.

Social media is often subject to a lot of negative press and criticism, and in some cases such coverage and opinion is justified. However, I believe that social media is a fantastic form of modern media and source of information when used appropriately.

I will begin by discussing what is meant by social media, and how it can be of benefit to you. Then I will consider what you need to know when signing up to different forms of social media, and I will explain some of the terminology commonly found on many social media sites.

Before concluding, I will discuss how you can use social media on your iOS device, and I will highlight some social media applications you may consider researching and/or downloading. I will then conclude this post by giving you 2 little fun social media activities which you can complete if you so desire.

What is Social Media?

To make sure there is common ground before proceeding, I would like to discuss the term “social media” at this early stage. The said term is used a lot in today’s world, but I’m not convinced that everyone understands what the term means.

Social media is actually an umbrella term which refers to social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn, micro-blogging sites such as Twitter and Tumblr, blog platforms like Wordpress and Blogger, wikis such as Wikipedia and Wikihow, and content sharing sites like YouTube and Slideshare, among many others. I haven’t even mentioned other forms of social media which are specific to mobile devices such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Vorail.

When the term “social media” is used by someone, they could be referring to any of the various websites and applications previously mentioned. Were you aware that the term “social media” had such a broad definition?

If you would like to learn how social media has developed over time, I would invite you to read this History Cooperative article as it offers a very comprehensive overview of the medium’s history. If you would like to learn about the benefits of social media available to you as a VoiceOver user, please read on.

How can Social Media benefit me?

In my opinion, there are 2 categories of benefits which are available when you are present on social media. The said categories consist of personal and professional benefits, and I will list both sets of benefits below.

Personal Benefits.

  1. Connecting with others regardless of geography.
  2. Finding other individuals or groups with common interests.
  3. Sourcing relevant information in a timely manner.

Professional Benefits.

  1. Highlighting your knowledge and expertise in a given area.
  2. Marketing a cause, good or service you wish to help or promote.
  3. Assisting you when/if you are searching for a job.

Some of the listed benefits are gained by simply signing up to a social media provider, but other require that you put some effort in when putting together your profile and posts. For example, the ability to connect with others around the world is an automatic benefit, but highlighting your knowledge/expertise is something you will have to take responsibility for.

How do I get signed up?

Getting signed up to any form of social media is quite standard, and takes a matter of minutes to complete. By “standard,” I mean that the majority of social media sites will ask for the same information when you are signing up.

For example, In the case of Twitter and Instagram, you will be asked for a username, e-mail address and password of your choosing. The username is how you would like to be identified on a given social media site, and keep in mind there are particular characters which are, and are not, permitted in the said username.

You can generally pick whatever username you would prefer, but you may have to try a number of different versions of the same username as your first preference may not be available. From an accessibility point of view, I would recommend to highlight the beginning of new words with capital letters in your username as this really helps VoiceOver to read your username as you intended.

If you would like some tips on how to come up with the perfect username, I would suggest reading this article. Even though the article I have linked to specifically mentions Twitter, I would argue that the tips included can be applied to almost all forms of social media which require a username.

If you cannot create what you think is the perfect username and/or you need some inspiration, you might want to play-around with this username generator. Always keep in mind that your username should be unique to you, and feel comfortable choosing whatever feels right.

What does all this Social Media lingo mean?

There is a range of terminology specific to social media which you may have not heard before if you are not already present on sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. I have listed a lot of the most common terms you will encounter below, and I have tried to keep the explanations as straight forward as possible.


  • This social media term is specific to Google+.
  • Circles are clusters of a user's friends, colleagues, family, or connections on Google+.


  • This term is common on social networks such as Facebook and blogging platforms like Wordpress.
  • A comment is a text response which is generally provided as a reply or reaction to a blog or post.


  • This social media term is specific to LinkedIn.
  • Connections refer to people you have found on LinkedIn that you have met, heard speak, done business with, or know through another connection.

Direct Message:

  • This social media term is specific to Twitter.
  • Direct messages are also referred to as DM’s, and they are private messages sent from you to another user on Twitter.


  • This social media term is specific to LinkedIn.
  • An endorsement is given to you by your connections on LinkedIn in respect of your listed skills, i.e. they are confirming that you have a given skill in reality which is present on your LinkedIn profile.


  • This social media term is specific to Facebook.
  • Fans are the individuals who have liked your Facebook Page, but please note that this is not the same as your personal Facebook Profile.


  • This social media term is generally found on Twitter, Instagram and blogging platforms such as Wordpress.
  • Followers refer to the people who have chosen to subscribe to your social media posts whether that is written posts, photos or other media.


  • This social media term is most commonly associated with Facebook.
  • Friends are the people you have chosen to connect with on Facebook, and doing so means you will be able to view their posts and they, yours.


  • This social media term is specific to Twitter.
  • The term handle is used to refer to an individual’s username on Twitter, and it is common for people to say “My Twitter Handle is…” instead of “My Username on Twitter is…”.


  • This social media term is specific to Google+.
  • A hangout is a personal video streaming service with up to 10 of your Circle members.


  • A hashtag is used on many social media sites to associate a post to a particular conversation, and if the conversation and hashtag are particularly popular it may be said to be Trending.
  • For example, if a person wanted to associate their post with 2016, they could place a hashtag at the end of the post like #LeapYear or #2016.


  • This term is most commonly found on Facebook and Instagram, but it is also present on Twitter and LinkedIn.
  • A like simply means that you like a given post, and you want the user in question to know this.


  • This social media term is specific to Twitter, and helps you gather the posts of a single or group of individuals for review.
  • You have the ability to create lists on Twitter, and when you add a user to the said list, that user has then been listed.


  • This social media term is specific to Twitter.
  • When you mention someone, you basically use their Twitter Handle in your post, and they are informed you have mentioned them.


  • This social media term is specific to Facebook, but it is present on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn with a different name.
  • A newsfeed is simply a collection of your friends/connections posts, and it is generally the homepage of your social media account when you are signed in.


  • This social media term is specific to Facebook, and is a relatively new addition.
  • A reaction gives you the opportunity to express your feeling about a given post, and you can choose between haha, sad or angry among others.


  • This social media term is specific to LinkedIn.
  • A recommendation is the electronic/social media version of a letter of recommendation or reference in the real-world.


  • This social media term is specific to Twitter.
  • You have the ability to reply to a Twitter post, this will automatically include the Twitter Handle of the individual in question, and this action is common if you have been mentioned.


  • This social media term is specific to Twitter, and is often denoted by the letter R and T, e.g. RT.
  • Another user on Twitter may decide to retweet your post if they find it of interest to them, and you can also retweet any posts you are interested on Twitter.


  • A selfie is a self-portrait of your face which is posted to social media sites such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and the said self-portraits are usually accompanied by the hashtag #Selfie.
  • There is an iOS application designed to help anyone take a Selfie like a pro, and the said application is called SelfieX, but I’m afraid I don’t have experience using the mentioned application.

Status Update:

  • This social media term is most commonly found on Facebook, but it may appear on other social media sites.
  • A Status Update is a post which is written by you and shared with all your Facebook Friends, you can include photos, links, locations, feelings and you can also Tag other Facebook Friends.


  • This social media term is commonly found on Facebook and Twitter.
  • When you tag an individual you are linking back to their social media profile.


  • This social media term is generally found on twitter and Facebook, but it can appear on other sites.
  • Something is considered trending when it is a very popular talking point on social media, i.e. when a given topic is hashtagged a lot.


  • The word troll is used to describe someone on social media that creates controversy or posts material directed at another user which is negative or abusive in nature.
  • Unfortunately, the term troll is not specific to any one form of social media.


  • This social media term is specific to Twitter.
  • A Tweet is the name given to a post on Twitter, i.e. the equivalent of a status update on Facebook.


  • This social media term is not specific to any one form of social media, but it is most common when talking about a video, photo or blog post.
  • The term Viral is used when something has gained a lot of popularity and awareness, and essentially, the content has spread from one person to another numerous times.


  • This social media term is not specific to YouTube, but it is most commonly found on the said social media site.
  • A Vlog, or the activity of Vlogging, involves using video to tell a story or communicate a message which someone could also use a traditional blog to share.

How does Social Media work on iOS?

Generally, social media is accessed through iOS applications, and it is very common for social media sites to have a dedicated iOS app in the App Store. For example, while you can technically use the Mobile Facebook site to access the social media site on your iOS device, it is more common to access the said site via the Facebook iOS app which is available in the App Store.

Facebook and Twitter are integrated into the iOS platform as standard in the Settings application. You can use this section of the Settings application to create a Facebook or Twitter account and/or sign in to your existing social media account. You can also download the Facebook and Twitter applications from this section of the Settings application as well.

You will notice that there are Facebook and twitter buttons present on the ShareSheet which is activated by double tapping the share button in many applications. For instance, I can double tap the share button in Safari when I am reading an interesting web page, and I will have the option to share it via Facebook, Twitter and any other social media applications I have installed on my iOS device.

I have listed links to the most common social media iOS applications below, but you can search for your preferred form of social media. I have also included links to the AppleVis iOS App Directory for each application.





How accessible is Social Media with VoiceOver?

In my opinion, there are elements of social media which are very accessible, and most of the above listed applications work wonderfully with VoiceOver on iOS. As with all other iOS applications, sometimes accessibility is not absolutely perfect, but if developers are made aware of particular accessibility difficulties, the said difficulties can be addressed.

There will always be elements of social media which are inaccessible to members of the blind and visually impaired community such as videos without audio, photos without captions on Facebook and Twitter and other aspects which are visual in nature. However, this is not a reason to not be present on social media as there is a lot of information which is accessible.

For example, I am able to get as much news about current affairs, reviews of tech related gadgets and general updates from friends and celebrities as I could possibly want on Twitter. Of course there are some visual pieces of information I can’t access, but it is rare that such visual graphics are unaccompanied with a written caption or explanation which VoiceOver can read.

In the case of Twitter, there are several iOS applications which you can download to access the social media site. I personally use Twitterific, but there are others such as Tweetings.

Some may consider the following as an advanced use of social media, but there are applications such as HootSuite which enable you to post to multiple social media sites at once. Posting to multiple forms of social media simultaneously is a very useful action at times, but I appreciate that it is something which everyone may not be interested in.

Looking to the future, Facebook recently announced plans to develop software which would attempt to describe a photo to someone who is blind or visually impaired. If you would like to read more about the mentioned software please visit this link](


As if I hadn’t made it abundantly clear already, I think social media is great. It is a fantastic way of keeping in touch with people regardless of their location, and it can be a very good source of information. As if this wasn’t enough, you can use social media to great effect when promoting your own personal brand and/or a cause or project which is of interest to you.

It is completely up to you, but if you would like to complete a fun little social media activity, I have listed 2 tasks below involving the AppleVis profiles on Facebook and Twitter. Each activity will require that you have created or have an existing Facebook and Twitter account.

  1. Visit the AppleVis Facebook Page at this link, like the page if you haven’t done so already, and Write a Post including the Hashtag #SocialMediaButterfly at the end.
  2. Visit the AppleVis Twitter Account at this link, and follow the account if you have not already done so, and Mention @AppleVis with a Tweet ending with the Hashtag #SocialMediaButterfly.

I really hope this post is of benefit to you, and if you have any thoughts on this post, or would like to ask a question, I invite you to leave a comment and I will respond to you as soon as I can.



Submitted by TJT 2001 on Tuesday, March 1, 2016

I tried becoming a Facebook member, but I found that my friends were posting and directing me to too many videos that had almost no descriptive text to what the video was about. Just saying "lol, this is funny," or similar expressions made me feel that I was wasting my time on Facebook. Not liking the abundance of the videos, I decided to permanently remove my account from Facebook using the website I may consider returning to Facebook in the future, especially with the described images that I have heard mention of recently.

Submitted by Morgan Watkins on Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

This was a very informative blog. Thank you. I feel much more socially aware.

Submitted by Apple Khmer on Wednesday, March 2, 2016

I keep tabs on science and technology stuff on Twitter. I also keep tabs on science, etchnology and other interests on Wakelet. Both platforms are quite accessible with JAWS and Voice Over. I did also use Facebook to keep tabs on areas of interest, but Aakelet platform does that service much better.

Submitted by Andy B. on Wednesday, March 2, 2016

No descriptions were given on the accessibility of the social media websites. Ensure the content of your post discusses the claims in the introduction. How to get around on Facebook or Twitter with VO would be nice.

Submitted by Nikki on Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Thank you so much for writing this article about how to not think that even if you're blind or visually impaired that you can participate in social media. This article is really going to help me to teach blind and visually impaired people how to use Facebook on their iOS devices and how to use Facebook in general. Thank you again for posting this wonderful article :-)

Submitted by Niall Gallagher on Sunday, June 26, 2016

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Hello All,

I would like to say sorry for this long overdue reply.

I would also like to thank you all for your supporting comments and constructive criticisms. The support from you all encourages me to write more, and the criticisms makes me want to improve my future posts.

I wish you all the best :)

Kind regards, Niall