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Late-night TV has a digital accessibility problem

John Oliver, James Corden, Seth Meyers, Andy Cohen, Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert

Photos courtesy of NBC, HBO, CBS, ABC, and Bravo.

Despite accessibility tools being more convenient than ever on social media, many users are either unaware of the tools’ availability, unclear on how to use them, or unsure of their utility. 

That includes late-night TV shows, which rarely take advantage of tools that make content more accessible to disabled fans. 

To get an idea of how best practices for basic accessibility are followed by various late-night shows, I checked for consistent use of video captions and photo/GIF alt text on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube for 10 shows: 

  • The Amber Ruffin Show*
  • The Daily Show
  • Jimmy Kimmel Live
  • Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
  • The Late Late Show with James Corden
  • Late Night with Seth Meyers
  • The Late Show with Stephen Colbert
  • SNL
  • The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon
  • Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen

The good news: Every show now has automated captioning turned on for YouTube. (Ideally, captions would also be edited manually to catch mistakes.) 

The bad news: No show includes alt text for photos and GIFs on Twitter and Instagram — ever. Of the nine shows I checked that have their own social media presence, only Late Night with Seth Meyers reliably provides video captioning across platforms.

What is Alt Text?

Alt text, short for alternative text, has been around for a long time — but if you don’t rely on it, you may only have learned about it in the past couple of years as Twitter and Instagram have added the functionality. You may also have noticed alt text in the past when an image fails to load on a website, showing text in its place.

Alt text communicates essential information about an image to people who use screen readers and other visual accessibility aids to navigate the internet. It should never be used as a joke or meme.

I’ve laid out each show’s basic accessibility practices on the chart below, accurate as of January 30, 2023 (but I would LOVE to update this post). Show names link to network landing pages, alt-text boxes link to each show’s Twitter, video caption boxes link to their Instagram, and YouTube captions link, obviously, to their YouTube channels. 

Want to help make late-night TV more accessible to fans on social media? Tag the shows on Twitter and make a request. Feel free to copy the sample tweet below (make sure you erase [SHOW/HOST @HANDLES] and tag your favorite show and host) or write your own. 

Hi [SHOW/HOST @HANDLES]! I'm a big fan and would love to see the show use alt text and video captions to make your content more accessible to people with vision and hearing disabilities! More info: https://latenightist.com/accessibility

And slightly tweaked for Late Night fans:

Hi @LateNightSeth/@SethMeyers! I'm a big fan and am glad you caption all of your videos. I'd love to see the show use alt text, as well, to make your content more accessible to people with vision disabilities! More info: https://latenightist.com/accessibility

How Accessible Is Late-Night TV on Social Media?

Information compiled by Stephanie Aly/Latenightist and updated January 30, 2023

*The Amber Ruffin Show doesn’t have independent social media but does use captions on YouTube. I checked Peacock just for fun since they post about the show, and they occasionally use video captions but never use alt text. I didn’t ding TARS for that since it’s not a show-specific channel. (That’s also why I didn’t include Amber in the feature photo.) 

**The Daily Show occasionally captions videos on Instagram, but not consistently, and doesn’t caption videos on Twitter.

Accessibility Resources

Here are some resources you can use to learn how to make your own social media (or that of your late-night show) more accessible:

Have you noticed one of your favorite late-night shows has updated their accessibility practices? Comment below or tag me on Twitter (@latenightistand I’ll update the chart.

Happy posting, my friends!