Conversations About Social Media Accessibility

Word cloud with terms related to accessibility.

Accessibility is more than following Section 508 guidelines. It’s about making your content easy to find, navigate, understand, interact with, and contribute to—for more meaningful Web content and conversations with all Web users. Image from Jil Wright, Flickr.

As a result of Danya’s Google+ Hangout About Social Media Accessibility for Global Accessibility Awareness Day, I was asked to moderate a panel at this year’s Federal Communications Commission “Accessing Social Media” event on July 16 in Washington, D.C.

As thrilled as I was to conduct the successful online event, I am even more thrilled that the conversation about accessibility within social media—making content easy to find, navigate, understand, interact with, and contribute to regardless of a user’s abilities—is continuing throughout several industries.

It is important the dialogues about accessibility move beyond the technical realm and into the conversations communicators are having about content.

Most content, Web, and software developers consider digital accessibility, Section 508 laws, and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines to be technical roadblocks that add unnecessary limitations or red tape to their processes, or limit the “cool” things they can do with their exciting new idea. But to the 1 billion disabled people worldwide who use the Web and all things digital to access vast amounts of information previously off limits, these laws and guidelines are life-changing.

In a quickly changing digital world where social media is becoming a more widespread communication channel, we are all now “Web people” because we are all now posting images, videos, thoughts, and content to the Web. As the Web has grown into a two-way communication medium, many of our perceptions and policies have not grown to accommodate the new reality. With the new power each of us has to post our own thoughts and unique content, comes also the responsibility to make that content accessible to all.

So what does this mean to you right now? Here are some simple things YOU and your organization can do to get started:

  • Read the United Nations’ Enable Factsheet on Persons With Disabilities to understand more about the world’s largest minority.
  • Watch Danya’s Google+ Hangout About Social Media Accessibility featuring a brilliant panel that included:
    • Judy Brewer, Director of the Web Accessibility Initiative at the World Wide Web Consortium
    • Katia Albanese, Program Manager with ePolicyWorks
    • Hope Adler, Management Consultant with ePolicyWorks
    • Victoria Wales, Bilingual Web Content Manager for USA.gov and GobiernoUSA.gov
    • Julia Bascom, Director of Program at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network
    • Robert Kingett, disability journalist, blogger, and video game critic
    • David Timar, Chief Executive Officer of Crossway Media Solutions, the company behind TalkingFlix

    Thank you to my Danya Team members (Tracye Poole, Carlos Chapman, Karen White, and many others) for helping make this such a successful event. You can check out some of them setting up for the event in Danya’s Vine post from May 15.

  • Add descriptions and captions to images you post on Facebook, Instagram, etc.
  • Tweet an accessible image, thanks to EasyChirp, to see how easy it is to be accessible.
  • Please, please, please stop telling people to “click here.” We’ve all been “here” a million times and no one knows where it truly is. How do you write better link text? The Nielsen Norman Group’s article about “Writing Hyperlinks” is a great place to start with good tips to improve usability for everyone (and as a bonus, it also can improve search engine optimization!).
  • Try out the accessibility features on your smartphone. Get a short tutorial from Tommy Edison, The Blind Film Critic, and watch “How Blind People Use Twitter and YouTube on the iPhone 4S.”
  • Provide a link that delivers social media visitors to an accessible version of the content on your Web site if you can’t develop an accessible version of the content for a social media channel.

In short, don’t let your messages miss a large and growing market of individuals with disabilities. Create content that contributes to improving the Web for everyone. It’s time to move from awareness to action and progressively changing things for the better. Not just for the largest minority, but for all of us.

By Jennifer Smith

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