Importantly, in addition to providing a nice overview of the accessibility issues with Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, YouTube, Skype and various blogging platforms Sociability: Social Media for People with a Disability also includes practical tips and workarounds, developed in consultation with social media users who have a disability.
There’s a lot of useful content and it is well worth downloading the document and reading through in its entirety (just in case you missed the link the first time).
The report’s author, Dr Scott Hollier, a project manager at Media Access Australia includes a short section on the benefits of social media specifically for people with disabilities:
While the reasons for and potential benefits of creating, modifying, sharing and discussing things online are clear for the general public, for people with disabilities the benefits have the potential to be even more profound. The BBC Ouch! website recently discussed the impact of social media on people with disabilities.
The article, Social networking, the disabled view, and several comments highlight how social media not only provide an avenue for participation for people with disabilities but can often become an even more important means of communication due to some of the challenging social situations having a disability can provide.
Benefits discussed online include a vision impaired person using Twitter to communicate with friends instead of crowded social situations where eye contact is difficult, a person who is often sick using Facebook and blogging tools to keep people informed of her progress and using LinkedIn to improve employability options.
The common element between all of these scenarios is participation: regardless of whether social media is used for activism, entertainment or obtaining pizza discounts, it is vital that consumers with disabilities are able to participate in the benefits that social media can provide.
Unfortunately, previous research into the accessibility of the most popular social media platforms has demonstrated how poorly accessibility issues are considered. Denis Boudreau’s research – slideshow embedded below – is scathing. Although it must be acknowledged that things are getting better.
While its somewhat remarkable that organisations with the insane budgets that the major social media platforms have to throw around aren’t taking accessibility more seriously, the really wonderful thing about this report is the inclusion of tips (or work-arounds) for overcoming many of the accessibility issues with these platforms. Here are just of few:
- Facely HD is an accessible mobile app for using Facebook on the iPhone or iPad.
- The Linkedin mobile app for “i” products is also very accessible.
- There are a number of accessible YouTube portals such as Accessible YouTube and Easy YouTube.
- Easy Chirp has created an accessible desktop version of Twitter.
The clear implications, particularly for government but also for NGOs wishing to engage their community online is that the major social media platforms cannot be relied upon as a natural communications channel. Unlike government agencies, there is no compulsion for privately held and operated platforms to conform to the WCAG guidelines. So while they may have the benefit of being “free”, they are unlikely to comply with human rights legislation or government policy. Hence the need for specialist community engagement solutions – whether developed in-house or sourced from third-party organisations like Bang the Table.
In summary then, it’s pretty clear that social media provides a potentially invaluable communications channel for people with disabilities. It’s just as clear that the major social media channels aren’t going to a lot of effort to facilitate uptake of that opportunity.
Photo Credits: Exchanges Photos
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