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Robert Pearson

Accessible Media


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05/29/2013

Accessing the Digital Social Playground: How Accessible Are Social Media Platforms?


Robert Pearson draws up analogies between the play equipment of physical playgrounds that children use and the digital playing fields of Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites. How accessible are these platforms, both in real life and the virtual?
 
Perhaps you have been there; keeping an eye on young children as they run around in the playground. Social interaction on the playground is important. Swinging with the other kids, taking turns going down the slide, experiencing the thrill of the see-saw, and just having fun in the wading pool. A lot of this learning involves understanding non-verbal and informal "rules" informally enforced within the play structures of the playing field.
 
Children realize that the lessons they learnt in discipline, healthy competition, patience, and determination also apply in the adult social world of education, work, relationships, or travel. The rules of the play structures are still applicable, but only in a different form. Now, this is where the question arises: wouldn't the situation be different for children living with some type of disability? Would their experience of the play structure be the same as the kids who can freely access the playground everyday? This inaccessibility might perhaps, contribute to difficulties for the children living with disabilities in making sense of and applying the informal "rules" of social interactions in the future.
 
Children in the playground

Image: Children in the playground. How inclusive are our playgrounds for children with disabilities, asks Robert Pearson

Let me draft an analogy of the physical playgrounds to the learning and playing grounds of the digital world.
 
Consider the micro-blogging platform Twitter as equivalent to the slide in the playground. The interface is designed such that new tweets (or posts) appear at the top and begin sliding towards the bottom of the page within a few seconds. If you want to see the old tweets, you scroll down a long way and repeat the cycle to see the newer posts at the top.

Facebook: I liken it to the wading pool. Jump on in and socialize with your friends. Chat about someone's relationship status, play a game and even poke someone walking by. Your conversations are open to everyone's comments. 
 
YouTube: This video hosting platform is just like the monkey bars, with inter-connected links taking you from one video to another.
 
LinkedIn: This professional networking site is just like the swings. It's where the business gets done. Strike a deal with the kid next to you to see who can go the highest and fastest. Send invitations to get others into the challenge. You will be able increase the popularity of your playground profile when you win the challenge.

Pinterest: This is a fairly new entrant and I consider this as the baby swing. Sit back and watch pictures of the world go by. You can substitute Pinterest with Instagram or Flickr, with additional swing features. 

For those of us living with some form of disability and the generations of children who are growing up with a disability, gaining access to social play is challenging at best and completely isolating and exclusionary at its worst. In the playgrounds, children with disabilities are excluded from accessing various rides and sets, and the same applies to the digital playgrounds as well, which they would begin to use in their teenage and adult life.
 
Consumption of digital media will always be an essential part of our lives. We need to ensure that all kinds of media are available in accessible formats. The lines between what is social, professional, personal, and public is slowly getting blurred and the current generation is learning how to socialize and interact in new ways, both online and offline. This means that persons living with disabilities face a lifelong pattern of exclusion from platforms that otherwise allows the vast majority to have fun, participate in group activities, and involve themselves in networking and socializing. The situation is of course different if we use assistive technology devices and programs that make these digital platforms accessible. But the larger goal has to be about inclusion, not making accommodations.

How do you use social media and what are the difficulties you have faced in interacting with your peers? If you are someone living with a disability since childhood, please share your experience of interacting with other children in the playground.

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Related Resources

News: G3ict Chairperson Ambassador Luis Gallegos on the Launch of the Global Consultation for Best Practices in ICT Inclusion for Persons with Disabilities | Read News Article.
 
Blog: What Your Child Can Teach You About Embedded Described Video TV by Robert Pearson | Read Article.
 
Publication: Inclusive Play Design Guide | Resource to guide the creation of great outdoor play environments for everyone | Download Free PDF!
 
Event: HLMDD 2013: United Nations High-Level Meeting of the General Assembly on Disability and Development on September 23, 2013 at New York | Event Details.

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• UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Address

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