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Debra Ruh

  Employability & Technology

11/08/2011

Social Media and Accessibility

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There are some significant accessibility problems with social media networks and websites. We find that many social media tools and applications are not blending accessibility into their products. Debra Ruh talks about how this impacts the way Persons with Disabilities communicate online, via social media.

I am a big communicator and to be honest it got in trouble a lot in school for chattering.  My teachers said that I couldn’t stop talking and my mom often got notes about this issue. I remember in 5th grade my teacher saying if one more person talks or laughs you will be staying after school.  You guessed it, that made me giggle, and yes – I stayed after school and then stayed in my room that weekend on restriction. I love to talk, sing, write, and just chatter. My family and friends understand and usually appreciate this about me. Sometimes I think my husband wouldn’t mind gagging me, but after 29 years of marriage he would never openly say that because then we would have to “talk” about it. He says that I even talk in my sleep! 

So I bet you have guessed it – I LOVE social media. Social Media allows me to chatter with people all over the world. Plus I can get instantaneous responses. I remember when Virginia had an earthquake (okay California, no wise cracks) it was traumatic for us. I couldn’t believe how many aftershocks we felt.  One night we had a 5.3 aftershock and it woke everyone up in the house. My husband and daughter went back to sleep but I was shaken and started thinking scary thoughts, like what if a really big one comes and what if a tree falls on the house!

TecAccess Founder and CEO Debra Ruh with her daughter Sara Ruh

TecAccess Founder and CEO Debra Ruh with her daughter Sara Ruh

I have a great imagination and sometimes I don’t appreciate it late at night.  So I got up and got on my social media network to chatter about it and calm my nerves. I chattered with people all over Richmond and it really helped calm me and made me feel safe knowing others were feeling the same way.

I also use social media to chatter about the community of people with disabilities (PWD) and accessible Internet, Communications and Technology (ICT). I believe that the community of PWD is starting to find our voices via social media. However, there are some significant accessibility problems with social media. We find that many social media tools and applications are not blending accessibility into their products. So PWD are often left out of the social media conversation and movement because the interface is inaccessible.

Really – come on – can’t everyone be allowed to participate? If we don’t make social media accessible then we continue to widen the “Digital Divide”. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in seven people are impacted with disabilities worldwide. Plus 1 out of 3 households in the U.S. are impacted by disabilities.  Worldwide, this group numbers 500-750 million people and is a key influencer of public perceptions.

The Internet has opened many opportunities and has greatly improved the quality of life for these users, but they still face barriers. You might think of disabilities in extreme terms such as blindness and deafness, but it also includes several impairments on the disability spectrum, ranging from loss of mobility and motor functions, cognition, learning and speech impairments, age-related impairments that are increasingly common in world population. According to the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs Population Division report, the world’s ageing population is expected to hit nearly 2 billion in 2050.  

Social media networks and websites are highly inaccessible to persons with disabilities

Social media networks and websites are highly inaccessible to persons with disabilities

Can social media entrepreneurs, UX and website designers, and technologists really afford to lose this huge audience?  I don’t think so. This community is really chattering on the more accessible platforms so if social media tools are not accessible, those platforms stand to lose out on major benefits.

Sometimes we hear that it is too hard to make an application or platform accessible. How ridiculous – accessibility should be built into the system just like you would build in privacy, security or usability.

There is NO excuse to not make your Social Media applications fully accessible so that everyone can use them. In years past, developers were afraid that making the application accessible would make a system less usable or “dummy” the system down. Once again, this assumption merits no support – we have seen amazing strides with accessible social media and now it is simply BAD design if you do not blend accessibility at the process level. 

Want to know more? Join our free webinar on Accessible Social Media or download a free trial version of our Accessibility Management Platform (AMP), a knowledge platform that has plenty of tips, online training and suggestions for making applications fully accessible.