By Debra Ruh
I am an advocate of using social media to bring awareness 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 their voices via social media. However, there are some significant accessibility problems with social media. There are leaps in accessibility that have been made and are in progress. Yet we find that many social media tools and applications are not blending accessibility into their products and when they are, it does not seem to be a priority. PwD are often left out of the social media conversation and movement because the devices are less accessible.
We find that many social media tools and applications are not blending accessibility into their products. PwD are often left out of the social media conversation because they apps are inaccessible. This is difficult to deal with due to the fact that most don’t seem to have accessibility in mind until there is a problem, instead the devices and applications need to be thought of as opportunities for universal access.
Social media has to be accessible or we continue to widen the Digital Divide, it is as simple as that. As long as there are access problems we run the risk of alienating a portion of our community.
The Internet has opened up many opportunities as well as greatly improving the quality of life for these users, but there are still barriers. Many people think of disabilities in extreme terms such as blindness and deafness, but it also includes many others with visual or hearing impairments that are increasingly common in our aging population, and other challenges such motor and cognitive impairment. The spectrum of ability for all users is variable.
Can an organization really afford to lose this audience?
I think not, and this community is chattering on more accessible platforms, about the good and the bad. If social media tools are not accessible those platforms stand to lose out on major benefits, or risk being singled out as not worried about the less able part of the population and their advocates.
Sometimes we hear that it is too hard to make an application or platform accessible. This makes sense only if the organization wishes to put forth the message that their customers are not worth a re-tool of an app. Accessibility should be built into the system similarly to building in privacy, security or usability. The second thought of accessibility as “not an easy add on” and will be noticed by those left out.
The good news is that Social Media applications can be made fully accessible allowing everyone to use them; all aspects of use just need to be considered.
In years past, developers were afraid that making the application accessible would make a system less creative or innovative or other security issues. The good news is we have seen amazing strides with accessible social media and now it is innovative developers take pride in blending accessibility into the process level. This seems to be the future of technology and it should be our end goal to reach universal access.
Is participation for all out of the question? If we don’t make social media accessible than we continue to widen the “Digital Divide” and 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, there for this is an issue that affects family and community. Worldwide, this group numbers 500-750 million people and is a key influencer of the public’s perceptions.
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, ridiculous – we have seen amazing strides with accessible social media and now it is BAD design if you do not blend accessibility into the process level.