Making Social Media More Accessible
Colleen Burns 120000C4RP firstname.lastname@example.org | | Tags:  accessibility holly_nielsen social-media
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Making social media more accessible
True or False: Today’s mainstream social media channels are accessible to all.
Before you answer that question, let’s take a look at the current state of the social media space.
Social media channels enable social networking, a phenomenon fueled largely by user-generated content and the various ways users can connect and share that content. Recent usage numbers for the top five social media channels are incredible:
No single company could fill the content pipeline of one of these channels, much less for all of them concurrently, as is happening right now. But when we look at the accessibility of these channels, we start to see that not everyone can equally participate in these social exchanges.
An older blog post by Nilofar Ansher from G3ict, the Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies, poses three questions that can help a social media company assess the accessibility of its site:
1. Can everyone publish their own content without barriers?
2. Does the publishing platform support the creation of accessible content? (More specifically, does the publishing process require accessibility artifacts? For example, does it ask for alternative text for images?)
3. Is that content then presented to the user in an accessible way?
If you (or your developers) can’t answer “yes” to all three questions about your social media platform or channel, then it’s a safe bet that some people are excluded from participating.
Denis Boudreau, president of AccessibilitéWeb, a Montreal-based accessibility cooperative, put together a thorough presentation in fall 2011 that evaluated the accessibility of the five main social media platforms (Pinterest is not included). He evaluated the platforms on the eight most common accessibility problems:
His findings? All five platforms failed. LinkedIn did the best, at 29 percent.
Because these platforms are available at no cost to users and participation is optional, there isn’t the pressure from paying customers or government regulations to make them accessible and inclusive – yet. Both the changing technology-related legislation worldwide that is incorporating accessibility requirements and the consumers who are becoming more vocal about access will ultimately put pressure on these social channels to become fully accessible.
Workarounds, fortunately, do exist and there appears to be some movement toward accessibility. EasyChirp is an accessible Twitter client that has received good reviews. AppleVis, a community-driven website created to collect information on the accessibility of apps developed for Apple's iOS devices, includes a free, accessible LinkedIn app. And, blind colleagues report improvements in the Facebook mobile client over the last year (you must be logged in to Facebook to access).
As a social media practitioner, I find it unfortunate that we’re not building relationships with all of our clients, prospects, and partners within social media channels because of the lack of inclusivity. Using social platforms that are accessible, such as IBM Connections, is a huge step forward in becoming an Inclusive Social Business, but until the mainstream social media channels are accessible, the ideas and insights of millions of people worldwide are not being fully shared. Neither are they fully engaged as customers in the business model of the channel, resulting in potential revenue remaining on the table.
The answer to true or false question posed at the beginning of this post? False, for now. With increasing focus on the need to make these channels more accessible, let’s hope in a year these platforms will be more inclusive.
Holly Nielsen is the Social Media Manager and webmaster for the Human Ability and Accessibility Center, IBM Research. Located in sunny Northern California, Holly manages the IBM Accessibility social media program and the www.ibm.com/able website. She is passionate about accessibility and social networking, and frequently blogs about social networking trends and assorted topics that spark her interest.
Holly is an IBM Redbooks Thought Leader