Pretty Simple: web, digital, social

Those of you who read my overview of accessibility and social media back in June know that I spoke about the subject at the ScotWeb2 unconference. Liz Ayzan, from LGEO Research, has kindly posted a section of my talk to YouTube (also available via Liz’s blog post about the event). I thought (in keeping with the very theme of the talk) that I should offer a text alternative of that video. A full summary of the talk can still be found on my original overview (as linked above).

My talk started by introducing the idea of accessibility and how it applies to social media. I then spoke about CAPTCHA, and how this continues to be a significant barrier on many sites, preventing some users from even creating an account on certain sites.

I then went on to argue that if we are relying on social media sites to present content to our users, or to hold discussion and debates, then it’s our responsibility to make sure that the content is accessible. That’s where the following video kicks in (the text equivalent can be found below, after the video). Apologies for the background noise – Liz maintains that the saxophone was not added in later but was, rather, a bonus from the street of Edinburgh…

Transcript of video

If we’re putting our content on their sites, it’s our problem. I was thinking about this a couple of days ago and I wrote a brief blog post which I’d like to read from. Social media is a revolution and with all revolutions some people have been left behind. There are individuals who are at risk of exclusion – I’ve mentioned disabled individuals such as the blind and users of screen reader – but also the ‘digital divide’, where people aren’t connected to the internet and possibly even don’t want to be connected to the internet. We have to remember that these people aren’t going to be using these platforms.

It’s also an issue because it’s out of our control. We can make our own websites accessible but with other sites, for example if we wanted to create a Facebook account, we have to live with the consequences that those sites may not be as accessible as we’d want them to be.

Some of the other problems we need to be aware of. I’ve already mentioned CAPTCHA, impacting on the very first process of signing up to an account. There is also the fact that much of social media relies on dynamic web pages, rich internet applications – where pages update automatically as new content comes along. How do screen readers manage that? Do they know that the page has updated, and will they read out those updates? Evidence suggests that most new screen readers can handle some of these things but not everyone has the latest screen reading technology.

There’s also the issue of the volume of content; the pure number of videos there are out there on Youtube and so on, or the pure number of Tweets on Twitter. That makes it really hard to find content that you’re really interested in.

Probably the biggest overall accessibility concern of social media and our use of it is the fact that it is user-generated content. We don’t have any control over the content that other people are authoring to these sites. That’s the very nature of social media and, despite all of its benefits, that’s the big risk as well.

YouTube is an obvious example; anybody can put a video on YouTube but have they, for example, added captions so that deaf people can access the audio content, or audio description so that blind people know what’s going on on the screen? Probably not. We can do it – if we want to put a video onto YouTube we can make sure all of those processes are in place, but the average user may not want to or may not know how to.

So, if we’re directing people to this kind of content and saying ‘have your own discussions around that’ we need to be aware that some people may be left out of it.

So what can we do? The first thing is to put pressure on the likes of YouTube and Facebook, to tell them to make their services more accessible…

The video ends there, but I did go on to talk about the need to make sure that we are aware of any barriers that exist, making alternative arrangements where possible or directing people to more accessible versions (for example, Accessible Twitter and Easy YouTube).

As before, I’m keen to keep this discussion going so would invite any comments here. There’s also a discussion about social media accessibility over at Accessify Forum which I’d love people to contribute to.

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