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Considering policy issues around social media and accessibility

07 Apr

Model View Culture has a new article about three online dialogues organized by the National Council on Disability and the US Department of Labor’s Office on Disability Employment Policy. The three topics were:

  1. Advancing Accessibility and Inclusion in Social Media: The User Experience
  2. Advancing Accessibility and Inclusion in Social Media: The Tech Perspective
  3. Encouraging People with Disabilities to Pursue Careers in STEM

Frankly, the answers voted as best in each category are pretty simple things: a prompt to add descriptive alt text to social media images, an indication of whether closed captioning was generated (and likely of poor quality) or done with human oversight, and job shadowing/internship programs. It’s been a decade since I left my job at Gigantic Internet Corporation, but at the time, our projects all had accessibility and internationalization requirements. Now that so much content is produced by individuals or small companies, it seems those factors are often ignored, perhaps because of lack of knowledge as much as lack of empathy. I should know better myself, but I’m sloppy about the alt text on images I share.

The author makes this point:

Accessibility needs to be ‘baked in,’ integrated into every department of a social media company (e.g., software engineering, product management, communication and marketing, usability, user experience, interaction design) rather than ‘layered on,’ added as an afterthought or in the middle of a product’s development

Yes. That’s another reason why the company I talked about in this post made my hackles rise. In choosing to only provide voice chat and not text on a public social platform, they explained that other people could make text chat add-ons, or hey — soon 3D cameras will allow people to use sign language and be understood!  That response still makes me growl in anger. First of all, it’s not only profoundly deaf (and ASL fluent) people who prefer text chat. Others quickly jumped into the forum thread to talk about partial hearing loss, speech impediments, accents, easier intelligibility of a second language in text, and lack of private working spaces.

It saddens me that in 2015, people with disabilities are still fighting for access so many of us take for granted. Another article in the previous month’s Model View Culture, Taking the Social Model of Disability Online addresses that same issue.  It’s an informative piece about accessibility and UX for things like social media, apps, online stores, and games.

I also like an article that she links to: Reframing Accessibility for the Web. That essay begins:

We need to change the way we talk about accessibility. Most people are taught that “web accessibility means that people with disabilities can use the Web”—the official definition from the W3C. This is wrong. Web accessibility means that people can use the web.

Designing for accessibility can be a hard sell to small companies and tiny app studios. I’m thinking of a friend’s company, which has only a couple developers and produces a business service product. I’m sure that if I asked about the accessibility of his software, he’d snort in laughter. Taking the time to learn about, code, and test accessibility on the tiny chance that one of their clients might have an employee with those needs is difficult to justify. (In this particular case, the company has free human phone assistance for someone who couldn’t use the web-based system, though that wasn’t provided with accessibility in mind.)  But, it makes me think of when I needed  to use a cane and a helpful theater staff member directed me away from a short flight of stairs and to the elevator: down a long hallway, around some turns, through a storage area, another hundred yards or so, and there! An elevator. Workarounds are often time consuming and painful, but I suppose they’re better than nothing.

I’ll pay more attention to my alt text from now on.  It’s not much, but it’s easy to do and should be the default rather than the exception. Maybe a little bit of awareness can start to make a difference for others, too.

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Posted by on April 7, 2015 in Health - Mental & Physical

 

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