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Considering policy issues around social media and accessibility

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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What I’ve learned from a week of Twitter

Last week I decided to try being more active on Twitter. I’ve had Twitter accounts for years and used them very lightly: as a publication method for my WordPress blogs, to share information with people who didn’t know my offline identity, and to promote a university department when I was a social media manager.  It seemed like I already had enough to do without another application. However, I found myself going to Twitter when there was breaking news, knowing that I’d have information faster — and often more accurately — than from watching a TV news channel or visiting a news website. I thought I’d dive in and see what happened.

avatar_anthro

Here’s what I learned in the past week:

Sharing is fun. Before this experiment, I used to bookmark articles daily, saving them for the next time I needed a topic for this blog. The result? I have a huge folder of old bookmarks. Virtual clutter. Now, I still save articles that I legitimately plan to use, but when I find something interesting, I tweet/retweet it. I like the idea of helping people find a new perspective or information they haven’t seen before. For people who couldn’t care less about Twitter but are curious about those other articles, I’ve embedded a Twitter widget in the sidebar on the right.

Follower count doesn’t matter to me. It’s different for people who build their business or ego from being followed, but since I write and share here for the love of ideas, I don’t expect many people to follow my feed. Besides, if someone follows me because of one particular tweet, he might be horribly disappointed when I link to something like a video of people reacting to VR pornography. My feed isn’t a single topic source and I won’t censor it to attract certain followers. I try not to share things that would be completely off-topic for this blog, though a couple items slipped through.

I’m more informed about a variety of things. By following a wide range of sources, I get more breadth and depth on topics that spark my curiosity, in less time, than I could in trying to visit many sites on a regular rotation. I currently follow sources related to digital/medical/cultural anthropology, sociology, robotics, gaming, devices, Second Life, digital currencies, virtual reality, learning German, the metaverse, hacking and activism, Detroit news, world news, tech news, thought-provoking writing and documentaries, Formula 1 racing, artificial intelligence, protesting money in politics, global health, privacy and Internet freedom, and some thinkers and artists whose work I admire. (If you tweet on one of those topics and I should be following you, let me know!)

I’m more aware of local news. Though I’ve been in the Detroit area for the past 8 years, it doesn’t feel like home to me. It’s just where I live. I don’t get a newspaper or watch local news on TV, so I really only keep track of big regional stories or things happening in my neighborhood. However, by following some Detroit and Michigan news sources on Twitter, I’m more connected to what’s happening in the area as a whole.

I don’t use hashtags. They are useful for aggregating related stories and following themes, but when I try to use hashtags in my tweets, it feels like a #marketing ploy. I appreciate everyone who reads my posts or follows my feed, particularly because I don’t do much to promote them. You found me anyway and chose to read what I write; that’s gratifying and very cool. Thank you. I don’t plan to worry about hashtags on my tweets.

Social media can be a time suck. I already knew this, but the continuously increasing count of unread tweets made that particularly obvious this week. I’m still working on finding a balance for Twitter in my day. I generally check Facebook three times a day — morning, lunch, and evening — but Twitter is more timely and demanding. I ignore it during my writing hours (along with my phone, email, and the Internet as a whole, except for immediate answers to questions). Now I need to figure out how to integrate it with the rest of my time.

 
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Posted by on January 29, 2015 in Side Topics

 

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That quiz you aced and shared? Maybe it was rigged.

I find a couple of shared quizzes in my Facebook feed every day. Most of them are goofy, but when it comes to fact-based quizzes, it seems that nobody ever shares the ones they bomb. Is that because of human nature: image crafting, socially-acceptable bragging, and taking quizzes on which you expect to excel anyway? Or is it because the tests are completely fake?

This morning, a quiz asking “Could you pass the German citizenship test?” was shared in a Facebook group for German language learners. The initial poster was surprised she scored 100%. Others quickly added their comments, shocked but self-congratulatory that they only missed one or two questions. When one fellow said that he was sure some of his answers were wrong, yet he still scored 90%, my spidey sense began to tingle. So, I took the test a few times. It consists of 20 multiple choice questions, each with three answers. The questions remain the same and the answers don’t move if you repeat the test. My results?

  1. I chose the 1st answer to every question: my score was 100%
  2. I chose the 2nd answer to every question: 90% (2 answers wrong)
  3. I chose the 3rd answer to every question: 95% (1 answer wrong)
  4. I chose answers in the pattern of A, B, C, A, B, C, etc.: 95%
  5. I tried to choose a wrong answer on every question: 100%! Even though I chose the Stars and Stripes as the EU flag.

Hmmmmmmm. Logically, my first re-test disproves the accuracy of the quiz — if all of the A answers were correct, 18 B answers cannot also be correct. I repeated the test just to see if I could get a score below 90%. Nope.

So, I took another quiz on the same site. This one made the rounds in my Facebook feed earlier in the week: “How good is your school knowledge?”  Again I tried to answer every question incorrectly. Abraham Lincoln was the first US president. Poland doesn’t share a border with Germany. A tiger is not a mammal.  My results? 15/15! “You have accomplished the incredible feat to answer each question correctly. You are either damn clever or you have paid attention really well in school! You have answered all questions correctly and it is remarkable how much school knowledge you have retained in your head. We congratulate you as your school knowledge is simply unsurpassable.”

Back_Schulwissen_15

I began to comb my Facebook feed to see what other fact-based quizzes people were sharing, but I only see entertainment-style quizzes now. Other than knowledge tests like the ones above, there seem to be a few types:

  • Conversation starters: “What natural disaster is your temper like?” or “Can we guess your age?” These seem to lead to chatty conversation threads when shared, but let’s not call them scientific.
  • Modern horoscopes: “What color is your aura?” or “What is your spirit animal?” It seems that all the possible results are flattering and vague enough to apply to anyone, just like old school newspaper horoscopes.
  • Pop culture quizzes: “What would be your best subject at Hogwarts?” or “Are you as well-read as Stephen King?” Some of these are pure amusement, others — like the Stephen King quiz — are based in a factual list. More likely to share if you’re into Harry Potter or Stephen King, I would guess.
  • Just for giggles: “What is your stripper name?” “How would John Travolta mispronounce your name?”  That sort of thing.

Both of the fact-based quizzes I linked above were created by a German social media marketing firm based in Cologne. I bet their share rates are a lot better than quizzes with legitimate results. It’s not stated that the results are for entertainment only and not calculated, which I find deceptive, but does anyone really think that a 15 question multiple-choice quiz accurately reflects how much they remember from school?.

I guess the bottom line is: Don’t feel inferior if your social media contacts seem to have turned into the (IBM) Watson of online quizzes overnight, and you might not want to brag about your own results until you’ve checked the test.

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2014 in Side Topics

 

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Social bankruptcy

“I can’t wait to miss out on jokes like that.”  Oh, that line slays me!

/me pulls back on my stylish anthropologist cap

The Portlandia skit above gave me a lot to think about. (In the full episode, Carrie meets other people who are disconnected from technology — including a scrapbooking aunt and a fellow in a coma — and eventually vanishes completely as she tries to say hello to Fred again.)  A full digital deletion is probably impossible nowadays, but is turning your back on social media a form of social death?

I’ll confess that I’m not terribly involved with social media.  My Facebook and LinkedIn visits are irregular, I forget about Twitter until a major newsworthy event occurs, Vine is a time suck to me, and I’m just not motivated enough to enjoy Instagram or Pinterest.  However, I’m glad that Facebook is there when I want it.  It’s kept me connected tenuously to dozens of people who would have slipped off into my past, and I can send a short message and renew a connection easily.  Even if I don’t post or comment often, I feel affection for old friends and co-workers whose posts remind me of what interesting people they are.

On the other hand, my friends who are more involved with social media seem to view connections there very differently. They assume that I have read all of their updates and refer to their posts in conversation as if they are common knowledge.  The paucity of my comments and Likes doesn’t quite make me socially dead to them, but perhaps on social life support. I could see some of them being like Fred in the skit, no longer seeing Carrie because she has no digital presence.

An old friend of mine quit Facebook for a few months and recently returned.  I didn’t notice that he was gone, but when he came back and sent me a new Friend request and posted to my timeline, I felt relief.  Why?  Hmm. He and I haven’t had a real conversation since the late ’90s and we live on different continents, but I like the world better with him in it.  If we didn’t have that strange tether through social media, we might as well be dead to each other.

So, maybe I’m winding my way around to this conclusion: quitting social media is not social death, but having even a tiny participation in it is a way of pinging the universe with reminders that you are alive.

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2014 in Relationships

 

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