Social media is an online platform to connect people, form groups, share messages/ pictures/ audio/ video content etc. The social media websites just create a platform for the users to register and connect. The users play the role in generating the content and share it to the public or to specific individuals and groups. This is the reason the social media is highly dependent on user generated content.
Social media is a virtual built environment that brings people together. So this process is also called as social networking. Though we hear and use the terms social media and social networking from few years, this process exist before we really know about the social media. Telephones and Telegrams have also played their role in social networking before the online media came into existence.
Now the questions are,
Are these social media platforms, communities and groups reaching out to every individual including those with disabilities?
Is the user generated content on social media reaching to those who have disabilities?
Let us understand some difficulties each one of us create while generating and sharing content on social media.
Common Accessibility mistakes on Social media
Acronyms and Abbreviation’s
Due to character limitations in some social media applications such as twitter, we tend to use acronyms or abbreviations. If the people at the receiving end does not know the terms we use the message we sent becomes useless. Eg: I have tweeted “Think about a11y while tweeting the pictures”. Those who are well aware of accessibility will understand the term ‘a11y’ but not everyone in my social media group. Similarly, ACAA is the biggest accessibility law in the recent past. How many of my facebook friends know that ACAA means Air Carrier Access Act.
Photos and images
It is quite common that we take a picture when we find a beautiful location, something unusual or a quote you find while driving. The next step we do is sharing it on social media applications such as Whatsapp or Facebook. Do you think the photo you shared is understood to those who are blind or visually challenged? Have you ever thought the small text description you fill in the caption field help people with blindness understand and visualize the photo you share? Almost all popular social media services allow users to provide either caption or alternate text for the images that are shared on social media.
On the status messages or while commenting to your friend’s status messages or while chatting with a friend on social media networks we show are feelings with emoticons. Smile, sad, happy, love etc are commonly shared with emoticons. Have you thought if these symbols are understood by people with blindness. Are the screen reading technologies capable enough to convert these emoticons into a meaningful messages while informing the reader on the other side. Through this article, I am not conveying any message to stop using emoticons, but want you to be aware that the reader of your message might be using a screen reader. Your smile should not be understood as a sorrow by the reader on the other side. Use emoticons to the minimum possible, alternately if you are aware that the readers of your message also include screen reader users, provide an alternate method that does not confuse them.
The audio only messages that you share on social media or instant messaging services such as whatsapp may be impossible for a deaf or hard of hearing user to understand. If you are aware that the person at the receiving end has some kind of hearing difficulty or one or more individuals in the group with which you are sharing the audio file have any difficulty in hearing provide an alternate method. The alternate method can be a transcript or at least a summary of the audio content. The content shared on other social media websites such as YouTube also need to be accessible. Providing a text transcript for the audio files shared on Youtube may help many users. Not only for users who have difficulty in hearing but for those who want to use the audio information in a noisy environment, on a public computer where the sounds are disabled etc.
The video contents shared on social media either through instant messenger services or shared to the world through platforms such as Youtube need to be accessible. Websites or apps should provide a provision to add captions to the videos and content authors should use the same. It is important to provide alternate methods when the video content is just a visual content that does not include any audio description. Either an audio description need to be embedded into the video or a text transcript need to be provided to help with those who have visual challenges.
Promotional emails and News Letters
One of the common social media marketing services we observe is email marketing campaign. We observe many promotional emails in our inbox that include the best deals of the vender, discounts on products etc. These emails are in general not accessible. The images on the emails does not have alternate text, the links does not have proper link descriptions, the content will have poor color contrast and most often the text is laid on images which makes the screen reader users impossible to read the content. Similar problems are observed on the news letters we receive from various organizations.
Social media plugins on websites
It’s becoming quite common to provide a social sharing widget and twitter feed or facebook like box on any website. Choosing the right plugins is important. At the minimum check if the labels of the social sharing elements are available, are they operable with both keyboard and mouse, Is the contrast between the text and background adequate, is the focus indicator available on all focusable elements in the plugin.
Remember that social media can never be accessible until the users make necessary accessibility adjustments before sharing the content. Of course the platform providers have the equal responsibility in providing the provision that allows the content authors to make the content accessible. While preparing either social media policies or accessibility policies for your organization keep in mind that the information shared through social media is included.