#SocialGov Summit Highlights Accessibility Challenges

Nov 30, 2012

The recent #SocialGov Summit on accessibility of government social media raised emerging issues faced by agencies in their effort to make sure the information citizens need is communicated to them when and how they need it. For many, the most eye opening exercise was simply to hear their tweets read back to them through an iPhone VoiceOver screen reader, experiencing firsthand how vision-impaired citizens receive their content.

Three federal employees seated at a conference table with a microphone and are wearing suits. The third man, on the right, is in a wheelchair.

While we’ll share more from the summit in an extended post, here are some initial key takeaways from among the hundred participants:

  • Don’t always rely on automated translations for your social media content, explained Scott Horvath of the U.S. Geological Survey. Many can be inaccurate, which can then cause more confusion. With video, for example, have a written script prepared that you can share.
  • Social media content, especially critical information during emergencies, should be regularly evaluated for “how it sounds; does it make sense; does it convey the same message that we think we are conveying” through accessibility-enhanced tools, according to Debria Hayes of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
  • We can’t control how accessible apps are, but through engagement with platform providers we can communicate the needs of our citizens, says Alyssa Gallagher from the National Cancer Institute. Better evaluation of options available to agencies and using tools like the Social Media Registry API strengthen our ability to ensure communities can engage when they need it.

For me, I am looking harder at the balance of creating content audiences that are most likely to share images and video, and the barriers those create in accessibility. Together we can find standard formats to present content in that is both engaging when we want it, but usable for all citizens when they need it.

In our upcoming post, we’ll look at all of the discussion from our hosts this month at the Department of Transportation, as well as their co-hosts on the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy.

In the meantime, what are some of the accessibility programs you look most to in the government, and what lessons have you learned we can all benefit from?