Social Media: Accessibility Issues and Solutions

Social media icons on the ends of brightly colored chalk

The Art of Social Media by mkhmarketing CC BY 2.0

The more public information is digitized, the more it lands on or sprouts from social media channels. This is why there needs to be a greater level of awareness and consideration for those who can benefit most from that information—people with disabilities—since they have the least access to it. Like many websites, social media platforms present some of the greatest barriers in digital accessibility.

Social media connects people and so much more

Social media is a part of millions of people’s daily activities, from job searches to finding important information that can affect them as individuals, family members, students, caregivers, and more. Platforms like Twitter and Facebook, though once associated with younger generations and celebrity tabloid content, have become demographic-agnostic and central to the communications of corporations, nonprofits, government agencies, schools, and even law enforcement. On Global Accessibility Awareness Day, Danya International gathered a panel of digital and accessibility thought leaders from multiple organizations and government agencies, to discuss the opportunities for, and challenges of, using social media in the public forum. The dialogue focused on user experience and improving access for everyone. The speakers discussed topics related to content display, images and infographics, and video. They shared ideas and tips for accessibility, including:

  • providing text descriptions for images,
  • avoiding animation-based graphics (such as animated GIFs),
  • applying plain language descriptions to complex formats, and
  • captioning video.

These are practices that content managers, rather than developers, can put in place from the onset, instead of as an afterthought. In the discussion, the experts mentioned the common misconception that accessibility’s return on investment is low since only a relatively small demographic would benefit.

In fact, many of these accessibility principles happen to benefit all users.

Imagine, if you aren’t deaf or hard-of-hearing, clicking on a video for more information and being unable to listen to the content because you’re using a public library’s computer that doesn’t have speakers or a sound card. In this scenario, captions and a video transcript would benefit you, as well as people with disabilities. Social media can be a tool for inclusion and an opportunity to connect with all customers—this can’t be overlooked any longer. The accessibility community is abuzz with hearing more ideas and discussing how to increase awareness and collaboration, to keep accessibility practices in mind. To learn more about these crowdsourcing ideas and potential solutions, check out the NCD-ODEP National Online Dialogue: Advancing Accessibility and Inclusion in Social Media—The User Experience March 17–April 4, 2014 Participation Metrics Report (PDF, 370KB, 34 pages). You can find social media accessibility guidelines and tips on the Social Media Accessibility Hub from Queen’s University.

Participate in the conversation

The FCC’s Accessibility and Innovation Initiative will host a public event, July 17, called “Accessing Social Media.” For more information, contact Jamal Mazrui at 202.418-0069 or by email, or call Kelly Jones at 202.418-7078 or contact her via email. You may also join in the ongoing discussions on ePolicyWorks Online’s Dialogues page.

Victoria Wales is a Bilingual Web Content Manager with USA.gov, at the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). This article is part of this month’s editorial theme on Social Media. Check out more articles related to this theme.

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