October 4th, 2012

Got Accessibility? Tips for Social Media

Social-Media-Accessibility

Many top social networking sites seem to lack a serious commitment to web accessibility standards and are difficult to use with assistive technologies. Until these sites fix their existing accessibility problems, I’ve found a few ways to work around some issues on the more popular social media sites.

WebAIM’s Screen Reader User Survey on
Accessibility of Social Media

Very Accessible 7.4
Somewhat Accessible 46.8
Somewhat Inaccessible 25
Very Inaccessible 8.7
Unknown 12

While I was researching information for this post, I came across several blog posts and studies that looked into the accessibility of some of the top social network and media sites. As shown in the chart above, WebAIM’s May 2012 screen reader survey revealed that only 46.8% of screen reader users surveyed found social media sites to be “somewhat accessible,” while 25% of respondents said social media sites were “somewhat inaccessible.” Hopefully similar surveys conducted in the next few years will yield more favorable results in regards to social media’s accessibility, but until then, the suggestions outlined in this post can help increase accessibility on these sites.

Twitter

The general consensus on Twitter’s site seems to be that it is virtually impossible to navigate via screen reader without using a third party web client. The standout option, as confirmed by multiple sources, is Easy Chirp. Formerly known as Accessible Twitter, Easy Chirp is a web application designed with accessibility and assistive technology in mind. Easy Chirp is a great cross-platform tool that significantly improves Twitter’s accessibility. In addition to providing a useful service, Easy Chirp also shares accessibility-related content on their Twitter page.

Some users have also suggested using Twitter’s mobile site to work around accessibility issues, which offers a more simplified version of Twitter’s interface. For users who wish to stick to the regular website, Twitter is equipped with a pretty solid keyboard shortcut system to facilitate keyboard navigation.

YouTube

A huge player in social media, YouTube revolutionized the way video content could be shared over the Web. Though the video giant has shown an effort to improve accessibility (it now offers an automatic captioning service for videos uploaded to the site), it still has a few accessibility problems. YouTube’s video player interface features small buttons and volume controls that can be difficult for people with motor disabilities to use. Easy YouTube is a useful alternative interface for viewing videos, and it offers larger buttons. If you prefer to caption your own videos rather than relying on the auto caption service, Overstream is a good tool.

Facebook

As the world’s largest social network, Facebook really has the power to set the standards for accessibility on social networking sites; unfortunately, the site sets the bar pretty low. Despite efforts in the past to improve accessibility, many disabled users still find the site to be largely inaccessible. Facebook does have an accessibility team, and it offers an accessibility help page that includes a form to submit issues with the site that users may experience. Like Twitter, the mobile site is easier to navigate on screen readers, and the keyboard shortcuts provide keyboard navigation around the main pages of the regular site.

As for the various features Facebook offers, Facebook chat is mostly incompatible with screen readers because of its dynamic nature. The feature is, however, compatible with Jabber, so disabled users can use Facebook chat in whichever desktop IM client they prefer.

Google+

Google+ was the most highly anticipated social network of 2011, and despite Google’s assurance that accessibility had been considered since day one, there were mixed reviews on its accessibility when it was first launched. Even though it might seem like many users have given up on Google+, developers haven’t. Google just released an accessibility app for the Hangout feature on Google+ that allows users to add live transcriptions to Hangouts, which aids deaf and hearing-impaired users. Google does have a dedicated accessibility statement as well, so perhaps there are still more updates to come on the accessibility front for this social network.

Skype

Even though Skype isn’t a “social media site” per se, I wanted to include it in this post because it’s such a powerful social communication tool. Skype actually has a “screen reader mode” and keyboard navigation options built into it, which greatly improve the overall accessibility of the program. Skype doesn’t provide transcriptions or captions though. Transcriber is a tool that can transcribe Skype audio recordings, but it can only be used on recordings and not during live chat. If I come across any tools that can caption live video chats, I’ll update this post later to include them.

Hopefully this information can help you work around some accessibility issues on social media sites. If you have any other ideas on how to make social media more accessible, let me know about them in the comments below!

Amaze from Deque Systems

UPDATE 10/11: I just came across a great plugin that should be available in beta soon. Amaze is a plugin developed by Deque Systems, a software development company dedicated to ending website discrimination and improving accessibility on the web. Basically, Amaze creates patches in real time for websites that aren’t natively accessible. As users browse sites, Amaze adds missing information and fills in the accessibility gaps. Finally, a use of the dynamic power of HTML that actually helps disabled users’ experiences rather than hurting them! This is a great tool that will definitely revolutionize the way people with disabilities can use social media. Thanks to Caitlin over at Deque for the information!

  • http://www.victoriaipri.com Victoria Ipri

    Lots of good info here, Cori. But to backtrack a bit, are you saying, in essence, that individuals with disabilities have difficulty using the Internet? This is a new thought for me. One would think the ‘net would be the perfect environment for a hearing impaired person (for example.) So then, when you use the word Accessibility, you’re referring to sites/tools that make it easier for disabled people to use the ‘net to the fullest, correct? Sorry…I’m slow to catch on, but it’s the 1st time I’ve thought about what a challenge this must be. Interesting.

    Reply to this comment

    Reply by Cori Shirk
    October 17th, 2012
    1:49 pm

    Victoria,
    Thanks, and no need to apologize! You’re absolutely right- in a lot of ways, the Internet is the perfect environment for disabled persons to access information and share experiences that may not have been available to them before. There are certain things that can get in the way of a completely inclusive web experience, though, and when I use the term ‘accessibility,’ I mean removing those barriers and opening up the web for equal use. If you’re interested in learning more about this concept, we wrote a blog post about it last year: http://www.readbelowthefold.com/web-accessibility/why-web-accessibililty-matters.html. You can also follow the #a11y hashtag on Twitter for more information!