Monday, June 11, 2012

Is Social Media Accessible?

by Allan Friedman, CFILC's Technologies Manager

First, the good news; the AT Blog is on one of the most accessible social media platforms (Blogspot).  Now for the bad news; that's not saying much.

A recent study conducted by The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network and Media Access Australia found that despite the rapidly growing popularity and use of social media by  people with disabilities, the most popular social media websites remain largely inaccessible.

The report, Sociability: Social Media for People with Disabilities details research conducted in 2011 by Denis Boudreau of Accessibilité Web. It compared five social media tools against the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) and created a customized percentage score of accessibility.  Of the five tools; Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and the recently launched Google+; LinkedIn received the highest score of 29% accessible followed by YouTube on 18%, Google+ on 9%, Facebook on 9% and Twitter receiving no accessibility score due to every element on the website having accessibility issues.1

The report details the accessibility issues of each social media website.  While the accessibility of most is improving in response to user complaints, many still do not provide equal access for people with disabilities.  It continues to be a game of catch-up and hurdling barriers with workarounds and alternative sites.

On blogging, the report noted "Popular blogging tools such as Blogger which is used by Google’s BlogSpot, and have default interfaces which are reasonably accessible."

But YouTube was singled out for its largely inaccessible video player interface.  It noted recent improvements such as automated captions (not too accurate in my experience) self-captioning tools, and alternative portals to clips such as Accessible Youtube and Easy Youtube.

Twitter, a mostly text-based application, is almost completely inaccessible to screen readers, according to the researchers.  A number of workarounds and alternative sites are included in the report.

Even the most accessible site, Linkedin, requires some alternatives to get the best results.  People with vision impairments found it difficult to search for people and to determine the correct one when they used the site's own search tool.  Users reported better results using Google to find individuals and navigating from there to the person's Linkedin page.

This Australian report, published in February 2012, is the most up-to-date study of the constantly evolving world of social media. Many of its findings and suggestions may well be out-of-date already.  But it illustrates a persistent problem with the way the Internet has evolved. Why is access for people with disabilities almost always a revision or adaptation of web applications?  Why, when standards and guidelines for accessibility are well established and readily available, are designers and engineers continuing to build inaccessible sites?  I'll address that issue in part two of this series; Chasing the Digital Divide.

What is your experience with the accessibility of social media sites? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. 


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