Posted: Friday, March 16, 2012 – 09:10
People with disabilities still face significant challenges in gaining access to social media tools, despite recent innovations to improve access, according to an updated review of the Australian scene.
A Not for Profit organisation devoted to increasing access to social media for people with disabilities, Media Access Australia, has carried out a updated review of the changes in social media use through a grant from the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) .
Researcher Dr Scott Hollier says regardless of whether social media is used for activism, entertainment or obtaining pizza discounts, it is vital that consumers with disabilities are able to participate in the benefits that social media can provide.
Hollier says while the original 2009 review was well received by consumers with disabilities, it was important to create an updated review due to the rapid growth of social media and the emergence of new accessibility options.
As part of the updated research consumers with disabilities, via email and Twitter, were asked for feedback as to how they can benefit from social media, which tools they use and what information they perceived to be most useful.
Feedback was received from 49 people across a range of ages, disabilities and social media expertise. Consumers with disabilities indicated that they found social media highly advantageous and provided some advice as to how people could start using social media.
Remarkably, Hollier says, people who had little experience with social media also indicated a similar list of items that they required in a practical guide to get started.
Hollier says the accessibility of social media has been widely criticised since its inception.
“While several initiatives across a number of social media tools have brought improvements, people with disabilities still face significant challenges in gaining access to social media tools.”
For example, prior to 2008, the Facebook website was generally considered inaccessible. As reported by Web Pro News, through 2008 and 2009, Facebook worked in conjunction with the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) to improve the accessibility of the website.
“While many blind and vision impaired users were hopeful that this would address the accessibility issues on the website, unfortunately many issues remain,” he said.
The review says that in practical terms, that while most social media tools will have some level of accessibility present for consumers with disabilities, issues such as lack of captioned video, lack of alternative text, poor colour contrasts, difficult keyboard navigation and incompatibilities with popular assistive technology products are likely to be present and affect the ability of people to access social media tools.
While the accessibility of social media tools certainly requires improvement,, the Review says there are some encouraging signs that the tools will become accessible in the future.
For example, he says staff at LinkedIn have been receptive to making accessibility improvements. When a CAPTCHA was introduced as part of the sign up process, a complaint made via Twitter led to LinkedIn staff removing the CAPTCHA.
“This provides some encouragement that accessibility will improve, and there are many workarounds available to consumers with disabilities which mean they can still participate in social media.”
“Despite the known benefits of social media, all of the popular social media tools remain inaccessible to some degree. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, blogging websites and the
emerging Google+ all feature limited accessibly, denying many consumers
with disabilities the opportunity to participate in social media.
“Fortunately, users have often found ways around the accessibility barriers such as alternative website portals, mobile apps, additional keyboard navigation shortcuts and online support groups.
“This is a rich source of expertise, and social media users with disability continue to find creative ways to access the most popular platforms.
The Review also offers a practical guide for consumers with disabilities.
Dr Scott Hollier is a Project manager and the Western Australia manager for Media Access Australia, a Not for Profit public benevolent institution. His work focuses on making computers and Internet-related technologies accessible to people with disabilities. Hollier also represents MAA on the Advisory committee of the World Wide Web consortium
(W3c), the organisation primarily responsible for developing and promoting access to media through technology for people with disabilities.Hollier is legally blind.
The review can be downloaded at http://mediaaccess.org.au/sites/default/files/files/MAA2657-%20Report-OnlineVersion.pdf.