Practical Ecommerce

Accessibility and Social Media

Social media can be a terrific way to share information with your customers, provide them with crucial support, and otherwise communicate with them.

But almost all social media sites have accessibility problems. Though they are fairly accessible as a group, they do have a variety of issues which can decrease their effectiveness with a disabled market segment. If you want your business to be able to connect with all your customers, you’ll need to be aware of these issues and what solutions are available for them.

You are probably already taking advantage of social media by posting product videos on YouTube, conversing with customers through Twitter or Facebook, or performing any of the numerous functions available to you within the hundreds of other active social media web services. You may also be taking advantage of social media on your website, with the use of videos, Twitter timelines, status updates and photo galleries.

Although there is little you can do to compensate accessibility problems while you are visiting Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube, there are many things you can do to make shared information on those sites easier for your customers to access.

Tools for Social Media Accessibility

Almost all the major social media services offer application programming interfaces (APIs), which allow programmers to create applications that can make use of or contribute to accessibility services. Some great tools that already exist include:

AccessibleTwitter offers a complete alternate interface to Twitter which is extremely accessible. Although this tool doesn’t do anything for your site directly, it’s great for people with disabilities who want to take advantage of information you make available through Twitter.

Easy YouTube provides an alternate, and fully accessible, interface to YouTube videos. The player can be installed on your own web server and completely re-skinned via CSS, providing an accessible way for your customers to view YouTube videos.

Easy YouTube caption creator One of the great limiters to accessibility for videos on the web is a lack of captioning, particularly for customers with hearing disabilities. Easy YouTube caption creator is a content creating tool that generates a standard format caption text file which can be attached to YouTube videos. As a plus, the captions you provide are searchable within YouTube, so captioning will help increase the likelihood of YouTube users finding your video.

Accessibility Tools Are Not Problem-Free

Using the APIs for social media services means that you can build practically whatever tool you need to interact with social media on your own website; and, with a good sense for accessibility issues, you can often resolve accessibility problems and emphasize your own branding needs all at once. But, there are still problems with most API-driven tools designed to solve accessibility issues. The main ones are:

  • Keyboard Accessibility (Controls are unavailable to the keyboard, or no information is provided to indicate where the keyboard focus is currently placed.)
  • Adaptation for problems caused by AJAX (Screen continually refreshes or displays messages which are invisible to screen readers or unavailable by keyboard.)
  • Using semantics to resolve HTML-driven problems (such as, ambiguous links, missing alt texts, and so on.)

Two further common issues in social media that API-driven tools are relatively powerless to correct are user-generated content and the use of CAPTCHA, a type of response test that is used to determine whether the user is human. But, as CAPTCHA is almost exclusively used in the content contribution or registration aspects of social media, it bears little relevance to most accessible tools. And, user-generated content, being the fundamental basis of most social media, is simply something that must be made accessible by the contributors who create it.

Steps to Accessible Social Media

What can you do, right now, to make your social media efforts accessible?

  1. Provide captions for your videos.
  2. Title your photographs descriptively and usefully.
  3. Don’t get carried away with abbreviations or text messaging shortcuts in your status updates.
  4. Make sure that the information you’re posting accessibly in social media can also be read elsewhere, including your blog, through an accessible video player, and in your own photo gallery.

Summary

Responsible use of social media can help you share information and garner the trust and respect of your customers. You provide the message; you should also make sure everybody can receive it.

Other Accessible Social Media Resources

Joseph C. Dolson

Joseph C. Dolson

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