2018 Conference Usability

‘Can You Do It In The Dark?’ enlightens attendees on social media accessibility.

About halfway through “‘Can You Do It In The Dark?’ Making Your Social Media Accessible” — by Justin Romack, assistive technology coordinator with the Department of Disability Services at Texas A&M University, and Chris D’Orso, associate director of undergraduate admissions at the College at Brockport — Chris asked the room: “How many of of you think you’re not doing a good enough job?”

Almost everybody’s hands went up. That’s one of two reasons why this was such a vital session.

The other factor, which made this session stand out so much, is that Justin is legally blind. As an important part of the Texas A&M and HighEdWeb community, he reminds us the importance of being inclusive with content.

The joy of social media is, theoretically, it’s a level playing field, they said. Everyone should have access to the same things. But it’s important we actually give people access to the same stuff in a way everybody can use. They described the goal is inclusiveness moreso than accessibility. Yes, accessibility is the law, but we should make things easier to use because we’re not jerks (right?).

“This stuff matters because people matter,” Justin said. It’s about truly creating endless possibilities. He had thoughts from students who came to his office to discuss social media accessibility. Lindsay, a visually challenged student, doesn’t watch videos without voiceovers, so she feels left out. “Everyone deserves the chance to enjoy and be inspired by content,” said Cruz, another student. Ben, who has some learning disabilities, will just skip things that are too complex. Images without alt text, video without captions and dense text/image executions are among the recurring problems across the webscape.

Justin went through some painful social media examples. We see how a computer will never be able to explain what’s in a photo better than human creating alt text. Create that alt text richly and lovingly — think of it as another outlet on creativity and way to tell a story. And the good news is that Twitter and Facebook have improved native ability to add alt text. While Instagram doesn’t have this, feel free to use the caption to better describe what’s happening, with or without an image description. 

Other tips:

  • For video captions, don’t rely on auto-generated unless you want to be embarrassed; better to invest in a captioning service.
  • Know what good contrast is on your sites and use it.
  • In your regular writing, avoid dense, overly verbose content and make it clear, make it concise and make it stick. While this helps those with learning challenges and in need of screen readers, more concise and clear writing helps all audiences.
  • Familiarize yourself with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
  • Involve your disabilities/accessibility services offices — get students and staff engaged in the creation of your content.
  • Acronyms can be a pain: Write them out, especially in the name of your page.
  • Emoji are super cute, but screen readers hate them. Find other ways to be creative and inclusive.
  • Use #CamelCase in hashtags to make easier to read.
  • In the end, it’s about simply doing the right thing: The more barriers we can take down, and the more bridges we create, it really makes it easier for all audiences.

Bonus: Online link to the presentation and some of the resources Justin has compiled for content creators.

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By Tim Nekritz

Tim Nekritz is Link's Chief Editor and the communications director for SUNY Oswego, where he also teaches a class on blues history. In his spare time, he is an active musician, booker and promoter who leads a monthly Songwriters Circle.