Social media is an important part of being involved in today’s community. It helps people to connect with other people, receive information from organisations they choose to follow and share their news with others.
According to the 2018 Yellow Social Media Report, almost eight in ten Australians now use social media. And data from the 2016 Deloitte Media Consumer Survey shows that young people are turning to social media more than any other medium for their news.
With so many people using social media and relying on it as a key source of information, it’s important to make sure that everyone can navigate it, including people with a hearing, sight or mobility impairment. We looked at the accessibility of two of the most popular social media platforms – Facebook and Twitter – and include some first-hand experiences from a person with vision impairment. And we explain what you can do to make sure your posts are more accessible.
Ninety-four per cent of social media users are on Facebook. The platform is used to share information, follow organisations and keep in touch with friends. For people with disability, it’s a great way to interact and communicate with people, and it provides a community of support through its ‘groups’.
Facebook has come a long way in being an accessible social media platform. In 2009, it teamed up with the American Foundation for the Blind to improve accessibility and has continued to make efforts in this area. Facebook has a dedicated accessibility team to help both users and staff, and any accessibility issues are resolved quickly. You can contact this team through the Facebook Accessibility page.
To date Facebook has:
- used facial recognition so that someone using a screen reader would know if their friend was in a photo
- set up keyboard shortcuts to let users go between Help, Home, Profile, Friends, Inbox, Notifications, Account Settings, Privacy and About sections
- launched automated alternative text in iOS app for English-speaking users. This feature can detect things like the number of people in a photo and their facial expressions, as well as the weather and various objects.
David Saxberg works with the Information Access Group to make sure the websites we build are accessible. He has a vision impairment and he says that there are some good accessibility features on Facebook.
“The feature I like now is that Facebook has enabled descriptions of pictures so then you are able to know what is happening in a photo. The Facebook messenger application on my iPhone is also totally accessible.”
However, he also says that there are some accessibility issues that Facebook still needs to fix.
“The timeline doesn’t display in order unless you select ‘most recent’, which sometimes doesn’t always work.”
David says there is a way to make using Facebook a little easier to navigate.
“When I do use Facebook, I try to either use it via the mobile website on the phone or on the computer because it is better laid out and easier to handle Facebook than via the app for iOS.”
Thirty-two per cent of social media users are on Twitter.
The platform is used to send short, mostly text-based messages of up to 280 characters long known as a ‘tweet’. For people with disability, it’s a great way to get disability-specific information and support causes that affect them.
As Twitter is mostly text-based, it’s generally already accessible and there is a team dedicated to addressing any accessibility issues that come up.
This team can be contacted using the @a11yteam tag.
If you are having issues with accessibility on Twitter, there are ways to overcome this, including:
- Easy Chirp – provides a more consistent layout, good keyboard navigation and better support for assistive technologies such as screen readers
- using the mobile site – because it has a simplified interface
- apps, such as Twitterific, use VoiceOver to navigate the Twitter timeline, compose tweets and attach image descriptions.
David says he loves using Twitter as a way to keep in touch with friends and to stay up-to-date with the news. He also says its very accessible and easy for him to use.
“I really enjoy using Twitter. It’s efficient for news communication, finding out what people are doing, keeping track of sports news and what is happening in my friends’ personal lives. I have not had any accessibility issues with Twitter on the iPhone. The reason for this is I like to use a third-party application called Twitterrific, which is very streamlined and works very effectively on the iPhone.”
How can you help?
As a social media user, you can help to make the platforms more accessible with some quick and easy steps. You can:
- add captions or alternative text to your images
- add captions to videos
- give hyperlinks meaningful text so people know where the link goes
- capitalise the first letter of each word in a hashtag to make sure it’s read out properly by screen readers.
David highlights the importance of making the online space, including social media, accessible for everyone.
“I think developers need to take into consideration that accessibility is not just an add-on, it is a requirement. There is an accessibility kit built into most applications and if the developers will only take the time to implement this accessibility at the beginning of the app development or when they are about to release an update, it would save them a lot of time and effort into the future attempting to fix accessibility issues. Similarly, when developers of social media platforms want to release updates, I believe they need to be engaging with people who are blind or have low vision to ensure that the app or website platform is going to be accessible.”