A couple of weeks ago I attended a workshop/brainstorming session, run by a certain well known, London based, “social media strategy consultancy” (which, for the purposes of this post, shall remain nameless), around using social media to better promote one of our services.
The discussion turned to YouTube and I explained our policy of making transcripts available on our website alongside video content and mentioned we were looking at utilising YouTube’s closed captioning functionality. This was met with silence and blank stares, so I asked, “what do you guys advise your clients on making video content accessible, you know, to those who may have a disability or use assistive technologies?” More silence and blank stares. When it eventually came, the answer from one of their senior consultants was as follows: “Well, er, um, we advise them on making content accessible in that should be interesting, engaging and fun …” I was unsure at this point (the point having been well and truly missed) whether to laugh or cry, especially considering some of the high profile clients in this company’s portfolio.
A few years ago much was being made of web accessibility both on and offline. It seemed for a while that pretty much every web related conference was dedicated to, or had an item on web accessibility - at least outlining why it is important, even if they were generally a little light on the detail around how it’s achieved. These days, in a similar way, the subject of choice is very much social media. So all this got me wondering whether accessibility considerations are falling by the wayside as organisations are pushed, willingly or not (especially by those PR and marketing agencies who are now positioning themselves as social media gurus), more and more into using social media.
Regardless of the chanel used, organisations still have both a moral and legal responsibility to provide information in accessible formats but social media sites have received criticism in the past for their failure to work with assistive technologies and:
“… issues which can decrease their effectiveness with a disabled market segment” (Dolson, 2010).
It’s true that some sites have taken steps to improve accessibility and counter these criticisms. As previously mentioned, YouTube’s adoption of closed captioning, Twitter’s provision of a text only version called “Accessible Twitter” and Facebook’s introduction of audio captcha and a text only version of the site.
Whilst the accessibility of too many websites is still appalling, those of us who paid attention a few years back, did make some headway in promoting the issue to managers and developers. But, and I guess this is my point, if the so-called expert consultancies (who’s opinions, in my experience, are generally held in higher regard than in-house web staff) neither know nor care about making content accessible to those within their target audience who may have a disability, we have a whole new problem. I guess it’s time to start evangelising all over again, *sigh*.
Btw - the irony of moaning about the accessibility of social sites on a Wordpress blog with (ahem) less than perfect accessibility, is not lost on me!
CORRECTION: As per the comment below, please note that Accessible Twitter is not affiliated with Twitter but is:
“an independent third party application who is filling a major accessibility gap with the Twitter service on the web.”