Social Media Accessibility

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The GDS Design principles say accessible design is good design.

All information that we share should be inclusive, legible, accurate and as readable as possible. We’ve always tried to ensure content we create and the way in which we communicate using digital channels follows these same principles, within the restrictions of the channels and resources we have.

When Twitter gladly launched their alt tag capability, I got in touch with Marged at GDS who was also looking into social media accessibility and we thought it was the right time to create some shared standards that all government organisations could follow, to cater for the range of people that access government products, services or information.

Our Internet Users release shows 27% of disabled adults in the UK – that’s 3.3 million people – had never used the internet between January and March 2015. In addition, there were 1.1 million lapsed internet users in 2015 and 0.5 million of these users were disabled adults. Does this highlight there are still barriers to accessing information digitally? Are we considering different needs for disabled adults? What’s the user need where social media is concerned?

We didn’t want the project to be a paper exercise or allow the guidelines to become a series of tick boxes. It was important to us to talk to people who use assistive technologies or have additional needs when using the internet so I spent some time at the Digital Accessibility Centre to see how they use social media, and some of the problems they face daily.

All of the user testing team at the Digital Accessibility Centre have a disability so experience first-hand whether something is accessible to them. With a wide range of needs, we felt this was a robust user group to talk to and start understand the challenges they face when using social media.

I was fortunate to spend several hours at the centre and spent around an hour chatting to a focus group followed by shadowing the team while they used different website and shared with me the difficulties they have.

It was insightful and also interesting to discover how social media mobile applications are more accessible than desktop versions.

More fascinating insight was shared around image-based platforms. I was amazed to find Carlie, who is completely blind, once joined pinterest as she thought it would be interesting content and give her ideas for her personal life. Someone who is blind wanted to engage with a visual social media platform! This demonstrated to me how important it is to understand your users and to never make assumptions.

After our research and with help from the Digital Accessibility Centre, we’ve published accessibility guidelines to the GDS social media playbook to help make social media content more accessible for everyone.

We understand there are still challenges. There isn’t always the resources to be fully inclusive and we understand there are compromises to be made but we encourage everyone to consider accessibility when using social media. It’s the right thing to do.

It was great to collaborate with GDS on this project. If you’d like to chat about social media accessibility or want a bit more information, please don’t hesitate to tweet me!

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