As I've mentioned previously, I'm working with a couple of clients right now who work with individuals with disabilities on some social media projects and it continues to be a learning experience. For the past week I've been hard at work pulling together a wiki for a 2.5 day workshop we're doing in August on using social media in Centers for Independent Living. We're adapting Beth Kanter's fabulous WeAreMedia curriculum, focusing on how the tools can be used within a community with varying challenges to accessing the technology. In particular, I'm finding that there are a lot of challenges to using social media with people who have visual disabilities. Here's some of what I'm learning:
- The convention of having links that say "As I've mentioned previously" (see my first sentence) or "go here" does not work for individuals with visual disabilities who are using a screen reader to navigate the web. They need links that are descriptive---that say where you're linking too. This is actually good SEO practice, too, but something I continually have struggled to stop doing as I'm so used to making links out of vague references, as I did above.
- I'm used to embedding Slideshare and YouTube videos directly into my wiki handouts so that people don't have to navigate away from the site to access them. For individuals with visual disabilities, though, this is a problem. They can't advance through Slideshare slides or hit the "play" button on a YouTube video because their screen readers can't give them the information they need to do this. For them, an embedded video is just a frustrating blank in the wiki page.
- Speaking of Slideshare, many of the great presentations on Slideshare make extensive use of photos and graphics to illustrate their points. I find this to be particularly true of technology presentations where there are lots of screenshots and Flickr photos being used. While this is obviously a great way for sighted people to learn about the tools, if you have a visual impairment, visuals aren't going to be very helpful.
- Often when I do wiki handouts, I'll use photos to add some visual interest to the page. VIsuals on a page are OK for screen readers, as long as they've been properly tagged so that the screen reader can identify it as either decorative or illustrative of a point and there's some indication of what the photo is about. Unfortunately, Wikispaces isn't giving me that option (or at least I didn't find a way to do this), so I've ended up removing all of the photos to avoid confusion. BTW--this is also an issue for those of us who use photos in our blogs, which may make it more difficult for people with visual impairments to navigate our posts.
The biggest shift for me has been needing to think in very different ways about my materials and how to make them accessible. This project has been a huge reminder to me too of how visual I am in my development of materials, which can be great in some cases, but in others requires a big shift in my thinking.