Q&A: Social media and accessibility

Monday, 1 June 2015 10:39am

Debra Ruh, CEO, Ruh Global Communications and Co-Founder, AXSChat, G3ict EmployAbility and Technology Chair, discusses accessibility and social media. Debra spoke to Media Access Australia ahead of chairing a session on Engaging with Others via Social Media at the M-Enabling conference, being held 1-2 June 2015 in Washington DC.

Media Access Australia: You’re chairing a session on the adoption of social media by seniors and persons with disabilities. What’s your view on the role social media can and is playing for these groups?

Debra Ruh: I am very active on social media and have seen a trend of seniors and persons with disabilities finding their voices on social media. Social media is one of the most powerful mediums we have ever had globally. We still have some accessibility problems with social media. Some of the platforms are not accessible and access to devices and the internet also create a wider digital divide. 

We are also seeing positive trends with social media. Seniors and persons with disabilities are joining the conversations via mobile devices, tablets and PCs. In the past, we often saw adults giving their parents old technology (i.e. they gave their older laptops or PC's to their parents).

As tablets and affordable smart phones came on the market it made more sense to buy newer technologies for parents. We are seeing this trend in developed and developing countries. As this continues more persons with disabilities and seniors will meaningfully join the social media. 

What role do you see social media playing around health and wellness, safety, advocacy, and reducing social isolation?

Social media is playing a critical role in health, wellness, safety, advocacy and reducing social isolation. As more games are made accessible for persons with disabilities they can help with social isolation. Also as technologies like IoT (Internet of Things), wearables, robotics and more converge and blend together they allow seniors and persons with disabilities to get access to better data about health, safety, and also can support reducing isolation. These efforts can also support advocacy.

The wearables are allowing seniors and persons with disabilities to track their health and wellness.  Get access to safety features and allow them to access GPS type tools that can support independence. Robots and wearables are predicted to help seniors stay in their homes longer and maybe avoid nursing homes. As we advance towards smart cities and smart homes the options for persons with disabilities and seniors have unlimited potential. Tie this into social media and we change people's lives for the better.      

Given this role, how important is accessibility of social media tools, like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook for each group?

Critically important. If we do not make these tools accessible we will leave out millions of people and the digital divide will continue to widen.

What progress has been made toward improving the accessibility of these tools?

Progress has been made. Most of the major platforms like Linked-In, Facebook, Twitter and Google have made efforts to assure their platforms and tools are accessible. We are seeing these providers blend accessibility into the core design and create teams of technologists including technologists with disabilities. We still have a long way to go but I am optimistic.   

What work still needs to be done around accessibility?

Tons of work. Accessibility is still an afterthought and rarely blended into the processes. Also when a company works to make their platform accessible they often forget to create repeatable processes that will keep them accessible.

Final thoughts/comments on how social media and accessibility may play out in the year or two to come?

Once again, I am optimistic. I believe we are going to see tools and platforms using accessibility as a differentiator. A way to stand out from their competitors. I also am seeing brands tap into accessibility, to tell their corporate social responsibility stories. Lastly, I believe social media will help us get the word out that persons with disabilities can be a meaningful part of the workforce.


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