Repost from IBM Social Business Insights: Accessibility 101: How accessibility affects you and your business

Earlier this year I started blogging for the IBM Social Business Insights blog as part of a team of IBM Redbook Thought Leaders. I'll be reposting those blog posts here on my personal blog. 
Accessibility 101: How accessibility affects you and your business was originally published on March 14, 2012, and is owned by IBM.
I recommend checking out the IBM Social Business Insights blog for some compelling and though-provoking content.
Accessibility 101: How accessibility affects you and your business
Holly Nielsen, Social Media Manager and Webmaster, Human Ability and Accessibility

Accessibility is one of those topics that once you’re introduced to it, you not only become passionate about it, but also an advocate for it. Some people have family or friends who have disabilities and become advocates that way. Others learn about accessibility because of unexpected life events – such as car accidents or chronic illnesses – that can have an impact on their abilities either temporarily or over a longer period. There are those of us, like me, who have the opportunity to work in this field as a meaningful career choice. Ultimately, because we’re all aging, accessibility and inclusion affect us all.

Accessibility and inclusion continue to be topics of growing relevance – grabbing a fair share of interest at the recent interactive portion of the South by Southwest (SXSW) technology conference in Austin, Texas. Four of my IBM accessibility colleagues presented at well-attended sessions this week at SXSW: 

As recently as five years ago, a salesperson asked me, “Blind people can use computers? Really?” She was astonished when she found out that yes, people who are blind can use computers, and after a demo, she went home and showed her grandmother, who had low vision, how to use the computer to shop online. The conversation gave us both new insights.

People who have disabilities use assistive technology (AT) and accessible IT (information technology) to access the Internet and its many applications. Here are a few of the ways people with different abilities might use AT or IT on the Web or with commonly used workplace programs:
  • People who are blind or have low vision may use a screen reader, software that reads text out loud (text-to-speech).
  • People who are deaf or hard of hearing may use video captions to read audio output from the computer (speech-to-text).
  • People with mobility impairments often cannot use a mouse, so they may need alternative input methods such as voice input, alternate keyboards or keyboard access devices such as mouth sticks.
  • People who have cognitive disabilities may need dual input to make sense of content; for instance, reading a webcast transcript at the same time they are listening to the webcast.
While accessible IT is critical for people with disabilities to effectively use technology, many other groups of people benefit from it as well. For example, today’s older generation is not only larger than ever before; but they are healthier and living longer. Forty percent of the projected population of Japan in 2060 will be 65 or older1. In China, 437 million; one third of the population, will be 60 or older by 2050.2 Nicknamed the ‘silver tsunami;’ the first baby boomers started turning 65 in 2011. While most boomers wouldn't classify themselves as having a disability, many are beginning to need assistive aids and technologies: reading glasses, larger fonts on their smartphones, tablets and laptops, and captions for videos.

Also, many solutions first developed for people with disabilities are ubiquitous in today’s world. The most recognizable ones are curb cuts and closed caption TV:
  • Photo of couple pushing  child in stroller across crosswalk, using curb cuts
    Curb cuts, originally designed to help wheelchair users cross streets at corners, are used and appreciated daily by people pushing strollers, delivery people pushing hand trucks or carts and travelers pulling roller bags, as a few examples.
  • Runners on treadmills at the gym watching TVs with closed captioning
    Closed captioning on TV, originally designed for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, is now in frequent use in noisy environments such as gyms, cocktail lounges, and airports. Also, non-native language speakers can benefit from closed captioning or video captions.

Mobile devices like the Apple iPhone have built-in functions such as “voice over” that voice enable applications and websites, useful for both sighted and vision-impaired users. The original technology was created by Ray Kurzweil, as shown in this 2012 Superbowl commercial.

Users with situational disabilities – watching a webcast in a noisy airport, driving a car and responding to emails, or trying to navigate a computer with a broken arm, have clearly benefited from the trend toward making applications inclusive.

Ultimately, technologies are changing at breakneck speed, and developers can take steps to reduce or eliminate many of the barriers that inhibit or prevent access.
  • When websites and applications are designed and built to the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, the recommendations make Web content more accessible.
  • When the Web Accessibility Initiative Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA) Suite is implemented in web content and applications developed in technologies such as Ajax, HTML, or JavaScript, they become more accessible to people with disabilities. IBM for example, has built WAI-ARIA into its corporate accessibility guidelines to help make rich Internet applications accessible.

Six Ways Social Networking Is Changing My Life

I follow and manage my work group’s social media presence as part of my job, so I’m sure I spend a lot more time online than many people. But I think because I’m always searching, comparing, and analyzing news, that I can step back and take a good and impartial look at the ways it’s changing my life.

#1 I’m better informed than ever
It used to be that you’d have to subscribe to multiple papers and magazines to get a well-rounded view of the world. Once I had my first child, my quiet early mornings reading the local paper with breakfast flew out the window – never to return. Now, all of the news is online, and thanks to social media, news organizations are pushing their hottest news stories out to me – I don’t even have to visit websites unless I’m searching for a specific story (how many advertisers did Rush Limbaugh lose or what’s the latest news from Syria), or want to get multiple viewpoints. I follow the major news sources on Facebook and Twitter, so the latest news is pushed right to my desktop or smart phone.

#2 The organizations I follow can communicate more easily with me
I admit I have a lot of varied interests (moderation is often difficult for me), and I love that organizations can easily keep me informed about their latest doings via social networking. And on the other side of that, since I manage several Facebook group pages, I appreciate being able to update our fans/followers easily via posts or tweets. 
I follow our local food bank, local family shelter, a micro lending organization, bands, accessibility organizations, friends’ small businesses, radio stations, entertainers, trainers, George Takei (he makes me laugh every day), and a multitude of other personalities and groups. I can easily customize my feeds; adding and deleting as I find new sources.

#3 Grass roots activism is keeping me in the loop
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been signing a lot of petitions lately. And I do believe they’re having an impact. Just in the last few days, I’ve signed a petition against the US government buying pink slime to put into school lunches, and a petition requesting that the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) reverse its decision to give an impactful film about bullying an R rating, making it inaccessible to the teenagers who needs to see it the most. I feel like my opinion counts, and governments, businesses and groups are listening. Grass roots social media is taking the world by storm. The Arab Spring, Komen Foundation, Rush Limbaugh, and U.S. politics, just to name a few, have been in the news, and all started with social networking.

#4 My virtual/worldwide water cooler
Social networking lets me catch up with colleagues and friends who live around the world. I work at home and remotely from my team, so team lunches and happy hours aren’t part of my colleague relationships. But it doesn’t mean that I don’t want to know what they’ve been up to, or check out the latest kid pics. And those friends from high school and college who’ve settled overseas or out of state and didn’t make it to the last reunion? What a great way to keep in touch. Plus, when these Facebook/Google/Twitter/Pinterest friends share their interests and causes, I find out 1) a lot more about those people that may not surface in a face-to-face working relationship and 2) new stuff to learn about.

#5 I get to share the causes and news in which I’m interested
This one may drive you nuts if you’re friends with me or following me on social networking sites, but I love sharing my interests and causes. I am always looking to recruit volunteers for the volunteer organization I manage events for, and if I sign a petition, I like sharing that information too. And if you don’t agree with me or don’t want to read what I’m sharing? You can easily skip over it, or if I really offend you, de-friend or unfollow me. And of course, vice versa. But I rarely do that – I love the exchange and varied opinions I find.

#6 YouTube videos
Need I say more? Okay, I’m not sure there’s a positive here, except that when I’ve had a tough day, I don’t mind zoning out for a few minutes and watching cute kitten, puppy, elephant and baby videos. And the number of how to videos is truly astounding – ranging from cutting your own bangs to installing a garbage disposal. I’m sure we all have our favorite YouTube genres.

So, has social networking changed your life, and if yes, how? I'd love to hear what you think.

Image: Salvatore Vuono /
Image: jannoon028 /
Image: worradmu /

Repost from IBM Social Business Insights: Making Social Media More Accessible

Earlier this year I started blogging for the IBM Social Business Insights blog as part of a team of IBM Redbook Thought Leaders. I'll be reposting those blog posts here on my personal blog. 
Making Social Media More Accessible was originally published on March 7, 2012, and is owned by IBM.
I recommend checking out the IBM Social Business Insights blog for some compelling and though-provoking content.

Making social media more accessible

True or False: Today’s mainstream social media channels are accessible to all.

Before you answer that question, let’s take a look at the current state of the social media space.

Social media channels enable social networking, a phenomenon fueled largely by user-generated content and the various ways users can connect and share that content. Recent usage numbers for the top five social media channels are incredible:
  • Facebook has 850 million users; 483 million of those are daily active users.(1)
  • YouTube has more than 3 billion views per day; 48 hours of video is uploaded every minute.(2)
  • Twitter is just as busy: more than 200 million accounts, more than 100 million active users, 50 percent of whom log in daily, tweeting 350 million times a day.(3)
  • LinkedIn has 135 million members in more than 200 countries and territories; new members are joining at a rate of faster than two new members a second.(4)
  • Google+, as of January 2012, has over 90 million users.(5)
  • The newest up and comer, Pinterest, set a new record at the beginning of February 2012 of 10 million US monthly unique users.(6)
No single company could fill the content pipeline of one of these channels, much less for all of them concurrently, as is happening right now. But when we look at the accessibility of these channels, we start to see that not everyone can equally participate in these social exchanges.
An older blog post by Nilofar Ansher from G3ict, the Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies, poses three questions that can help a social media company assess the accessibility of its site:
  • Can everyone publish their own content without barriers?
  • Does the publishing platform support the creation of accessible content? (More specifically, does the publishing process require accessibility artifacts? For example, does it ask for alternative text for images?)
  • Is that content then presented to the user in an accessible way?
  • If you (or your developers) can’t answer “yes” to all three questions about your social media platform or channel, then it’s a safe bet that some people are excluded from participating.
Denis Boudreau, president of AccessibilitéWeb, a Montreal-based accessibility cooperative, put together a thorough presentation in fall 2011 that evaluated the accessibility of the five main social media platforms (Pinterest is not included). He evaluated the platforms on the eight most common accessibility problems:
  • Section headings
  • Color contrasts
  • Labels and form fields
  • Keyboard navigation
  • Text equivalents for images
  • Multimedia
  • Language
  • Validation
His findings? All five platforms failed. LinkedIn did the best, at 29 percent.
Because these platforms are available at no cost to users and participation is optional, there isn’t the pressure from paying customers or government regulations to make them accessible and inclusive – yet. Both the changing technology-related legislation worldwide that is incorporating accessibility requirements and the consumers who are becoming more vocal about access will ultimately put pressure on these social channels to become fully accessible.

Workarounds, fortunately, do exist and there appears to be some movement toward accessibility. EasyChirp is an accessible Twitter client that has received good reviews. AppleVis, a community-driven website created to collect information on the accessibility of apps developed for Apple's iOS devices, includes a free, accessible LinkedIn app. And, blind colleagues report improvements in the Facebook mobile client over the last year (you must be logged in to Facebook to access).

As a social media practitioner, I find it unfortunate that we’re not building relationships with all of our clients, prospects, and partners within social media channels because of the lack of inclusivity. Using social platforms that are accessible, such as IBM Connections, is a huge step forward in becoming an Inclusive Social Business, but until the mainstream social media channels are accessible, the ideas and insights of millions of people worldwide are not being fully shared. Neither are they fully engaged as customers in the business model of the channel, resulting in potential revenue remaining on the table.

The answer to true or false question posed at the beginning of this post? False, for now. With increasing focus on the need to make these channels more accessible, let’s hope in a year these platforms will be more inclusive.
1 Facebook Fact Sheet
2 YouTube Press Room
3 Social Media Marketing Library
4 LinkedIn Facts
5 Google Plus News
6 Pinterest Hits10 Million U.S. Monthly Uniques Faster Than Any Standalone Site Ever