Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Accessibility and your responsibility to the network

By (almost) anyone's count, stats, vibe, gut, whatever... 'social media' is becoming the dominant form of media across the world.

We are collectively and globally spending more of our time taking part in it than we do passively receiving all the other broadcast media put together.

And with that position of dominance comes responsibility.

In large traditional media companies (such as the ones I spent much of my life working in) there is a demand for legal compliance. The big boys sign-up to W3C etc. They also make an effort to make their output e-accessible.

They need to be seen to be meeting the needs of disabled users - whether those users have difficulty, seeing, hearing, moving etc. They see a box they need to tick.

But there appears to be little thought for the needs of these users in many of the most mainstream of social tools, technologies and platforms. (image - an open door - via Ben Zvan)

APIs are of course usually available - which offers opportunities for those with the skills and the inclinations to create tools to improve accessibility. They result in great stuff like Accessible Twitter and EasyYouTube for example, but by no means the whole solution. There aren't enough of them solving the whole range of issues, for a start.

You never see accessibility buttons easy to find on your sign in to Facebook etc. And many a sign-in process includes some unfriendly CAPTCHA processes, too.

I don't have solutions - I do think it's going to take a motivated crowd response to sort out. But I also think, like so much else about a networked world, we all have to take responsibility for each other.

I often say that one extra node on your network doubles its value (that's group forming network theory, folks).

Conversely, if the barriers of accessibility preclude one extra node from joining your network you are halving its value. That's a sobering thought.

Or as Stowe Boyd puts it: "I am made greater by the sum of my connections, so are my connections."

CitizensOnline (the charity which I serve as a trustee) is trying to do something about access to the web - and I'll update you as soon as I'm able on the detail of that. Dr Gail Bradbrook has started a blog on this Fix The Web issue. She's also set up a poll you can take part in:

But in the meantime you could start doing your bit by providing captions for your videos, titling your photographs descriptively and usefully and limiting the abbreviations you use in your status updates (hat tip to Joseph C Dolson)

I'm not going to get this right myself every time. Expect howlers. How do I embed a description in the flickr-hosted image with this post, for example? But I do know it's in my interests - and that of the network - to try.

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The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?