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Making Social Media Accessible

“The power of the web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”  – Sir Tim Berners-Lee
A few weeks ago, I slipped down a flight of stairs and sprained my knee pretty bad damaging my ligament and cartilage. Lately, I’ve been spending time in a brace making it difficult to get around, especially up stairs, passing through doors and getting in and out of vehicles. Although my injuries have been serious I know that this is something temporary. In a few months, I know I will be back running around as usual.
So often we take for granted many things we do in our everyday life, such as getting up a flight of stairs. For people with disabilities, access to spaces and information are limited and the social web is no exception.
In the past few years, there have been many advanced communications devices and platforms that have been developed to improve the lives of people. Unfortunately, most of these new communications platforms have not conformed to standards to make them accessible for peoples with disabilities, perhaps people who can benefit the most from these new technologies.


Prior to my accident, I have been in conversations with Ryan Jean the Web Accessibility Specialist at the Disability Network (http://www.disnetwork.org/) in Flint Michigan. I met Ryan and his colleague John Burt in a training I conducted there on Social Media.
Ryan first approached me regarding how most popular Web 2.0 sites are not accessible for peoples with disabilities and pointed me to the recent publication of the W3C’s (http://www.w3.org/) standards for rich media entitled ARIA.
The ARIA document as described in the overview states, “WAI-ARIA, the Accessible Rich Internet Applications Suite, defines a way to make Web content and Web applications more accessible to people with disabilities. It especially helps with dynamic content and advanced user interface controls developed with Ajax, HTML, JavaScript, and related technologies. Currently certain functionality used in Web sites is not available to some users with disabilities, especially people who rely on screen readers and people who cannot use a mouse. WAI-ARIA addresses these accessibility challenges, for example, by defining new ways for functionality to be provided to assistive technology. With WAI-ARIA, developers can make advanced Web applications accessible and usable to people with disabilities.”
You can read the entire document here: http://www.w3.org/WAI/PF/aria/ and read the W3C overview on Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) at http://www.w3.org/WAI/
Ryan and I had the opportunity to speak with Thomas Logan with HiSoftware (http://hisoftware.com/). Thomas shared with us many resources on the web that provide information on the ARIA standards.
There is a great listing of videos at codetalks at http://wiki.codetalks.org/wiki/index.php/ARIA_Video_Project_Home_Page
These videos provide a helpful overview of developing accessible rich media compliant with ARIA including keyboard support, and setting up correct properties for components of online applications.
A listing of test cases and what is working now can be found at http://wiki.codetalks.org/wiki/index.php/Set_of_ARIA_Test_Cases
With all the current excitement around social media and online networks, everyday people have become empowered to create content available to the world. Yet there is still so much more to do to make new media accessible for millions. Current popular Web 2.0 websites are still falling behind making their site and content accessible to peoples with disabilities. Many popular flash players that host video or audio do not offer keyboard interactive options. There are also many sites that do not offer audio equivalent for video or transcript equivalent audio.
For Ryan and myself, we hoped to encourage all of our colleagues to adopt these new standards and invest in making their websites and social media more accessible. But first, we knew we needed to start a conversation among our peers.
New technologies have helped us improve the way we communicate and move. With the release of the ARIA document, we hope that these new technologies provide a wider perspective on how to be more inclusive to people who can benefit the most out of new media.

Demetrio Maguigad, New Media Manager & Ryan Jean, Web Accessibility Specialist at the Disability Network

The following are more helpful links compiled by Thomas Logan.
Overview of designing for Accessibility:
http://www.slideshare.net/adunne/breaking-down-the-barriers-design-for-accessibility
Aria Examples:
http://test.cita.uiuc.edu/aria/
Books: Web Accessibility: Web Standards and Regulatory Compliance:
http://jimthatcher.com/book2.htm
ARIA Training Videos:
http://wiki.codetalks.org/wiki/index.php/ARIA_Video_Project_Home_Page
Overview of ARIA:
http://video.yahoo.com/watch/4073211/10996186
List of what works in ARIA right now:
http://wiki.codetalks.org/wiki/index.php/Set_of_ARIA_Test_Cases
Juicy Studio Toolbar (for inspecting ARIA information):
https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/9108

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