April 21, 2016

Access All the Memes! A Journey from Awareness to Accessibility

When I met Liza Dyer at the NTC, she told me something that every speaker wants to hear: She did something differently because of our session. The most wonderful thing about her story is that it is a perfect example of how accessibility begins with awareness. The most unexpected thing about her story is that she told it to me before, not after, our session. Here is her story.

Liza is preparing for her NTC panel, Fantastic Volunteers and Where to Find Them. She creates a handsome title slide in red and gold. Her co-presenters like it, so she creates a matching image for promoting the session on Twitter. She does not think about accessibility until she reads the description of the session that Chad Leaman and I are presenting, #AccessibilityRocks: Make Your Social Media Content More Inclusive Today. Now that she thinks about it, Liza wonders whether the red and gold color combination she used might be hard for some people to read. She goes online and finds a color contrast checker, which confirms her suspicions: There is not enough contrast between the foreground and background colors. The color checker suggests adjustments, and she tinkers with it until she has a combination that works. Liza then goes back to her slides and updates the colors, replacing the red with a darker green. She updates the image for Twitter. She sends the updates to her co-presenters and explains why she had changed them. They respond (and here I paraphrase), “Awesome! We had not thought of that!”

When we met on the first day of the conference, Liza told me her story. On the last day of the conference, she attended our session, where I shared her story with our attendees.

Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust

Chad and I organized our session around the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as a model for inclusive social media: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust. The social networks, we said, have primary responsibility for making their platforms operable and robust, while we nonprofits have responsibility for making our content perceivable and understandable. We shared practical tips: image descriptions, video captions, podcast transcripts, and, of course, color contrast. We talked about how to include people who hear, see, or think differently in social media trends, like infographics and memes.

While we provided examples and resources (see links below), the primary purpose of our session was to raise awareness. You do not need to be an expert to create accessible content. You just need to be aware that people access the internet in different ways, and care enough to include them.

From Awareness to Accessibility

Four weeks after the NTC, what continues to delight and resonate with me the most is Liza’s story and her path from awareness to accessibility:

  1. Awareness: After reading about our session, she had accessibility in mind.
  2. Empathy: Putting herself in her audience’s place, Liza imagined seeing the slide through the eyes of someone with colorblindness.
  3. Ownership: Liza took responsibility to check the color contrast and to find a solution.
  4. Alternatives: She worked with the contrast checker to adjust the colors for a more distinct foreground and background.
  5. Accessibility: She revised the slide and the graphic. Then Liza explained the changes to her co-presenters, spreading her new awareness.

As with web accessibility, it is easier to make your social content accessible when you plan for it at the beginning. Awareness is the key. Liza had not thought about color contrast before, but she will think about it the next time she is selecting colors. I know I will. How about you?

Here are a few resources to get you started:

You’ll find more resource links in the slides. And stay tuned, because NTEN has asked us to do a webinar based on the NTC session!

Photo/meme credit: The great Allie Brosh of Hyperbole and a Half.

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BJ Wishinsky
BJ Wishinsky is the Social Media Manager at Benetech, a Silicon Valley nonprofit creating technology to serve humanity. A former software engineer and education manager, since 2008 she has devoted herself to the nonprofit and education sectors. Her superpower is using social media for social good. On any given day, you can find BJ tweeting as @benetech, @bookshare, or @leapingwoman.