Over 25 years ago, advocates fought hard for the rights of individuals with disabilities culminating in the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which guarantees access to jobs, public accommodations, government services, public transportation, and telecommunications.
In 2016 a different type of inclusion for the disabled community has come to the forefront, social media and the internet. The ruling over whether websites and social media sites should be covered under the ADA, and classified as “places of public accommodation,” is still ongoing in the Department of Justice.
Social media’s benefits for individuals with disabilities
Social media strengthens the influence of brands, companies, non-profits and individuals by creating online communities with common values and interests. Additionally, social media provides opportunities for recruiting new employees, education, and a means of global communication.
Several popular social media networks like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter offer assistive technology like navigation shortcuts, screen readers, closed captions and more, allowing people with disabilities to access their respective platforms.
Facebook is committed to creating a great experience for all people. Learn about the built-in features and technologies that help people with disabilities, like vision loss and deafness, to get the most out of Facebook. –Facebook Help Center
Websites and forums are dedicated to keeping up with assistive technology on most of the social media platforms. The field has developed at a quick pace and attempts to keep up with the latest developments in social media. Many networks contain quick access to apps with games, videos and quick access to music.
Opengate residents’ favorite apps are those that pertain to social stories and learning social skills. For entertainment purposes, our residents use tablets for listening to music, watching music videos, face to face contact through video conferencing with family members, and emailing friends….. Randi Rios-Castro, Chief Operating Officer
There are still user hurdles to overcome and people still struggle, especially those with dexterity issues. Speech to text functions are helpful, but often need to be edited, leading the person right back to their original problem. One site offers tip sheets for each platform to overcome some of the obvious obstacles.
The future of social media access for the disabled community
Social media’s value for those with disabilities lies in its potential to open doors of opportunity that otherwise may have been unknown. Information gathering and dissemination occurs at a much faster pace than ever before and social media is a catalyst.
Accessibility features are built in to most of the latest devices like smart phones and tablets, and with the touch of a button changes can be made which allow greater ease in navigation and use. One can easily change the size of text, use VoiceOver, and AssistiveTouch if difficulty touching the screen.
Not only do individuals with disabilities use social media tools, they use them for many of the same reasons as everyone else: to stay connected to friends and family; to network and find jobs; to play games; to share links, pictures and videos; to follow their favorite product, brand, celebrity or cause; and many other reasons. –Digitalgov.Gov
Social media is here to stay and will continue to evolve. Inclusion for those with disabilities is just as important now as in the early days of the ADA. We must strive to keep accessibility to opportunities open to everyone through development of better assistive technology as well as encouraging product managers to design sites with better accessibility.