Online Accessibility Is More Complicated Than It Seems

By Joseph Marks

June 27, 2013

The Labor Department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy has an interesting post up on the Digital Gov blog outlining how difficult -- often impossible -- it can be for someone with a disability to access social media.

For someone who’s not tuned into the particular difficulties people with disabilities face online, many of these problems aren’t quickly apparent.

I interviewed the Disability Employment Office’s Policy Adviser Michael Reardon a few weeks ago about how his office is using the social site IdeaScale to crowdsource the best solutions to problems that face disabled veterans as they look for work or return to school.

IdeaScale seemed like a great way to gather feedback, Reardon said, because anyone can offer a suggestion on the platform, anyone can comment on those suggestions and anyone can vote those suggestions up or down. That meant policymakers would get a much richer view of what people wanted and the people themselves could offer feedback more dynamically.

Using social sites is also more appealing to young veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan than simply emailing an office or commenting on a blog post.

The problem was IdeaScale wasn’t set up for people with disabilities, Reardon said, because the up and down voting icon appeared before a suggestion rather than after it. This looked cleaner visually but it meant blind people using screen reading software were being asked to pass judgment on something before they’d heard what it was. Toggling back and forth using a screen reader can be very difficult, Reardon said.

In this case, IdeaScale was able to retrofit a version of its site for the Disability Employment Office that put the voting icon after a suggestion, making the tool accessible, he said.

[To read more about the Disability Employment office’s work with IdeaScale and other government social media innovations check out the July issue of Government Executive Magazine due out Monday.]

By Joseph Marks

June 27, 2013