How to make social media a 'great equalizer' for your agency

Tuesday - 7/1/2014, 10:49am EDT

As social media becomes an important tool in allowing agencies to meet their missions, managers must ensure that their tweets, Facebook posts and YouTube videos are accessible to persons with disabilities.

"I'm looking for improved analysis. I'm looking for transparency. I'm looking for great collaboration," Dr. Alissa Johnson, deputy chief information officer at the White House, said during a SocialGov Google Hangout Monday. "Next generation government is social government."

During the webinar, SocialGov experts discussed three recently released toolkits, one of which addresses the issue of social media accessibility for persons with disabilities.

"With 20 percent of the population estimated to have a disability, government agencies have an obligation to ensure that their messages, services and products are as inclusive as possible," the toolkit stated.

Not all social media websites were necessarily designed with accessibility in mind.

"Platforms like Twitter and Facebook, though once associated with younger generations and celebrity tabloid content, have become demographic-agnostic and central to the communications of corporations, nonprofits, government agencies, schools, and even law enforcement," Victoria Wales, bilingual Web content manager with USA.gov, wrote in a post.

The Labor Department's Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), the General Services Administration's Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies and the Social Media Accessibility Working Group, a committee within the Federal Social Media Community of Practice, developed the toolkit. It serves as a guide for social media managers, with specific recommendations on making platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube more accessible.

Michael Reardon, policy supervisor in Labor's ODEP, said using "camel case" in Twitter hashtags makes reading a tweet easier for a person with a vision disability. Camel case capitalizes the first letters of compound words. For example, #DigitalGov is preferred to #digitalgov. Even the placement of a hashtag within the Tweet can make a difference.

"If you place the hashtag in the middle of the posting or at the end, it's much more likely to be understood," Reardon said.

He also said to avoid using acronyms and abbreviations when possible, and spell out full names, instead.

"The major point is to try to keep it as simple as possible," Reardon said. "We like to have all these bells and whistles, but it does present complications for a number of people with disabilities."

Reardon encouraged the public to make suggestions or edits within the toolkit.

"Accessibility makes all the difference," he said. "It's the difference between being a great equalizer for people with disabilities or a great barrier."

RELATED STORIES:

Is your agency getting the most out of its social media efforts?

Agencies 'open the door' to innovative uses of social media