The Swedish Post and Telecom Agency (Post- och telestyrelsen – PTS), the country’s postal and telecommunications regulator, funded a survey last year on social media and their usability from a disability perspective.
The report was conducted in conjunction with Funka Nu, a privately owned company that sets standards for both the development and analysis of issues involving IT accessibility. The results show that all the social media networks surveyed have accessibility problems.
“The fact that more agencies and municipalities communicate through social media means that information to citizens can be disseminated through more channels, which is positive,” Anna Boström, director of the consumer affairs division at PTS, said in a statement late last month.
“At the same time, PTS wants to raise the level of awareness of that the sites that are not suited for persons with disabilities,” she added.
The survey examined the five largest social media websites, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube and Flickr, as well as 10 other social media websites popular in Sweden and abroad: LinkedIn, StayFriends, Google Wave, Digg, Resedagboken, Funbeat, Bilddagboken, Bloggtoppen, Pusha and Delicious.
According to the survey, most user groups experience problems accessing the services of social media networks. For many, however, the issues related more to increased difficulties than direct obstacles involving accessibility.
Those who face immediate obstacles are mostly those who are deaf, blind or have reading disabilities. One challenge is that it is often difficult to register for a service without assistance for the deaf and blind.
In addition, visually impaired individuals also encounter difficulties accessing certain social media sites. Users who navigate with a keyboard cannot always access all the features on a service.
Tables are often used for layouts, leading to those with severe visual impairments who use assistive devices experiencing difficulty in accessing information that is often presented in the wrong order.
The websites can also make the use of social media is unnecessarily difficult. Changes to ease their use for affected users depends partly on the user’s requirements and partly on motivation.
Given the present situation, none of the surveyed social media sites would be recommended from an accessibility perspective, the report said.