Community Magazine

Social Media and the Disability Experience: Advocating for Your Online Accessibility Needs

By Emily @emily_ladau

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Light blue background with images of technology including an iPhone, a laptop, and an iPad, with a larger iMac to the right of them. Each device has a screenshot of the ePolicyworks webpage for the social media and accessibility dialog. Above the iMac is black text that reads

I can’t even count how many times I got in trouble when I was younger because my parents caught me on-line when I was supposed to be doing my homework. Mind you, I ALWAYS finished my homework, but I couldn’t help being drawn to the Internet as a form of communication. Even when completing a task like homework, which generally requires being solitary, I loved the feeling of being connected to the outside world simply by typing a few words and clicking a few buttons.

Since I was a 90’s kid, my first taste of using the Internet as a social platform was chatting with friends from middle school and summer camp via AOL Instant Messenger. It wasn’t until 2007, when I was halfway through high school, that I was bitten by the Facebook bug. I’ve been hooked on social media ever since.

I know – in many ways, this just illustrates that I’m typical product of Generation Y. That being said, my use of social media has extended way beyond posting song lyrics and puppy pictures (though I do love me some cute animals).

Social media has proven time and again to be a huge game-changer for me both personally and professionally. First of all, social media has in fact been integral to my social life. Though I spend plenty of time outside of the house with my friends, having Facebook makes socialization a little easier at times when I don’t have transportation to get somewhere. (Pardon me while I insert a shameless plug – I’ve just gotten my driver’s license and I’m in a contest to win a wheelchair accessible van adapted to my needs so lack of transportation will never be an issue again! Will you pretty please take a second to click here and vote for me?)

Anyway, aside from helping me negate local transportation issues, social media has afforded me a means of connecting with amazing people from all over the world. I’ll admit it can feel a little silly having friends I’ve never met. But, considering they’re all awesome members of the disability community, fabulous bloggers, or both, my online friendships are totally worth it. Disability culture is absolutely thriving on social media, and news and support spread like wildfire. I’m even lucky enough to be a part of a group on Facebook specifically for people with my disability, Larsen syndrome. Since it’s a rare genetic disorder, chances are I wouldn’t bump into someone else who has it on the street, so I love having a platform to share stories experiences. It’s a beautiful thing, really.

In addition to personal connections, developing my social media presence has led to some of the most exciting opportunities I’ve ever had. I’ve landed all three of my current jobs thanks to being noticed by my employers online, which is especially useful because poor public transportation and lack of access to other means of transportation make it easier for me to work from home. I’ve also been offered a relatively steady stream of writing opportunities. None of this would have happened if I hadn’t done things like starting a blog, joining Twitter, or creating a LinkedIn profile.  Bonus? Because I cultivated a disability-centric identity online, work and writing that have come my way are almost always matched perfectly to my passion for advocacy.

If you’re starting to wonder why I sound like a billboard on wheels for social media, it’s simply because I believe in the power it has for positive change both among individuals and globally, especially for the disability community. While anyone who uses social media well can benefit from it, I think the advantages for disabled people are tenfold. Shouldn’t the benefits of the Internet be accessible to everyone?

The answer to that is obviously a resounding yes! But in order to for the Internet to evolve into a truly welcoming environment for everyone who has a disability, new ideas and innovations need to be implemented. That’s where YOU come in! A lovely fellow advocate and friend of mine, Alice Wong (who I connected with via social media, of course), reached out to me to share that the U.S Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy and the National Council on Disability are hosting their first-ever online dialog on social media accessibility: “Advancing Accessibility and Inclusion in Social Media — The User Experience.”

If you have any ideas or concerns about accessibility and social media platforms, then this is a great place to sound off! Plus, it couldn’t be any more convenient to get involved. Once you sign up, you can log in and speak your mind whenever you have a moment, up until April 4th. Most importantly, this platform is open to address accessibility needs for everyone, rather than focusing only on certain types of disabilities.

So go ahead, get in on the conversation! This is our time to help spark real change through advocacy. Don’t you want to be a part of it?

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