The Power of Accessibility in Social Media

Soumya Sharma & Azul de Mendieta & Amanda Healey
Published September 2, 2021

In the US, 23% of social media users claim that using a social network has convinced them to change their views on an issue. Naturally, with such powerful tools, questions about accessibility arise. A 2018 survey of Facebook users in 50 countries found that more than 30% of people reported difficulty with at least one of the following: seeing, hearing, speaking, organizing thoughts, walking, or grasping with their hands. Community exclusion on social platforms is a large issue and identifying it is of utmost importance for online marketers. Keeping social media communities accessible requires learning from your followers and presenting information in the clearest way possible. To increase engagement and followers from diverse backgrounds, marketers must start thinking about how they can advertise and communicate in a way that further enhances building an inclusive online community.

Remember: Representation Matters
Nike’s launch of their first hands-free sneaker, “Go Flyease”, was aimed to address the needs of fashion enthusiasts with disabilities. While the sneaker did gain a lot of traction, it also faced backlash for their inauthentic storytelling. Instead of showcasing people in the ad who were the inspiration behind the sneaker, the product was advertised using actors without disabilities.

Learning from Nike’s mistake, Tommy Hilfiger used models with varying disabilities when they launched a line of adaptive clothing designed for adults and children with a range of physical and mental disabilities. This execution allowed the target audience to get a true sense of the product. When Aerie launched their diverse, inclusive, body-positive campaign for lingerie, a HuffPost article noted, “…Aerie’s sales skyrocketed with its #AerieReal campaign, in which women who use wheelchairs and arm crutches were modeled in its ads, challenging supermodel standards.”. The content of these ads was widely appreciated. Jennifer Smith, @mizz_j_smith on Twitter, said of the campaign launch, “I literally cried when I saw this today. Thank you @Aerie for making my daughter a little less self-conscious about her diabetes #realpeople #itlookslikeme.”

Additionally, thoughtful influencer partnerships are key. Marketers should consider partnering with a diverse set of influencers striving to share the voices of those with varying disabilities. For example, last year London-based luxury shoe brand, Kurt Geiger, started working with Northern Irish amputee model and influencer, Bernadette Hagans. "The boom in social media has given a voice to those who have previously been under-represented in the public eye, and they are, quite rightly, demanding to be seen and heard" said the company's chief executive, Neil Clifford, to BBC.

"People expect businesses to utilize their influence to counter inequality and many brands are reacting to this need."
Neil Clifford CEO, Kurt Geiger

Twenty-six-year-old Pippa Stacey, who lives with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), also known as chronic fatigue syndrome, has also worked with Purple Goat to create social media campaigns for brands such as Tesco. “Influencer marketing is about so much more than just the hard sell. It's about supporting a positive image of the brand and their values, of which inclusivity should be central in" she said.

What it means to be inclusive
True accessibility is when everyone has equitable access to the essentials they require to participate in work, activities, and conversation. For example, launching campaigns that include messaging with sign language, captions, or braille text expands the audience and allows more people to know what a brand stands for. When we use marketing in a positive way, we welcome folks of all backgrounds and abilities into the fold.

Accessible social media gives an equal opportunity for people with disabilities to interact with content, communicate their needs, and most importantly find a community to share experiences with. It is important for everybody – no matter their identities – to feel seen by brands they wish to do business with.

Supporting the social media needs of consumers with disabilities
As marketers and owners of brand voices, we must be mindful of how we produce content. Here are several ways you can make your content more accessible:

  • Write in plain language: Slang, jargon or technical terms can be difficult to understand by everyone
  • Don’t overuse caps: Screen reader software often misinterprets all-caps
  • Use an adequate font size: Text in images or areas that aren’t modifiable causes blurry text
  • Avoid special characters: Instead of reading the word, Voice-over and other assistive tools read special formatting in its raw form

Social media platforms and blogs have played a key role in addressing misconceptions and breaking down barriers for people with disabilities. It is crucial to listen when people with disabilities openly share their thoughts and ideas. As marketers, we must strive to include as many backgrounds and experiences as possible in our campaigns and create content that everyone can easily digest. Laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, but there is more work to be done to enforce it and emphasize the importance of including this community. While government support and implementing policies can be influential, the real responsibility falls upon the social media communities (and yes, that means brand marketers) to do their part to build more inclusive spaces.


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