Accessible and Inclusive Social Media

Let’s begin with the fact that I don’t really like social media. That seems like an easy thing to say since no one is thinking Mark Zuckerberg is a particularly lovable fellow. Yes, there are the issues of privacy and the sort of nastiness from mostly anonymous figures and the occasional bot. For me though it’s just the nature of sharing as I tend to be more private, and I am definitely inclined towards the brevity that makes for good social media posting (this blog should serve as an example to that). I also still don’t really get Instagram and though I’ve been know to enjoy TikTok, I’m not nearly cool enough (or have time enough) to post.

Dislike Button

So why do I use it at all? Well it has been mostly professional as of late. I share resources and find valuable insight from other educators. And in that same way, the #NYCSchoolsTech group is an oasis of kindness, help, and genuine knowledge in what often seems like a wasteland of nastiness (even amongst teachers) online. I’ve also made a more concerted effort to speak out on the occasions I’m there on matters of social and moral importance. I’m not really an influencer, so it may simply be me setting a marker for myself to drive my actions. But that too is valuable.

Despite times where I do it frequently and even having been physically threatened online, I’m certainly not afraid of arguing with someone online especially on matters where I think there is value my shining a light on some greater truth. And there are things I’m including here where people took the time to (usually kindly) shine that light of knowledge on me. So here are some ways when you do engage that you can do it mindfully of being inclusive for all the people who may be viewing it on the wild world of the internet.

#A11y

The 5 categories of Social Media Accessibility with icons for them

There are many people on the web and probably many you hope to reach that can’t access content in the standard format. That’s why it’s good to learn how to share your content accessibly. Not all platforms do it equally. Some have features for bothe the reader and the poster, so Lisa Nielsen gives a good overview of what to look for in your platform of choice.

Flexibility

Nothing I put here will be by any means exhaustive, and it may become outdated with the latest update. So one key is to be responsive to someone if someone is having difficulty accessing your content. Be flexible in how you can share it with someone who may be visually impaired or have a developmental disability. I also recommend connecting with Mindy Johnson who has made great efforts in this area. The graphic above is hers.

Plain Language

I’m not always great with this given my love of flowery language, but your text should be understood easily on the first read. but we all know education, especially special education, is the land of acronyms. It’s good to refrain from it as much as possible even if many hashtags are based on abbreviations. And jargon is frowned upon too. But wait, most of what young people share feels like jargon to me, you say. Okay Boomer! 😆 – Oh and be careful with those emojis as it may not carry the context you intend and the way its read by a screen reader may not be the message you want. There is an Emojipedia for reference, but be judicious about it.

#CamelCase Hashtags

In addition to making your posts clever with hashtags like #ThisIsHowWeRoll, hashtags also allow people to find yours and connected content easily on different social media platforms. And sometimes there may not always be an agreed format. For example, a post about this information may include #Accessibility or #A11y (fun fact: there are 11 letters between the a and y in accessibility).

#CamelCase is simply capitalizing each individual word in a hashtag (like the humps on a camel) to make it easier to read since there are no spaces. As you can see at the example here it should be #CamelCase and not #notcamelcase. Do it for every hashtag. For ones that are abbreviations capitalize evry letter like #GBL for game-based learning. (Another fun fact: camel humps don’t store water but fat which can serve for nourishment much like the hashtags many seem to live off of before even first eating in the morning.)

Alt Text

Alt text is just an image description so your post can be read by screen readers for people with visual impairments. Most of the time it’s pretty easy and can make a big difference. Some platforms like Facebook and Instagram add descriptions automatically via AI, but it’s good to check it. Twitter’s Alt Text requires a manual use. It’s instructions are below.

  1. Create a tweet and add the image or GIF.
  2. Click add description below the image (or +Alt on a phone)
  3. Describe the image briefly especially any text that appears. Don’t say image of/picture of since that is obvious to the readers.
  4. The limit is 1000 characters, far more than you’re allowed for the tweet itself. So if you need space to write more you can. But you need not be specific with celebrity GIFs like I was. I actually had to Google image search who that was for this. That’s not the expectation. You also don’t need to repeat the information on images that may be captioned.
  5. Visually impaired users can even add their descriptions with VoiceOver.

More Options

Captions

Captions are now standard on a number of platforms like Facebook which is GREAT! Yes, that’s because it’s accessible for the deaf or others with hearing impairments. It’s also great, because it may mean you can get away with watching some videos at work on your lunch break without anyone knowing your love of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.

For many platforms you don’t have to manually add captions if you set the language properly. It’s good to know how to adjust them anyway. Here’s a great overview and below is info for different sites.

If you are working manually from the start, there are a number of tools depending on your video editing platform, but CADET is a good one to check out and install.

Link Shorteners

There are those who are pro link shortener and those who aren’t big fans. Some don’t like them because they can slow you getting to a site via redirects or break a link entirely through multiple redirects. They can also be used to make scam sites look legitimate. Also, a site like bit.ly requires exact capitalization and can lead to confusion. Use the Camel Case when you do.

In the positive, though they generally more readable and don’t take up the vast text real estate longer links do. Also if screen readers get stuck reading a long one, it can be a real annoyance. There are places to create custom link shorteners with a prefix that pertains to you, but some of the more common ones are Bitly, TinyURL, and Ow.ly. Fur.ly lets you shorten a whole group of links into one shortened link and DyingLinks lets you have a link that expires in time.

More resources

There are a variety of guides created by the platforms and the government. Here are some.

Inclusive Language

Part of this goes back to the plain language referenced above, but it goes beyond that too. Whenever possible we should always refer to people by their names properly. And don’t act like Lupita Nyong’o is somehow harder to pronounce than Fyodor Dostoevsky that we have learned. Graci Kim Cribbens speaks about The Hidden Power of Our Names. As someone who is naturally bad at remembering names, I work especially hard to make sure I get the ones of students correct.

But in those moments when we’re referring to groups or using pronouns, it’s important to use the right ones. How do you know the right ones? Well asking helps. On social media sometimes people post it. And let’s not forget that in the midst of social media cruelty, cyber bullying, and doxxing that is far too common, LGBTQ+ youth are amongst those with the highest rates of suicide. And, so while it may seem complicated and understanding the details may be difficult if you’re not part of the community, asking and listening can go a long way.

6 people icons with pronouns on their shirts

When referring to people of color, consider using BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color-see the BIPOC Project) but I know some black or first nations friends who would say to just call them black or indigenous and that they don’t want their struggles lumped together. Other black people may prefer African-American (though that’s less common now) and other black people I know would say they’ve never been to Africa and are just a black American. Similarly you could use Latinx (a non-gender specific term) to refer to many of Central and South American decent. Some older Latinos though prefer that term. And others still prefer Hispanic or their actual nation of origin (Columbian or Venezuelan). My wife, who was born in Brazil, would identify as either Brazilian or Latina. And race in Brazil is different and complex and only has a limited amount to do with skin tone which I shared about in a broader discussion of racism.

In circles of people with disabilities most deaf people prefer just that while blind people may prefer that or visually impaired. As for other disabilities, it depends. It’s recommended to use people-first language like a person with autism. But some people just want to be called an autistic man while others don’t need to recognize their disability as an innate part of them. It may seem confusing, but again start with the inclusive people-first language and adjust or ask. For example, a young man I know (also named Sean) doesn’t like being described as having a disability and prefers specificity as a Down Syndrome man. He likes that it puts him in a specific category. And who am I to deny him that?

It’s also important to consider gender. I have occasionally been mistaken for a woman in my life (especially when my hair was long), most notably on my honeymoon. It didn’t really phase me, as I have led a long life of exploring the feminine and masculine natures of me. But it is a serious affront to some. So while my grammar snob part of me may mildly chafe at the use of they/them, another part of me wants to adopt it myself referencing the multitudes and complexities of me that have been exhibited over the course of time. And so we should honor the wishes of those who want a they or a ze just as we would honor a name. Phrases like Mrs. that connote marital status are shunned by most women now, but some prefer it. But I can definitively say never refer to a woman derogatorily as a girl or really as a female either.

If you’re looking for more proper terminology check out the Disability Language Style Guide and the Language of Anti-Racism guide. And, in general, the term folx.

Trigger Warning

This is another important language message. If you give away the ending of a show without putting spoiler warning first, you’re kind of a jerk. When you’re sharing something very sensitive on a topic like sexual assault or suicide just give a heads up so as not to be a bigger jerk.

INCLUSIVE MEDIA

As I said, errors are inevitable and one would often hope grace would reign (on the internet?). I recently shared a post that had what I thought was a respectable GIF of Denzel Washington showing indifference. I chose that GIF as the other options that included white men didn’t reflect what I felt was the emotional accuracy of my sentiment. But I was considering my emotional accuracy over how any cultural inaccuracy might impact others.

Digital Blackface

I was called out, kindly at first, for engaging in what some describe as digital blackface. For those unfamiliar with the term, as I was, it describes the use of images of black people in a manner that seems to indicate a non-black person’s sentiments usually in a way that can be viewed as extreme or derogatory (think of the “ain’t nobody got time for that” meme that was so common long ago). Those images evoke the racist stereotypes perpetrated in the genuine blackface of minstrel shows. You can dive deeper into a much more thorough examination of digital blackface to understand better.

Now you may ponder the necessity of this? Or where is the line? Does it matter if the person in the image is a different gender? A different sexual orientation? An ambiguous race? Does that obligate me to research before I use a GIF? Should I then just not use any? I am not the person with definitive answers there, but research never hurts.

Also does it matter that some of my black family members and friends thought it was a “silly argument”? Maybe for them it can be, but not for me. Not that I would draw an equivalency here, but similarly black Americans are more than welcome to have an extensive discussion about the valid use of the N word (or R word for those with developmental disabilities) or the use images connected to hateful minstrelsy. That is not a conversation for me. And so I find another means to express my sentiment. I am graced with many available to me.

And while I’m sure most people would be wise enough to not post images of actual historical blackface, but there are many other pitfalls to be wary of. Stereotypes exist of many groups across the history of media. Asians are often shown as a stereotype with women are often depicted as concubines and Asian men are either ancient sages or innocuous asexual buddy material. And in many of those cases they are even played by white people. There’s the stereotype of Jews as miserly, so you may want to rethink that Ebenezer meme. Consider whether the media, even if you are fond of it sharing how much you love The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, that it doesn’t perpetuate any of those harmful stereotypes.

Inclusive Imagery

At the same time when we’re representing people collectively we should be using inclusive imagery that notes fender, racial, and disability differences. I know you may think that is contrary, but It really isn’t that complicated. And when we make mistakes we should own them. Don’t try to resolve a public failing only privately. Let the change be visible. And apologies are empty if not followed up in actions.

Digging Deeper

Terrance, a black man, with large curly hair next to me with the same hair
Terrence and I at a party in 2002

But when I dive deeper into this idea and I ponder what other ways I may have unknowingly crossed digital boundaries. Or where the lines blur. I think specifically about TikTok where 90% of the app is co-opting someone else’s voice or sound. And that is accepted as an innate draw. But are their moments on it where white people take the voice of a person of color and remake the video. In that case it isn’t really derided and its just called a trend. Although there too I have noted

My brain is filled with pop culture references. And my current and childhood friend groups have always been fairly diverse including BIPOC people with disabilities which is likely why many of my cultural references are from the music and movies of black entertainers. And so when I quote movies or songs or fully sing (as I am known to do even when not at a Karaoke bar), I just sing out in my love of the media. It’s also why I sought for my children to be in diverse schools in a city with highly segregated schools as I shared before.

And while my friends not only don’t take offense but cheer me on in my exuberance, their’s may not be the reaction of all. So while my friend Terrence and I may have copied similar hairstyles (even cornrows, what was I thinking?) in an effort to symbolize our feeling rather brotherly (even moreso than my actual brothers at points). So while he and I clearly aren’t twins, if for not other reason than he has always been vastly more stylish, I realize how it may seem like appropriation to outsiders. I’ve looked into essays regarding cultural appropriation vs. cultural appreciation and think I’m on the right side of that line. I check in (even on this long post). But that too was what I though regarding my earlier GIF. And clearly that crossed a line for several people. So I will try to remain aware of whatever message I’m conveying and seek to be inclusive in my decision making, but there is no guarantee. And I may need to adjust again if I confronted with a valid qualm from someone who I may have inadvertently by using inappropriate language or media. And so I will. That’s growth isn’t it. Shouldn’t we all strive for that regardless of our identity or the wheelchair we may sit in.

Inclusive Allyship

Everyone is imperfect and likely has posted a few things that haven’t met the standards discussed above. The more you engage, the more likely that is. But don’t let that discourage you from actively engaging. And don’t let it turn your posts in wishy-washy nothingness that seek to never offend by never saying much. I’ve done enough I suppose to garner a few trolls. Expect it, and if it harms you take space for yourself or don’t engage them. It is very easy for the regular questioners of everything who’ve never expressed anything meaningful worth criticizing (especially if they have 10 followers and no identifying info) to voice dismay about you. I try to keep in mind I am not as bad as my worst critic (usually me) views me or as good as the greatest praise I get. And neither should influence what good I think I can do.

A lot of cheap seats in the arena are filled with people who never venture onto the floor. They just hurl mean-spirited criticisms and put-downs from a safe distance. The problem is, when we stop caring what people think and stop feeling hurt by cruelty, we lose our ability to connect. But when we’re defined by what people think, we lose the courage to be vulnerable. Therefore, we need to be selective about the feedback we let into our lives. For me, if you’re not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.

Brené Brown

The best way to do better is follow and connect with people with disabilities and a diverse array of activists across the social media platforms you use. Listen to what they share. Let those who know and are in positions to speak to the reality of the experience of being BIPOC or a person with a disability be your more accurate feedback.
And I know this seems contrary to the very nature of social media, but don’t be performative about it. Don’t turn groups into a caricature of what they represent in reality. One example of this is “inspiration porn”, a phrase used to describe the act of describing disabled people as inspirational “just for waking up in the morning”. Seriously, what was the other option? Pop culture does this often as I’ve shared in previous posts. There are some amazing and inspirational people with disabilities and there are others (like all humanity) that are boring, lazy, or even cruel. Stella Young gives a great TED Talk about not being your inspiration.

And beyond that, don’t engage in performative “wokeness” where you put a black bar or a slogan on your feed without understanding the meaning/history behind it. Don’t show up a protest just for your Instagram shots. In fact, I make it a policy not to share those events. Not because I expect problems for myself. I’m a big boy. But you can’t be sure that there aren’t others in your images and that police may even use that to “round up” folx who were legally protesting. Just be genuine even if the genuine you is still a work in progress. I know I am.

Obviously with all of these things you have choices of which you choose to take on. But if you can share inclusively and accessibly and don’t then don’t be surprised if others choose to see you as an insensitive lout. And with that in mind, share what’s fun and engaging, but make sure it exhibits the you that you wish the world to see. Oh and puppy and kitten pictures are always welcome by all.

Kitten with text you are no match for my powers of cuteness.

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