Accessible Online Communities: Perspective of a Deaf Community Manager

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May 15th, 2013.

The inception of Google hangouts.

But it wasn’t until Community Manager Appreciation Day on January 27th, 2014 that I finally got to experience a full fledged inclusive Google Hangout (with the exception of talking with my Deaf friends previously on Hangouts).

You see, if I join on hangouts with hearing people … I can’t lip read or hear them and without an interpreter (which is not free!), it’s difficult to be immersed in the conversation, which otherwise stimulates excitement and ideas. But it doesn’t allow for that. Google hangouts are just one example of the barriers people with disabilities face on the internet.

To describe how important and meaningful it was for me to expose others on the issue of accessibility, I shared a bit of current events to help you understand. I reveal a bit from a theater play I had just saw prior to the hangout about a Deaf son in a hearing family. I also give Copyblogger a shoutout for something else they do with New Rainmaker that isn’t so often found.

I think you’ll dig this vlog. And I hope it inspires you to consider how accessible your communities are!


Hey there! Before I jump into accessible communities, I have a lil cute story for you. There’s a play in Chicago right now called Tribes & the lead character, Billy, is the only Deaf person in his hearing family. There are many complex layers but an obvious theme is communication. There are multiple scenarios when Billy is struggling to understand what is happening. “What? “What?” He feels left out but characters are quick to dismiss him, “You’re missing nothing, this is foolish talk.” At one point, a character actually said, “You’re lucky you’re Deaf. You don’t know what you’re missing.” Ooh, no no.

Stop right there. Billy said, “Yes I do.”

That’s exactly how I feel. When I’m left out online. When I can’t attend a hangout or webinar. I KNOW how it feels to not be included. Thats why I’m passionate about creating accessibility. Why can’t we start taking a closer look at who’s in our community & improve inclusion? This was our very topic for the CMAD hangout panel I was part of and the hangout was a perfect example of barriers we experience. If you watch the beginning, you’ll see how difficult it was to get it to run smoothly. I had to arrange ahead of time to include an interpreter just so I could attend. Another Deaf person, Karen Putz, was there with an iPad and we found it makes it more difficult to see the interpreter! Frustrating. But it was a learning experience for all of us and helped us appreciate the effort.

It is a vast topic. We covered tools & resources but I wanted to point out a couple things. One, did you know a blind person may be using an avatar? One of those eggheads? And how often are we so quick to dismiss those, remarking “they’re not authentic.” I know we’ve all heard that one before! Also, consider Deaf people. Like real life, our Deafness is invisible on the internet. It’s a challenge—do we always need to label ourselves? Why isn’t it easier to get equal inclusion in a community? I do see thoughtful improvements. For example, Brian Clark of CopyBlogger came out with a new platform: New Rainmaker. A podcast. When I saw, my 1st reaction was: “Aw. Forget it. Another one I can’t go to.” BUT. They promised a transcript for every podcast released. I signed up. They’ve followed through w/ their promise. How cool. *Applause*

Going back to Tribes, one of my favorite parts later in the play gives me goosebumps: Billy is signing frustratedly with no voice to his father, who has always denied Billy is *Deaf* & when he talks back, Billy says “You know this is the first time you’ve really looked at me.” Whoo!

With that, I could keep going but I will stop. My last words of encouragement: Take a closer *look* (like Tribes) at your community, not just as a collective, but also the individuals. It is our responsibility as a community manager to do the best we can to be to make members feel included, have access to valuable information and socialization. Sounds good yeah?

Editor’s Note: Anne Reuss was a panelist for this year’s Community Manager Appreciation Day panel on Leading Accessible Online Communities.

Anne Reuss

Social Media Community Manager at 360Connext
Anne Reuss is a Customer Experience Community Manager addicted to adrenaline, adventures and fitness. Being deaf has taught her to love challenge and to listen abnormally well. Anne has written on accessibility from a variety of perspectives. Knowing how it feels to miss information or to be left out, she is acutely aware of other community participants and works to ensure they feel included. Her vlogs (video blogs) are recorded in ASL, her first language, and captioned for others.
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