The Egg and the Accessible Online Community

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Brightly colored eggs hand-decorated with flowers and patterns are displayed in a basket.

I had an almost immediate epiphany when I started my new job in November: How had it never occurred to me that a Twitter user who is blind might not set up an avatar image?

I’m pausing for a moment here in case you have never thought about this either. Every social media professional has seen at least one tweet, blog post, or article about why you need an avatar (profile) image other than the default egg if you want to be taken seriously.

As a professional community-builder with a passion for inclusion and accessibility, and as someone with my own hidden disability, I felt embarrassed to find this gap in my awareness. And as the new social media coordinator for Bookshare, the world’s largest online library for people with print disabilities, I knew I had a lot of learning to do and quickly.

To be honest, I’m still embarrassed telling that story. But one of my favorite things about community managers is the way we share what we’ve learned from both successes and failures. So it wasn’t long before, with a nudge from Tim McDonald, I signed up to organize the Leading Accessible Online Communities session for Community Manager Appreciation Day. We’ll be live on the Hangout and Twitter from 21:00 – 22:00 ET (that’s 9-10 p.m. Eastern; 6-7 p.m. Pacific).

Our primary goals for this session are to raise awareness of online barriers (and, yes, unconscious biases) and to share solutions that will make your communities more inclusive and usable for all participants. We’ll be looking beyond basic web accessibility (a topic that can easily fill this hour on its own) to include policies, roles, content, and other factors in our discussion. Our panelists will share their experience as community builders and accessibility advocates as well as their personal perspectives as community users with a wide range of disabilities.

  • Allison Hilliker supports the Bookshare online library at Benetech, does an assistive technology podcast, and volunteers with two nonprofits serving the blind.
  • Anne Reuss is a community manager and consultant whose video blogs are recorded in sign language and captioned for those who don’t know ASL.
  • Cathy Browne is a PR veteran, blind photographer, community builder, and accessibility advocate.
  • Jennifer Cole is co-founder and Director of GimpGirl, an online community for women with disabilities, does research on Experiential Design and Gaming Environments, and is an expert on accessibility in SecondLife.
  • Karen Putz is a speaker, author, blogger, and competitive barefoot water skier. She manages the blog for Hands & Voices and is on their Board of Directors.
  • Katherine Mancuso is a community manager and technology coach who serves on the W3C Cognitive Accessibility Task Force. She is Community Liaison for GimpGirl and is also an expert on accessibility in SecondLife.

I am in awe of their awesomeness and haven’t done them justice here. Please read the panelists’ bios over on the session web page when you’re done here. You won’t be disappointed.

A secondary goal is to make this session as accessible as possible. We’ll have Patty Shore Kaden as sign language interpreter in the Hangout. For those who can’t watch the hangout, we’re having a simultaneous Twitter chat (hashtag #CMADa11y). We are recruiting volunteers to help bridge communications between the hangout and the Twitter chat, and to help afterwards with captions or a transcript for the video.

How You Can Help

  1. If you’d like to volunteer in the Twitter chat or with transcribing the video afterwards, please get in touch through Google+ or Twitter!
  2. Bring your questions, experience, and challenges. How have you removed barriers in your online community? Have you changed what platforms you use or how you share content because of accessibility issues? What success stories can you share?
  3. Mark your calendar for Leading Accessible Online Communities on Monday, January 27 at 21:00 – 22:00 ET (that’s 9-10 p.m. Eastern; 6-7 p.m.Pacific).
  4. Spread the word using our Twitter hashtag #CMADa11y and short URL http://j.mp/CMADa11y!
  5. Next time you see the Twitter egg, take another look at that person’s profile. You never know who it might be!

BJ Wishinsky

Bookshare Social Media Coordinator at Benetech
BJ’s passion is building inclusive community for social good. She’s worked as a social media consultant and community manager for technology-focused nonprofits including TechSoup, Anita Borg Institute, and now Benetech. Since joining the Bookshare project, she has been thinking a lot about accessibility to the social networks and websites we use for connecting communities.

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