Matisse celebrates World Social Media Day by chatting with Squarely Accessible founder Kelly Thibodeau about the importance of accessible social media content.
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Matisse Hamel-Nelis (00:03):
Hello, and welcome back to PR & Lattes. I'm your host, Matisse Hamel-Nelis, and I'm so excited to have you join me again today. Make sure that you subscribe to the podcast wherever you're listening to this right now to get notified each week when a new episode drops. You can also subscribe to our weekly newsletter by visiting our website, prandlattes.com. On the website, you'll find our podcast episodes plus our amazing blogs, with new ones being uploaded every Monday morning. Of course, make sure you're following us on Instagram @prandlattes and on LinkedIn at PR & Lattes.
Today, I am thrilled to have Squarely Accessible's Kelly Thibodeau on the show to talk about accessibility in social media in honour of World Social Media Day, taking place tomorrow. Kelly is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and founder of Squarely Accessible, an online content strategy consultancy based in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She's a firm believer that digital experiences are social and that including people of all types and abilities is an important part of that conversation. It was an absolute pleasure getting to chat with her about accessibility and social media, and I can't wait for you to hear it. So, grab your latte, sit back, and enjoy. Hello, Kelly, and thank you so much for being on today's podcast. I'm so excited to have you.
Kelly Thibodeau (01:22):
Oh, me too, Matisse. Thank you for asking. I can't wait to get digging into a conversation with you.
Matisse Hamel-Nelis (01:28):
This is going to be so much fun. But before we dive into all the good stuff, tell the listeners a little bit about yourself and your journey in professional communications.
Kelly Thibodeau (01:37):
For sure. So, I took a little bit of a sideways route into communications. I started as a technical writer, really focused in website content and online help honestly for a software system. So, then got into corporate communications in web content writing honestly. So, not your traditional path, especially locally here, just outside of Winnipeg. There's often people that come in through streams in college and university, but it wasn't the way I started.
Matisse Hamel-Nelis (02:10):
When it comes to communications, whether technical or corporate or web content writing, was that something you always wanted to do and had a love for, or was it something that you found yourself falling into later on?
Kelly Thibodeau (02:23):
You're going to love this answer. So, I was a person in school who hated both computers and English. I thought I was headed for a science career of some kind, but through lots of different circumstance, here I am. So, ended up working for a technical writing consulting company in Vancouver, and at the time, was just a small office that had lots of good opportunity around it and started writing and editing and formatting documents and all that thing. So, that was where my path started and how it led me into communications today.
Matisse Hamel-Nelis (03:09):
When it came to the social media side of things, so for today's episode, we're going to be really focusing on social and web. When it came to the social media side of it, was it something that you felt just was easily woven into the web content side, or was it something that you sought to do more of?
Kelly Thibodeau (03:31):
Yeah, so way back in the corporate side of things, so I'd say like 2006, 2007, when social media started making its way into conversation, there was some talk about, "Well, what would we do with this thing and what would it really look like?"
So I dabbled a little bit, but then as my career changed and the company decided to create corporate social media accounts, I had the business relationships, because in my role as that web editor, I was working with departments across the company and my take was that that was really instrumental to the success of something like social media, which is about so much more than the platforms themselves, but the organizational change required to get people to pay attention or even care. So, it was more of a career progression type thing and less so much a love for the platforms on the outside anyway.
Matisse Hamel-Nelis (04:34):
When it comes to social media and web content, so you started as a technical writer into corporate, into web content, then incorporating the social media side of things, where did accessibility start to creep in and become a focus for you and your day-to-day practice?
Kelly Thibodeau (04:52):
So like most large organizations, it's legislation that started, right? Because that organization was doing business in Ontario, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act was front and center in terms of, again, I was working more in a website capacity and a web editor perspective. So, what would we do to even think about at that point was Level A compliance and internal content management systems and all of that type of thing. So, there was a committee formed and I ended up being on that committee. Then that's where accessibility, I both got some awareness and understanding of what it is and why it's important.
Then it was really in that learning about things like alt text and heading levels, and again, more in website user experience, content strategy, that type of thing. Then in social media, there wasn't really a ton in the beginning for accessibility. I was surprised but also a little relieved honestly, because that was the state in time. Other than color contrast with visuals and things like that, the platforms weren't paying attention to it or anything like that. But yeah, the roots are way back in Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
Matisse Hamel-Nelis (06:20):
Now you mentioned WCAG. Can you let the listeners know what that is and where it comes from and why they should care about it?
Kelly Thibodeau (06:27):
Absolutely. Yeah. So, that's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. It's often part legislation to let people know what are some of the goalposts around accessibility and accessible content, so that there's some common standards created through worldwide web consortiums. I loosely call it the governing body for the web, but setting out some of those standards and protocols. There's three levels within that. So, there's A, AA, and AAA. Today, AA is most often cited in legislation and the first real functional level around accessibility, but prior to that, Level A was the first standard. Then of course AAA is like you're icing on the cake. That's great to do if you can do it, but not necessarily always achievable for organizations.
Matisse Hamel-Nelis (07:23):
Do you think something like WCAG or the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines is something that all professional communicators should familiarize themselves with or need to become experts at or somewhere in between?
Kelly Thibodeau (07:36):
Yeah, I mean, absolutely. The guidelines, the way they're written today, so we're at version 2.1 and it's hard to understand. It's full of a lot of jargon and it's hard to delineate what really applies to PR and comms professionals versus designers versus developers. They're all interwoven. That makes sense in terms of what standards typically look like, but then it's hard to break it down into digestible chunks. So, there is a little bit of homework and due diligence on understanding at least that about the guidelines and then breaking it down into what does this mean for me in my job type of a thing.
Often, as comms professionals, we're leading and influencing those conversations around design and development. You're often part of a multidisciplinary team or maybe collaborating with another department. So, educating yourself is a really important part of that conversation.
Matisse Hamel-Nelis (08:36):
Knowing everything that you had to learn essentially when you first started with WCAG from a web component and then looking at accessibility and social, did you ever have any initial reservations around entering the accessibility space or was it always something that once you heard about it, you were like, "You know what? That is fascinating. I am in"?
Kelly Thibodeau (08:57):
Well, there's a couple of things honestly. So, my mom had a disability and it was a progressive neurological condition. She wasn't born with it, but she, over the course of her lifetime, ended up going from needing assistance with walking, it was a balance and speech coordination and she had some dementia on top, to then needing a wheelchair and full assistance with everything in her life. So, certainly, I could relate on a personal level to her experience and little things like watching her not be able to play solitaire anymore or just losing dexterity with some of those different things. So, that for sure is part of the reason why I'm so passionate about the work today. I think my reservation is that as a person who isn't currently experiencing a disability, whether where my place is in that conversation.
So, what I've come in the journey of my own reflection on that is that my job as somebody who isn't experiencing disability is to amplify and elevate the voices of those who are and to also use my privilege to spread the word and spread the message. So, I'm not in any way trying to speak on behalf of a group that has lived experience in a way that I don't, but I certainly want to advocate for inclusion and belonging. As much as accessibility often starts in conversations around legislation, it really is about people and less about legislation.
I get that some organizations have a while to go before they get there, may not even be there right now, but with all the focus on inclusion and belonging and diversity, accessibility is very much not only part of that conversation, but in my mind, you can't have those things without accessibility and including people with disabilities.
Matisse Hamel-Nelis (10:58):
Completely agree as you know. So, the whole reason that I'm so excited to have you on here today is because this episode is going live the day before World Social Media Day, which is a great time to amplify accessibility within social media, see the tie in, see how this is all working. You and I have had these conversations before, but I wonder in your opinion, when it comes to social media and accessibility, what are some of the common mistakes you see brands making?
Kelly Thibodeau (11:31):
One thing that comes to mind is this idea that you have to get it all right and perfect before you even start or try. There's a real acceptance, I think, for learning, experimenting, growing, getting some things wrong, being accountable to that, but also not letting that prevent companies from taking action. I think that coupled with that is often passion around accessibility starts at an individual level, from one person like me who is connected to somebody who's disabled or knows or loves somebody or maybe experiences it themselves. When accessibility sits there, it's really heavy, because it's at the end of a really long to-do list and process and approvals and all that type of thing. It lives and dies with that individual.
It hasn't rolled out more broadly to things like policies or practice or style guides or even just general knowledge and things like that. So, when you leave accessibility to that end part, there's a lot of risk associated with "How does that continue beyond that individual?" So backing that conversation up into more of the planning process helps it not only go more smoothly from a process perspective, but also really inform deliverables, strategy, all that type of a thing too. So, those would be the two things I'd probably call out the most in terms of a more bigger picture view on accessibility within organizations.
Matisse Hamel-Nelis (13:14):
When it comes to your company, Squarely Accessible, have you found clients to be receptive to incorporating accessible practices given the name of your company, or has it been a bit more "Look, legislation's telling us this, we don't know what to do. Give us the bare minimum"?
Kelly Thibodeau (13:33):
Probably both honestly. A Manitoba legislation just came into place May 1st, 2022, and deadlines are starting to roll out May 1st every year after that depending on the type of organization. So, it's fairly new in terms of awareness and some alarm bells are going off. Honestly, that's a good thing. If it takes legislation to start that conversation, that's a starting point. So, some organizations that maybe are facing sooner compliance deadlines are really interested in that cheapest, fastest minimum requirements, check the box and done type of a thing.
My hope would be that that isn't an ongoing condition, but maybe that gets to the starting line where other types of organizations that are more maybe socially minded or have a real focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion and see accessibility as part of their core values, that's where that conversation really changes. As much as it can be hard to keep up with things that change every day, I think that's part of the exciting thing around the work and that being curious about that is a really important way to look at it.
Matisse Hamel-Nelis (14:49):
Something you keep bringing up is legislation. When it comes to legislation, it tends to focus on either documents or web, so your website content.
Kelly Thibodeau (14:58):
Matisse Hamel-Nelis (14:59):
Do you think that there should be something put into legislations, whether the newer ones coming out or revamping some of the older ones or amending them, to incorporate social media presence?
Kelly Thibodeau (15:12):
Yeah, absolutely. Because I think as well, if you were going to purely look at those Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, in themselves named web content, the word social media are actually not in there at all. So, somebody's social and organization's social media presence, there's really nothing in legislation that says that it needs to be accessible. Now, we bucket that under the web technologies group, I think, but I would love to see something called out specifically around social media.
Matisse Hamel-Nelis (15:42):
I know when I work with clients or talk at conferences, what tends to be the thing that grabs people's attention around social media and accessibility is brand reputation more so than legislation because they'll come back and say, "Well, I can't see it in the laws. My website's fine, but the laws don't say anything about my social media." So when I talk about brand reputation, that's where they start saying, "Oh, okay, I'm starting to connect the dots." What do you think having inaccessible content, particularly on social media, means from a brand reputation standpoint for organizations big and small?
Kelly Thibodeau (16:18):
Well, in today's sensitive, hyper aware consumer context or audience context, it's so easy in that, just like you said, that mismatch between company values and what they're doing and what they're saying, it's so important that those things match, right? We know that people want to work with and for purpose aligned organizations that care about more than just their bottom line. So, heaven forbid that an organization creates a whole bunch of content around something like Global Accessibility Awareness Day and their content's not accessible. You're just looking for somebody to call you out on that.
Then potentially, you have a bit of a situation on your hands that maybe you didn't plan for, can have people call into question and potentially cause a bit of a storm that wasn't there before. Then on the flip side of that is wouldn't that be cool that, hey, big brand X, I went out and checked out your content. I see that your values and your actions align, and so you really do care about some things that I care about as well.
Matisse Hamel-Nelis (17:35):
It's interesting you mentioned using Global Accessibility Awareness Day as an example, there is a bot on Twitter that on Global Accessibility Awareness Day, it's the GAAD bot or G-A-A-D bot. We'll scan the internet. If you're talking about accessibility in any way and use an image and it doesn't have alt text, oh, it calls you out and it tells you, "Hey, it looks like you're interested in accessibility, great. Here's how you add alternative text to make it truly inclusive and accessible."
So I find it interesting, particularly when brands attach themselves to days of significance without fully understanding or attempting to embrace, I guess would be the best way, those days of significance and what they mean and how to best do them, I guess, if you will. Do you find that when it comes to social content overall, we're getting better as professional communicators and creating our content, or are you finding the same mistakes when you're going through your own social platforms in your feeds?
Kelly Thibodeau (18:42):
It's a real mixed bag. I installed a plugin recently called Social Visual Alt Text, and it works in Chrome. It shows when alt text is missing, when it's been auto-generated, and when somebody has actually included it. It is always stunning to me how much is missing or we still really want the easy button around accessibility. So, we think, "Oh, well, I'll just let Facebook auto generate the alt text for this." Then what it ends up being is maybe an image of two people and a dog or something like that. The context is missing. Back in early days, we let something like alt text be a developer's job who doesn't know anything about the context for why an image was used.
Certainly in social, we're not working with developers. You're either leading that function within an organization or doing it yourself. So, the platforms don't all make it easy, frankly. Sometimes you have to go into back menus around advanced settings to get to accessibility. So, Twitter's one where you can actually put some reminders in place and have it be a bit more proactive and more visible, but then in combination for that too is understanding that I think challenging your own idea around what disability is.
We've been so conditioned in North America to see disability as people in wheelchairs when you think about accessible parking spots or things like that, but just not thinking that even people that experience the same health condition necessarily use the same technology or that the same thing works for different people. So, again, coming back to that idea of thinking about social media as a place to be social and to drive conversation, and a part of that is around being inclusive with the content that you create.
Matisse Hamel-Nelis (20:42):
What would you like to see change within the social media space around inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility or idea?
Kelly Thibodeau (20:50):
Well, I'd like Instagram to make it possible to schedule alt text. That's one, just on our real low hanging fruit tactical level. There's only one scheduling platform right now that lets you do that in Instagram, and it's not the scheduling software. It's the Instagram backend itself that doesn't allow that. So, that would be great for one, and to be a bit more proactive about it. I don't necessarily think that accessibility needs to be an extra add on to DE&I, but more something embedded within.
So, involving people with disabilities as part of whether that's building a website or things that are happening in social, actually leaning in and listening to people with lived experience and then changing practices based on that. The end-to-end of that is "What is it like to be part of an organization that embraces accessibility with that mindset and that cares that deeply?" So I don't know if that 100% answers your question, but those are some of the things.
Matisse Hamel-Nelis (21:58):
I think it does. I think when talking about idea overall. So, again, I always refer to it as idea or inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility. I know people have called it AIDE instead. So, accessibility, inclusion, diversity, and equity. Then there's ABIDE, which is accessibility, belonging, inclusion, diversity, and equity, so many variations. Whatever acronym you choose to use, as long as the A is there, I think we're good, because it keeps accessibility top of mind, but like you said, making it easier for people to actually be able to do that, right? So your example with Instagram, even if you are on your phone and you're posting something to find where to add alt text, you have to go into advanced settings. Take that step out.
I find if you're posting on Instagram from your desktop or your laptop, the browser version has accessibility right there. You click on it and you add in your alt text, but how many people are doing it on their computers versus their phone? So adding in that easier method. So, I completely agree with you on that. It's making things easier. The other one I have are hashtags. So, multiple word hashtags, no matter what the platform, they always autopopulate as lowercase across the board versus using CamelCase. For those of you listening who aren't aware of what CamelCase is, it simply means that whenever you have a multi-word hashtag, it capitalizes the first letter of each word to ensure that an assistive technology or really anybody really gets a sense of what it is that you're trying to say.
So, for example, the #SomethingLikeThis, it would be capital S for something, capital L in like, and capital T in this. So, it's easy to read, but I wish that that would happen across the board on all social platforms because it is my biggest pet peeve. You want to easily just say, "Yup, that's the hashtag" and click, but then you're like, "No, it's all lowercase."
Kelly Thibodeau (23:59):
Well, and even capitalizing words that as communicators, we've been trained to not capitalize, and and this and but and for, all of those ones count when it comes to it.
Matisse Hamel-Nelis (24:11):
All of them because you never know what it's going to read out. You and I have spoken about some of the funny things that can happen when you don't use CamelCase in your hashtags.
Kelly Thibodeau (24:20):
The last thing you want to do is distract from your content with things like that, that take conversations in a whole different direction, and it's not about the content.
Matisse Hamel-Nelis (24:31):
It becomes about a whole new thing. Susan Boyle, that's all that comes to mind.
Kelly Thibodeau (24:38):
I know. I'd say another one is captions, honestly, on video. I don't know how many times there's captions not working, especially on Instagram. I don't know. I feel like we're picking on Instagram a little bit, but where you go or the inaccessible kinetic captions where it pops in one word at a time and then it disappears and it's all in different font sizes and they're all caps. Then I've seen actually corporate videos now emulate that style because it's based on this premise of if it's happening in social, it must be cool or it must be okay. In fact, it's not accessible. So, yeah.
Matisse Hamel-Nelis (25:19):
Meryl Evans, who is an accessibility advocate, she is deaf. She uses captions to engage with content. She's a phenomenal content creator. If you don't follow her on LinkedIn and on Twitter and anywhere that social media exists really, Meryl Evans, do it.
Kelly Thibodeau (25:37):
Do it. Yeah.
Matisse Hamel-Nelis (25:38):
She shows you examples of the different types of captions that are used on the different social media platforms and why certain ones are better than others, which ones you should pick and select because they're more accessible and easier to read. She's just fantastic. Shout out to Meryl because I always learned so much from her. Just like yourself, I've immersed myself into this whole accessibility and DE&I space in communications, but you don't know everything. You'll never know everything. Meryl is one of those great resources who is out there teaching you about things all the time. So, if you don't follow her, definitely follow her.
Kelly Thibodeau (26:21):
Yeah. Yeah. She has this whole video about how captions should be boring, talking about captions, right? It's like let the video be the star. So, I just love how she'll do this really smart side by side of this is what this looks like, this is what it looks like when it's accessible. So, it's just so practical and easy.
Matisse Hamel-Nelis (26:43):
Are there any other accessibility advocates or accessibility folks that you think people should be following that are useful and provide helpful tips to help them embrace accessibility in their day-to-day comms practices?
Kelly Thibodeau (26:58):
For sure. LinkedIn is my go-to follow people and connect with them and things like that, but a couple that come to mind immediately would be Alexa Heinrich, who often talks about accessible social and has some awesome free resources to help people out as well. Same with Jamie Shields and Alicia Anderson here too that come to mind, Denis Boudreau, who's accessible speaking. As soon as you make that choice to learn more about something, it's amazing how many different thought leaders just immediately you can find pretty quickly and connect with and get to know a little bit. I definitely advocate for listening to people who have lived experience with disabilities.
Matisse Hamel-Nelis (27:49):
It's so true. When you enter the space, it is so welcoming in that the space overall, the community embraces the fact that you're trying to learn and do better. It's not just, "Oh, you did this wrong, shame on you, done," but rather this is fantastic. You're trying to learn. How can we help? If you have questions, we're here to answer. You and I are also very similar when people have questions. We're like, "Ask us. We want to help however we can."
So yeah, if ever anybody is looking to do more of a deep dive into the accessibility space, the community is very welcoming. Ask your questions. You're not going to be silly for asking, that's for sure. So, when it comes to social media and web accessibility, have you found a difference in buy-in from three months ago to six months ago to even a year ago or is it still a bit stagnant in getting that buy-in?
Kelly Thibodeau (28:44):
Well, it's interesting. So, I offer some training courses, and I had really great interest from people across Canada. It really just depends on the organization and where they're at and honestly comes down to budget and priority just like everything else. So, for those organizations that are ready to invest time and money and resources in taking a more serious look at accessibility, that is I think starting to change as again, we're really coming into a place and a time where people are paying attention in a different way than they did before and the social environment that we're in, the climate that we're in. So, I do see some change, but probably not as quickly as any of us would like.
Matisse Hamel-Nelis (29:36):
To wrap things up, my question for you, what are few quick tips that people can start to implement either on their web or social media presence that would help them become more accessible? What's that low hanging fruit, do you think?
Kelly Thibodeau (29:51):
Well, you called it already is the CamelCase on the hashtags, right? Just that initial caps can make a big difference. Frankly, it's one of those things that it's better for people with disabilities, but it's better for everybody because that's the other thing. There's this beautiful overlap between accessibility, user experience, and search engine optimization. All of the work that you do for accessibility makes content more easily found in search.
So, just knowing the context, and again, in that competitive organizational conversation with priorities, helping to elevate that message. But to go back to your original question, so it would be hashtags, it would be captions on all video content, and it would be emojis as another big one that we didn't really even talk about. As soon as you use an emoji to replace a word, it's the risk of not being interpreted the same way when it's read by a screen reader. So, those would be a few of them, for sure.
Matisse Hamel-Nelis (30:58):
Yeah. When it comes to emojis, what folks may not realize is they have their own alt text and it might not be what you think it is.
Kelly Thibodeau (31:07):
Yeah, we use emojis. I almost feel like emojis are a little bit of love language on social media for sure. So, it's fun. It's a quick way to respond to somebody and string a few of them together, whether it's celebrating an occasion or just reacting in a really simple, easy way, but to cluster of them together, especially if you're using skin tones and things like that, you might be really surprised to learn what the descriptions are. So, I would recommend using Emojipedia online, and that's where you can find the descriptions of all those emojis and double check them before you're going to use them. Just use one or two and keep it at the end of the sentence.
So, don't use them as bullets, don't use them as formatting. I know as PR and comms folks, we're so used to having the ultimate control over formatting. So, in social, you might be tempted to do some things to spice it up or help things stand out in the newsfeed. You think about the attention grabbing piece, but it often will make the content inaccessible. So, really just stick with the defaults and accept the fact that a bullet will never look like your beautiful hanging bullet that it does in a document when it's in a social media post.
Matisse Hamel-Nelis (32:25):
We must mourn that, I feel, as professional communicators. Okay, fine, fine.
Kelly Thibodeau (32:31):
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Forget italics, forget bold. Just create great content that keeps people coming back and that they care about deeply. That's accessible.
Matisse Hamel-Nelis (32:41):
Exactly. Thank you so, so much, Kelly, for being on the podcast today. Before I let you go, this is PR & Lattes after all. So, I have to ask, what is your favorite go-to caffeinated beverage during your workday?
Kelly Thibodeau (32:55):
Well, it depends on my mood, honestly. It's either going to be a flat white or a latte or sometimes even a matcha latte, which I can't help but think. I don't know if it's caffeinated. I'm pretty sure matcha is caffeinated, but reminds me a little bit of a blended up frog, but thankfully, it tastes better than that.
Matisse Hamel-Nelis (33:15):
The visual, the visual. Thank you so much again, Kelly, for joining me on the podcast today. If people want to get in touch with you or learn more, where can they find you on social media or on the web?
Kelly Thibodeau (33:28):
For sure. Yeah, so like you said, my business is called Squarely Accessible, so website would be squarelyaccessible.com. Then my email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Like I say, LinkedIn is my favorite social media space, so that's a great way to connect.
Matisse Hamel-Nelis (33:45):
Perfect. Thank you so much again, and we'll talk to you soon. You've been listening to the PR & Lattes Podcast. Make sure to subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts so you can get notified each week when a new episode drops. You can also subscribe to our weekly newsletter by visiting our website, prandlattes.com. On the website, you'll find our podcast episodes as well as amazing blogs with new ones being posted every Monday morning. Of course, make sure to follow us on social, on Instagram @prandlattes and on LinkedIn. I've been your host, Matisse Hamel-Nelis. Thank you so much for listening, and we'll see you next week with a new latte and guest. Bye for now.