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Making web experiences accessible for everyone

Photo credit: Disabled And Here

The social model of disability

Let’s start with disabled people. 

All disabled people are different. The one thing that unites disabled people is the way that society chooses to disable them. People create barriers that stop disabled people from taking part. Accessibility is about removing those barriers. 

The stereotype of disabled people is often with a wheelchair. And even though people are trying to update the symbol, wheelchair uses are a very small part of all disabled people. And using a wheelchair usually has little to do with digital accessibility. 

A more inclusive icon called Universal Access was introduced by Apple in OS X. 

In the physical world you are familiar with people using ramps and lifts instead of stairs. People who use a wheelchair face a daily struggle in moving around. These barriers can be reduced, but most wheelchair users don’t expect, or even want, to climb mountains. 

man in wheelchair climbing a skyscraper using ropes and pulley system

Paraplegic climber scales Hong Kong skyscraper 

Lai Chi-Wai was a climber before his spinal injury. So why wouldn’t he carry on climbing just because he’s in a wheelchair? But he still faces barriers getting around Hong Kong in his everyday life. 

In the digital world, disabled people face barriers too. But they really shouldn’t. Especially these days, when the whole world has gone online. It’s our responsibility, as communicators, as creators of content, to make everything accessible to everyone.

Read about the social model of disability

Social model of disability | Disability charity Scope UK

The Social Model of Disability

Reading about disability icons

Symbolizing accessibility 

The Accessible Icon Project

Hashtags to follow

If you want to understand more about disabilities, here are some hashtags that will get you started. Take a look at what people are saying, follow a few, and change your perspective. 






#a11y (this is a numeronym - the letter “a”, then 11 in numbers, then the letter “y”. It’s shorter and easier to type than the full word “accessibility”)

Thinking accessibility

Here are some pointers to get you thinking about accessibility in social media communications. 

  1. Social media model of disability 

People are disabled by YOU. Whenever you choose to post something without thinking about accessibility, you are reflecting your commitment, and the vision of your brand. 

  1. Include everyone by removing barriers

Whatever organisation you work for you will have a specific audience in mind. 

  • People who need help with their business accounts. 
  • People who live in Notting Hill who want to buy a swimming pool. 
  • People who shop at Marks and Spencer on a Tuesday. 

You can’t make any assumptions about people’s disabilities. Any of these people might be deaf, have Parkinson's disease, or be colour blind. So don’t leave anyone out.

Accessibility is about removing the barriers that stop everyone from accessing your social media posts. When you start a new campaign, don’t just ask who it is for. Ask who you want to exclude. 

  1. Don’t grandstand accessibility

Accessibility is a right, not a performance for your brand. Just quietly do the work. People will notice, and they will spread the word for you. 

  1. Equal experience

You should aim for an equal experience for all users. Some groups of disabled people tend to prefer one platform over another. Age is less of a factor in the disability community. Get your message out to different platforms so that everyone can treat your content equally. That includes scrolling on by and ignoring you if they choose!

  1. Be competent

Do not think you need to be great at accessibility. Just being competent will set you above your competitors. And it will improve the online experience for disabled people a lot.  

  1. Represent disabled people

Maybe you need an image to go with your blog post about “Learning from home”, “Six ways to improve your health” or “Bitcoin and the environment”. 

You can get images by

  • finding a disabled person who uses your product or service. (If you can’t, ask yourself why.)
  • asking around in your local community
  • using a stock image (not just someone sitting in a wheelchair!) 

Disabled people are everywhere, so take your responsibility seriously. 

  1. Sell with disabled people

Here's an idea: I'd like to see a disabled person advertising a car company, not a car company advertising a disabled person.

Don’t use your brand to sell disabled people. Let disabled people sell your product or service. 

  1. Say “NO” to inspiration porn

Inspiration porn and the objectification of disability: Stella Young at TEDxSydney 2014  

“I use the term porn deliberately because
[people] objectify one group of people for the benefit of another group of people.”
- Stella Young

Avoid inspiration porn where there is 

  • Sentimentality and/or pity
  • An uplifting moral message, primarily aimed at non-disabled viewers
  • Disabled people anonymously objectified, even when they are named
  • Parents talking for disabled children (It’s even worse when they are adult children!)

How To Avoid “Inspiration Porn” 

Opinion: Toyota's Super Bowl Ad Was Inspiration Porn

Amputee Super Bowl Ads | Jessica Long  

2021 Toyota Big Game Commercial: Jessica Long's Story | Upstream 

A Beginners Guide to Inspiration Porn 

Avoid 'inspiration porn' – Disability Advocacy Resource Unit (DARU) 

I'm Not Your Inspiration — Or Am I? - Amplitude

  1. Say “Yes” to brushing your teeth

Disabled people do everyday things. No matter what your product or service, there are disabled people who use it. Dougal Wilson, the director of Channel 4’s 2016 Paralympics trailer, ‘We’re the superhumans’ said “I liked the point that whatever disability someone has, whether they’re brushing their teeth, going to the shops, or working in an office, they should be celebrated as much as a Paralympic athlete.” But it’s a short step to accessibility porn. 

Signed & Subtitled: We're The Superhumans | Rio Paralympics 2016 Trailer 

The invisibles: why are portrayals of disability so rare in advertising?