ABU(Senior group) Fine Work
Improvement Of Accessibility On The Internet
India Srinivasan P.S. (45/Male)

Modern technological developments have opened a plethora of opportunities for the visually challenged to promote our desire to connect and communicate with others.Man is a social animal and blind people are no exception.As making friends and retaining their relationships with the help of the latest technology has become the order of the day, there is an urgent need for the visually challenged population to hone the skills required for e-literacy.

What Is Social Media?
Social media can be explained as an innovative means of interaction among people in which they create, share and exchange information in virtual communities and networks.Andreas Caplan and Michael Hanlein define social media as a `group of internet-based applications that build on the ideologicaland technological foundations of the web and that allows the creation and exchange of user-generated content`.Social media technologies take on many forms including magazines, internet forums, social blogs, e-mails, music sharing, instant messaging etc.

The members of the group tweet and blog to meet like-minded people, to build their self-esteem and to be on the cutting-edge of new ideas and technologies.Yet others see social media as a way of making their message heard and thereby creating a positive impact on humanitarian causes, environmental problems, economic issues or political debates.Social media not only supply the food for thought but also shape the process of thought.

AFB's Initiatives for Accessibility:
Facebook is working with the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) for two years to make its social networking service more accessible to the blind community.In a company blog post, the nonprofit organisation's President, Carl Augusto, explains the problems visually challenged users encounter when surfing the web and how they overcome these issues with the help of website publishers, developers and designers.For most computer users, signing up for a social network is easy and doesn't take long to set up a profile, search for friends or post comments on people's `walls` or `pages`.But the same process may, at times, prove to be a nightmare experience for a visually challenged person with hundreds of links on a single webpage.

American Foundation for the Blind carried out a study by evaluating four social networking sites including Myspace, Friendster, Facebook and Linkedin.AFB evaluated these sites to see if a blind computer user with basic screen reader skills could independently register, create a standard profile, post photos and interact with other members of the group.

The most serious accessibility issue AFB found was the inability to create user account on Myspace, Friendster, or Facebook without sighted assistance.This is due to the use of captchas—those abstract renderings of random characters.Users are required to retype the word they see on the screen.Also known as the `vision test`, captchas are known to keep spam programmes out of the system; unfortunately, they also keep out people with vision loss.Because they are jumbled text embedded in an unlabelled graphic, they are difficult for people with low vision to decipher and screen readers cannot read them.

None of the social networking sites offers an audio version like Google's blogger now does—or an alternate means of registering for people who are blind.Linkedin is the only site in the evaluation that did not use a captcha as part of its registration process.On sites like Myspace and Friendster AFB evaluators found a few cases of poorly labelled or unlabelled links, but were pleased to find most of the other teachers—messaging, adding friends, browsing, editing and commenting are accessible.

Remedy for Social Media Woes
An overwhelming majority of accessibility problems can be fixed by providing alternatives to captchas, properly labelling forms when building web interfaces and providing alternative text for images, especially those used as navigation links.With a few changes in web design, it is possible to make webpages accessible to the millions of computer users with vision loss worldwide.In fact, the Web Access Initiative (WAI) which is a part of Worldwide Web Consortium offers extensive guidelines for making webpages accessible along with explanations and techniques.

Welcome to Audioboo
Audioboo has worked hard to help blind people share their voice and build a community through their site and Apps.As Audioboo is an audio-focused network, it is helping the blind connect with others in a way that has not been possible before.Audioboo can also be used for audio-blogging which traditional blogger sites may not allow.Enabling certain functions on smartphones and tablets, such as voice-over and screen-reader, allows the Audioboo App to be used by sightless persons.The reason why Audioboo is already the social network of choice for many blind people is that it facilitates creating, sharing and listening to audio content by its users.

My Trying With Social Media
I am elated to mention that I have around forty friends on Skype who have been guiding me through every step of the way in learning to work on the computer.My doubts in computer applications can be cleared in no time as my friends are just a Skype call away.There are many mailing groups for the visually challenged in India whose membership witnesses a steady growth is a sure sign that our blind fraternity is slowly but surely turning towards social media.

Media Miracle
Samuel Wambua, a blind hawker in Kenya was once met by one of his former school mates called Tom Makua who found out during the course of their conversation that the former had dropped out of university.Wambua studied for a degree in Special Education but was forced to leave the university after completing two academic years due to financial constraints and resorted to hawking.With a great deal of determination, Tom and others started a campaign to marshal friends and well-wishers to help Wambua go back to university.A Wambua Education Fund Facebook group was formed and tweets and Dm's were exchanged.An overwhelming response from friends put Wambua's life back on track."Social media has worked a miracle in my life" said Wambua to Tom Makua when the latter visited him at the Kenyatta University.

The advent of social media has revolutionized communication beyond our imagination.Through social media, communication is instant and borderless.To encourage the participation of the blind community in the activities of the social media, web designers must give top priority to accessibility issues.May the social media help the blind climb steps of glory and achieve equality with our able-bodied peers in spite of the disability.


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