A A A Accessibility A A A A
Wednesday, 30 March 2016 21:11

Why Access to Social Media Matters

I have been asked many times what my favourite social media is and why and my answer is always Twitter.

The reasons I like Twitter are firstly from an accessibility view point.  There is choice, there are several Twitter apps each offering something a little different and those little differences mean more chance of there being something that works for those of us with varying needs like blind but with low vision, hence able to access text if the right size, colour and contrast, bearing in mind biggest it not always best!

Twitter is an excellent platform for accessing and sharing information also for finding like minded people and for support.

Through blogging and networking mainly using Twitter as my favoured platform I have been able to reach out and communicate with people and companies I would never have met without accessible social media.

I have been quite overwhelmed on occasion that people from all over the world and from fields varying from technology, accessibility and healthcare have taken an interest in my work and remembered me in such a way that they post and tag me in things they feel may be useful or interesting to me and my cause which is quite incredible and I am very thankful of that consideration.

My passions continue to be to raise awareness of Usher Syndrome, it's many challenges, to recognise accessible and enabling assistive technology for those with sensory impairment and test if possible then share my findings.

Twitter is so easy to access, simple rows, easy to scroll up and down unlike my least favourite social media platform, Facebook.

I blogged a great deal about Facebook last year and I was very pleased to see the long awaited arrival of dynamic text for those of us with limited sight.  That said they still have a long way to go to make accessibility easier for people like myself, particularly on mobile devices.

Facebook is very useful for specialist support groups, bringing people together, however if those who need the support cannot access it it becomes frustrating and quite a let down to many in need.

I remember there used to be more than one app for Facebook but that no longer appears to be the case, which is very unfortunate, we are all different and all like choice.

Facebook changes / updates regularly but remains very cluttered and hard to navigate.  

It seems Facebook sees blindness as total and that voiceover is a requirement even though there are so many with low vision.

The low vision group would include the ageing. Then there are those with Usher Syndrome, deafblindness some who cannot access sound so voiceover not an option.  These people are therefore reliant on accessing visually and it is very difficult amongst the clutter.  

There needs to be options to invert / change colours at least.

If you can imagine looking through a straw and actually realising how little of a screen you would see at any one time then you can imagine the difficulty experienced on a cluttered screen, it's exhausting.

I guess frustration best describes Facebook and it's very disappointing as so many vulnerable groups rely on it to catch up with others when they cannot get out and mix easily.

Facebook make regular changes and I noticed are looking to make more improvements including describing pictures, which is great for those who need it but again won't help the deafblind.

I feel Facebook should be a friendly and easily accessible place for all to find friends or support groups, here's hoping this is coming too, until then its “Frustrating Facebook.”

I am very fortunate that I have access to quite a range of accessible assistive technology and all are mainstream products which really goes to show how far things have progressed for people with sensory impairments, however so many apps and websites have a long long way to go to allow full access to all.

Friday, 04 December 2015 13:59

"Access to Tweet, Tweet to Access"

I was delighted to see that at last Facebook allows dynamic text for those of us who use iOS and rely on it.

Finally those who had been isolated from family, friends and groups because of inaccessibility enabled.

Thank you Facebook for listening and acting appropriately.  

I still find Facebook difficult as the layout is continuously changing, there's no option to invert colours and the page is generally very busy which is a navigation nightmare for those with low vision, in my case only 5 degrees of vision in one eye.

It seems unthinkable in this day and age with the technology available that this was not in place long, long ago and without people like myself having to voice our concerns of isolation as a result of inaccessible apps, groups or websites.

I use social media a great deal.

I have used it at my lowest times to reach out to others.  

I use it to reach out to friends, to find friends, to share information and to learn about the things that interest, enable and enhance my life.

It is particularly useful for those like me who have a rare condition to reach out worldwide to find others, experiencing similar and looking for similar, to share and support each other through the many challenges Usher Syndrome puts upon us.

I find Twitter the best social media to do most things including raise awareness of Usher Syndrome via my Charity.

Another thing I like about Twitter is there is choice of apps to access it which is preferable particularly as the accessibility features vary from app to app.

I've tried twitter, echofon and  twitterific on my iPhone.  

Of these all three are free from the App Store.

My favourite of these and the most accessible for me is twitterific.

Once your twitter account is set up enable it on Twitterrific.

The initial set up was very fiddly but worth the fiddle. 

I found the settings, eventually!

Press on your Twitter picture at the very top of the screen and at the very bottom of the screen just right of the middle is the settings button, where you can set a few things, however, I think, strangely the most important setting for me was not in settings but another button again at the bottom of the screen left of centre, press it and a drop down menu at the top of the page appears and here you can change the contrast, size and type of text, also change picture size, lineage and even change the contrasts to be light during the day and dark at night - brilliant accessibility in my opinion.

I like that the pictures are not affected with the inverted colours.

Viewing tweets is home and reading everything on your timeline is easy on the eye, great for me as I don't get the glare. 

Home is indicated by a tiny house with a little dot underneath it at the top of the screen, next to it @ which has a little dot under it if you have been mentioned in a tweet and next to it a small envelope for your private messages, if you have any messages a little dot is underneath the envelope.  

At the right of the screen is circle and quill press here to write a tweet, remember only 140 characters maximum per tweet.

At the bottom of screen are tiny camera, search, draft and location which you can use when tweeting.

Once your tweet is typed look to top right and press send and then go to far left to close and return to your timeline.

I like the contrasts on the home section (timeline) and also the mentions section but do find the message contrasts quite difficult.

You can also press search to find people to follow, usually people of interest.

These are the main things I use particularly for my charity Twitter account (mollywatttrust).

If once your account is set up there is something you don't like you can edit by again pressing your Twitter picture. You will again see the list I mentioned above, this time towards the middle but at the top of the page is another little button press here to see your profile details including how many tweets you've sent and received and at the bottom of the page in the middle press to edit your details, when edit completed go to top top right to close and press home to see who has been tweeting, if you see something you are interested in commenting on replying to, retweeting or favouriting, click on the piece you will then see an arrow left, that's to reply, a little box in the middle which is to retweet (share with your followers) star right of that to favourite the tweet, quite basic.  On the far right is a small line of dots press this to see a discussion attached to any tweet and possibly comment thereafter or you can quote a tweet and add a comment above it - may sound complicated but really isn't once you've played around with it.

I do wish the settings were always at the top of the page, it's always the first thing we need to do and naturally where the eye goes to first - all this searching to set up is hard work for those of us with such limited vision.

Anyway once set up and after practice tweeting is a fantastic way of reaching out to others, reading and sharing information.

Tweeting is much easier to navigate on any of the three apps I have mentioned once you get the hang of it.

For me the layout of a page is so important, I prefer the lists in sections on twitter apps rather than the busy ever changing layout of Facebook.

The actual Twitter app is ok, fairly easy to set up if you are ok with the glare as if there is a way of inverting colours on the app I haven't found it.

The settings are just below your header picture, right of your profile picture so pretty obvious, better than Twitterific, press here to find the various settings, most important to me the place to alter text size, for me it should enable much larger to be really useful. Once settings set click done top right of screen to return to home screen.

Top right is box and quill to write tweet once tweet complete just above keyboard on right is blue box with tweet inside press to post.

Again there is search and camera on the left above the keyboard to use accordingly.

Interestingly, again the control features, home, notifications and messages along with "me" are at the bottom of the screen - press which ever you'd like to view.

I found echofon quite similar to Twitter but the text too small even on the largest available.

In short, Twitter easier to set up and use than twitterific but twitterific better and more aesthetically pleasing.

There are several other tweeting apps available and some available on iPad or MacBook but not iPhone - as each is a little different, varies in set up and layout I do tend to stick to the one once I have it up and running.

Having a choice is fantastic when you have quite specific accessibility needs, especially as each developer seems to have different ideas on accessibility.

I'm simply grateful when consideration is made for the blind or deafblind, in my case who still chose to read appropriately modified text.

Accessibility really is everything. 

Tuesday, 23 June 2015 13:25

Internet Good and Bad

When I look back I can see I isolated myself when I was first diagnosed with Usher Syndrome.

I could carry on as a deaf person, no difference. I went to school, I was anxious as I struggled to cope with my changing world. I couldn't wait to get home to the safety of home and my Laptop.  I'd always have an excuse not to go out!

Communicating online was easy, back then we all had Bebo and MySpace, before Facebook and Twitter, I felt no different!

I was in my bedroom chatting to my friends, I didn't have to think about falling over, walking into things or people and although my eyes were terrible and often sore and tired I had a little more sight than I do today, it was ok!

What I sort of did but didn't realise was I was isolating myself, the Internet allowed me to do so because I could and because it made me feel "normal" but I was in denial, a very cosy place to hide until hiding is no longer an option. 

I have blogged about "coming out" as Molly with Usher Syndrome and as painful as I thought that would be it wasn't and it made me feel much better, after all I was only kidding myself deep down! I've found if people understand me and my challenges they are supportive without being patronising.

One of the real positives of accessing the Internet for me has been social networking, bringing people with Usher Syndrome together, as an American friend once said "You don't find somebody else with Usher Syndrome on the next block".

Usher Syndrome / deafblindness is an isolating condition, by definition and yes it's rare but we don't want to feel alone or different and now we have access to each other, we can support each other, inspire each other, share experiences and we can raise awareness of our condition and hopefully make a difference.

At a recent event I was asked what my favourite piece of technology had been and of course my hearing aids have to be right up there as they along with the best support, hard work and determination I'm able to communicates with speech. 

Communication is something most take for granted but it really is something I value particularly now I'm blind, deafblind - I can explain where I'm at, what I need and I try to use this ability to help others with Usher Syndrome.

After my hearing aids came my first trusty MacBook and the reason, besides what I've mentioned above was as my world closed in my MacBook allowed me to continue accessing the world because of its unique built in accessibility features and at 12 years old I learnt how to use the functions with little help and I feel very lucky to have grown up with this technology.

I hope technology becomes more accessible to all and that developers consider the individual access needs of all.

At that very same event I was asked who inspired me most and besides my close family my reply was Helen Keller because not only was she deafblind but she did amazing things without the technology I totally rely on, an incredible lady.  I wonder what she would have thought about today's assistive technology.

Happy Birthday Helen Keller 27 June


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