Fred’s Head from APH, a Blindness Blog

Fred’s Head, offered by the American Printing House for the Blind, contains tips, techniques, tutorials, in-depth articles, and resources for and by blind or visually impaired people. Our blog is named after the legendary Fred Gissoni, renowned for answering a seemingly infinite variety of questions on every aspect of blindness.

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Thursday, August 02, 2012

Social Networking: A Helpful Tool for People who are Blind

The other day, I had to wait in McDonald's for five minutes while my french fries were being cooked. Those five minutes seemed long to me. Why? Because we live in an instant age: instant coffee, instant meals, and especially, instant information. As Americans in the twenty-first century, we can get information about an event as it is happening or shortly thereafter. Andrew Jackson, the U.S. president, gained fame for fighting a battle in the War of 1812 three weeks after the peace treaty was signed because the news hadn't reached him and his troops yet.

 Although this instant access to information is great for everyone, it is especially advantageous to people who are blind and visually impaired. Unfortunately, sometimes people with disabilities are isolated from larger society due to mobility or access issues, poverty, or the societal stigma attached to disability; however, our instant age has brought along with it instant communication through social networking. Social networking sites, especially Facebook and Twitter, are a great way for people who are blind and visually impaired to interact with others. Screen readers and other assistive technologies allow people who are blind and visually impaired to connect with others like themselves. They can commiserate with others' difficulties, share their own stories, happy or sad, share advice and tips (like this blog!), and hopefully feel like they are not alone in the world.

Having instant access to news and current events through social networking sites and other online websites can be very beneficial. Before the advent of Facebook and Twitter, we would have to wait for a newspaper or magazine to be made into an accessible format. Thankfully, APH offers two free magazine subscriptions in accessible formats for use by blind people. This is still a great way for many people to access news and human-interest stories. However, if you want to know the election results as they are announced, or who's winning in the upcoming Olympic Games, the best way to stay in touch is through social networking. In addition, blindness community members share information with each other. Do you want to read the latest review of Fleksy or other accessible apps? Go on Twitter! In all likelihood, someone has tweeted what you are looking for. This sharing of instant information through social networking has the potential to improve greatly the independence and knowledge of people who are blind or visually impaired.

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Of course, there are still problems. Even though screen readers and other assistive devices have made things a lot easier, Facebook and other social networks are not necessarily fully accessible. For one thing, Facebook changes its design and layout every other day it seems like. Assistive technology can't always keep up with these rapid and frequent changes - sometimes coming with absolutely no notice. Although access to the internet and computers has become a lot more feasible, some people who are blind or visually impaired may find it financially difficult.

 Overall, though, there are definitely more advantages than disadvantages to social networking for people who are blind or visually impaired.

 The next time I'm waiting in line at McDonald's, I'll be sure to tweet about it!

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