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Monday, 27 July 2015 06:25

No Sight, No Sound, No Social Media!

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Being born with a condition is very different to acquiring one, I have the experience of both!

I was born deaf, hearing aids from 18 months old, audiology appointments, speech therapy and a specialist teacher of the deaf for support.  It was all I knew until I was 12 years old and it all worked very well. 

It all changed when I was diagnosed with Usher Syndrome.

I was told I'd go blind but that it would be a gradual process, for me I went from perfect sight to registered blind in two years, I have been one of the unlucky ones.

I was born with perfect sight and being deaf meant I used my eyes to compensate for my deafness.

I relied on my eyes to lipread, to learn to speak, I could see facial and body gestures which helped me understand mood, happy, sad, angry. 

Often when in loud or difficult situations where I couldn't hear with my hearing aids if I could see a face or faces I could lipread and get by. 

I could literally hear with my eyes.

The "deaf language" BSL (British Sign Language) for some is all about being able to see.  The deaf use their eyes the way nobody else has to.

To experience deafness from day one and then lose sight is very different to being born with sight loss.

I have had to learn to live with a second sensory loss, it doesn't just happen like it did with deafness.

The impact of blindness on an already deaf person is profound, particularly when it happens so quickly.

People seem to think all blind people use Braille, some do but for me and lots I know who have the smallest window of vision we still read text. 

For me it's like holding onto the smallest amount of "normality" however, it's no longer like picking up a book, a paper, a magazine, looking at a computer screen, no, that "normality" went with my sight.

Everything now has to be modified and that doesn't mean made bigger like so many assume necessary for the blind!

I see only with one eye and when reading I see the equivalent in size as a 5 pence piece, pretty tiny so things need to be right.

Making text accessible for me really isn't that difficult.  Firstly white paper / background is the absolute worse, the glare is painful. 

Why so many websites are white background and narrow small text is very irritating.  Buff or cream is so much easier and text size 18 or 24, in blue and arial is ideal or why not have accessibility features for those of us who need it to adjust to what suits, is that so difficult?

My preference for reading is on a Kindle, the basic one as there is no glare and it allows me to adjust text size and lineage.

I could read 3/4 pages on an iPad before suffering from the screens glare, with the Kindle I could read several chapters at a time.  It was only because of the Kindle that I managed to complete my English A Level.

I like the control of accessibility my MacBook gives me, particularly for the things I need to do online, however I have to restrict my use because my eyes are very delicate.

I am not ready to make the transition to voiceover and bear in mind I'm deaf so voiceover needs to be accessible to me.  I am fortunate that with my new hearing aids I am able to access sound with Bluetooth however, unfamiliar voices, accents, speed of speech, dialects, male, female can all be challenging so not quite as straight forward as some might think.       

there isn't a book to teach or explain individual access needs, one size or specification doesn't necessarily meet all need but I find myself adapting things myself, which is fine if they can be adapted!

Am obvious coping strategy is a good memory, those that know me well know not to move things without telling me or it means me falling over, knocking over or losing something which can be upsetting and / or frustrating and I don't just mean things in the house, work place but everywhere, anything that moves without my knowledge becomes an issue!

It is probably a good place to now discuss Facebook.

Facebook has a habit of moving things around far too often and they cause untold frustration and often real isolation to the blind community.

Already Facebook is a cluttered page which makes navigation difficult to start with.

Facebook presents itself very differently on my various gadgets.

I will start with the worse for accessibility. 

On my iPhone:

The app only allows white background with black text, the glare is unbearable and even worse it is impossible to enlarge the text - this makes the app inaccessible to me.

The icons at the bottom of the page, News Feed, Requests etc are tiny and in the faintest text.

The icons get moved around for no apparent reason making navigation unnecessarily difficult for those with visual impairment or blind.

On actual posts the text, reply or like is tiny and faint.  If like is tapped the writing apparently changes colour I cannot see this!

Strangely the Messenger app does enlarge text if the iPhone setting is set to large.

I have had to get help to write about Facebook for iPhone as I'm unable to use it because of the reasons stated above.

Facebook on MacBook:

Again all white background and black text, terrible.

The three vertical columns are very hard for me to navigate with such restricted vision, as I result I have to scan and can get lost quite easily.

Column 1:

Name in bold, if I was not using my Mac which allows me to enlarge I would struggle to read.  Underneath the name is small subheadings with small pictures in front of them - either events, groups or pages, next to these small numbers, I struggle to see all of these things again relying on my Mac to zoom in.

Column 2:

This is where most friend context lands, as previously mentioned again the awful white glaring boxes with the "like" option very faint text and a nightmare to see through the glare.  Again the colour changes from grey to light blue, the contrast is very poor.

The font size is very small on all columns so I have to rely on my Mac's ability to zoom in which I do manually though this can cause the screen to break up making it difficult to stay I in the correct column.

Column 3:

Again same colour scheme, white, pale grey, dark blue and a light blue.  The bulk of the smallest text is in pale grey underneath comments, again terrible contrast and impossible for me to access.

A little further down the page is "Your Pages" again most text in the awful pale grey colour, I don't even try to read these, simply not accessible.

"Trending" also in the awful pale grey text.  A lot of the posts in this column if the sub titles are lingered over little boxes of black text appear, I can actually read this and then another box this time grey with pale grey writing, completely inaccessible.

Furthest along the page are friends profile pictures which are small with tiny dots to indicate if they are online.  I have noticed if I linger with the mouse another column pops up with people's names.

I find it hard to speak to somebody via the Facebook webpage because the text is too light, easier with the Messenger app!

Requests, Messages and Notifications are small icons in the top corner of the page again there is very little contrast for me to recognise one icon to another.

Beside the Notifications is the smallest icon and a tiny arrow. This is very important as it's the privacy settings, I had to have help setting these so perhaps not as private as I'd like! Major fail for those of us with poor sight.

I find navigating my own profile considerably easier as there is only two columns, much less cluttered which is good but still small grey text.

Changing cover photo remains something I need help with, the camera icon far too small to see.

On iPad

This changed on Friday and after over an hour trying to navigate the new layout I had very painful eyes and gave up.

Facebook is widely used to bring people together, often very lonely and otherwise isolated people who find huge comfort in reaching out to others similar to themselves.

It is a fact that people in smaller communities like mine often have never met or spoken to others with the same condition which is in itself isolating. 

Facebook is great for relieving these issues but sadly they are failing some of the most vulnerable with their poor accessibility.

Good accessibility would work for everybody, a choice of colours, contrasts and text sizes is that so difficult?

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