Important Messages, such as Service Disruption.

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To be an effective social networker, you must have mastered web browsing. Discuss.

I have been an avid (and impressed) reader of the AccessWorld journal, (published by the American Foundation of the Blind), of some years standing. I generally feel it contains extremely thorough reviews of products and services and as a consequence I frequently share with my Twitter and Facebook followers those items which I hope will interest others.

Given my high praise of this publication, I was disappointed to read the item appearing in the May 2013 edition of the magazine, "Social Networking for the Blind and Visually Impaired". This was part 2 of an exploration into the world of social media, aimed at those who wish to join a vibrant online community - in short, what millions of other people are doing, blind and sighted.

The author of the piece, Larry Lewis, sets the reader's expectations of what is to come, thus:

"Now that you've gained an understanding of what social networks are, how they work, and their value to you as a user of access technology, it's time to get down to business and turn our attention to utilizing and reaping the benefits of these valuable interactive tools. This article focuses on accessing social networks using a desktop computer. Though it's quite fashionable to interact with these networks using a smartphone or a portable tablet, there is still a great deal of value in using your computer and favorite screen reader. In addition, desktop access serves as a fantastic means with which you might familiarize yourself with the various functionalities present within these virtual communities."

Excellent, so we assume that many aspects of what he will now discuss relates to interacting with social networking on a computer with a screen-reader, and it does, in part ... He describes the usefulness (or otherwise) of using such services with a web browser.

I think the most erroneous statement in the article was: "At the end of the day, before you can expect to be an effective social networker, you must have already mastered web browsing functionality within your screen reader of choice." I think many people reading this blog post will know this is untrue.

Apart from the excellent System Access repository, "The Socialiser" from Serotek, (which was probably one of the early adopters of Twitter and Facebook allowing people to more effectively interact with these services), developers of technologies have provided a number of desktop clients which serve two purposes. First, they provide a more convenient mechanism for accessing Twitter particularly without using websites. These have either been through clients such as Microsoft Outlook, applications in their own dedicated window (such as Tween), or what I would describe as "Invisible Clients" (such as the Qube or Twittmonger), allowing for instant access to Twitter irrespective of the application in focus. Access to Facebook has also been provided via Skype or Outlook plugins in the past.

There is a second more appealing aspect of using these alternative methods of access however. There are many people who simply do not know how to use the web with their screen-reader. They just wouldn't know where to begin and even if they did, sometimes screen-readers deliver so much of what I describe as "verbal clutter", they are mystified as to what some of the terms mean. These tools I've mentioned give the people in that group a chance to be a part of a wide community.

Even if we loosely assume that this article focused exclusively upon accessing such services using a browser, I would have thought that the EasyChirp project would have been mentioned. Again, this is a way through the web of shielding some computer users from the more difficult aspects of using Twitter. I accept that the mobile sites for services were referred to.

Had this article appeared on an individual's blog, I would not have written this post as that would have been unfair. However, this appears in a journal from one of the leading organisations for the visually impaired in America, and as such I feel is open to a level of criticism.

In conclusion, if someone was thinking about using social media for the first time and read this article, they may well think twice before getting involved which would be unfortunate. I know one person has described Twitter as her "window on the world", because it gives people who are in isolation the sense of being part of a community, while delivering news of world affairs at the same time. Are we really saying that the alleviation of that isolation can only be provided if one has mastered web browsing? Of course we're not. It only took me a few sentences to outline the broad range of additional ways we can access these services and I feel sure mention of them could have been made in the article. Naturally, these comments will be forwarded to the AFB.

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