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Lost Weekend Spawns Accessible Facebook

A tool to make the social networking site Facebook more accessible to visually impaired users has been created by Project:Possibility (
http://www.projectpossibility.org/ ),
a group of not-for-profit software developers in the US. The application (
http://fastlink.headstar.com/pp2 )
allows visually impaired users to log in, navigate and use the site by combining screen reader technology with other coding techniques.

Brian D’Souza, a team member who worked on the project, explained: “We leveraged an existing technology developed by Google called AxsJax (accessibility + AJAX), which combines use of screen readers and java script and navigation methods to make navigation and modification of content of webpages easier. It provides a lot of value for a blind person.”

Facebook’s popularity has risen dramatically in recent years, with more than 150 million users worldwide. However, some users claim it does not fully support assistive tools, with several active groups active on the site pressing for a more accessible service, such as The Official Petition for a More Accessible Facebook (
http://en-gb.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2384051749 ),
which contains almost 1,500 members. Some measures have already been taken by Facebook to accommodate the needs of disabled users, such as releasing screen reader-friendly versions of some of its applications.

The Facebook tool was one of a series of projects created at the recent UCLA SS12, an annual ‘code-a-thon’ held at the University of California, Los Angeles, where software developers spend a weekend working on projects for disabled people.

Other projects developed by the same team at this year’s SS12 included Project AWE (
http://projectpossibility.org/projects/handicapannotate/ ),
a ‘website accessibility tagging tool’, which allows users and third parties to rate the accessibility of web pages. Ratings are automatically retrieved when the disabled user visits the page, allowing them to immediately gain an idea of how easy the page will be to navigate.

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