Deque Systems Launches Tool to Make Social Media Sites More Accessible to the Blind

Navigating the Web is a completely different experience when you can't see the screen. Accessibility software company Deque Systems has announced the launch of Amaze: a new tool that fixes the tiny glitches that other systems might have missed when making sites readable for the visually impaired.

Navigating the Web is a completely different experience when you can’t see the screen. Accessibility software company Deque Systems has announced the launch of Amaze: a new tool that fixes the tiny glitches that other systems might have missed when making sites readable for the visually impaired.

Normally, “Web users who are blind use a software tool called a screen reader to help them navigate the Web. Screen readers literally read out loud the contents of a page,” explained Tyler Steben, Deque Systems’ vice president of product marketing, via email. “They work wonderfully when a site is accessible.”

But this isn’t always the case. Simple miscommunications between the social networks and the screen reading software can make an otherwise intuitive website nearly impossible for the visually impaired to use.

Based in Herndon, VA, Deque Systems provides accessibility software to government agencies, companies, and educational institutions.  The company developed Amaze to give website owners a way to replace the parts of a site’s interface that don’t work with the screen reading software.  Companies can apply Amaze’s overlay of accessible interface elements to their own sites as well as any third-party features that they use, like a Facebook page or an embedded map.

On Facebook, for instance, blind people have a hard time messaging their friends.  Facebook’s message and chat tools are coded in a way that they prevent the screen reader from receiving a notification when the user has a new message or has been invited to chat.

In this visualization, notice how the instant message folder in the upper left navigation bar looks dark, even though the message window is open below. If you were using a screen reader to tell you what’s happening on your Facebook profile, you would hear that you had four friend requests and two notifications, but you wouldn’t know that you had a new message.

With Amaze turned on, the screen reader would tell you that you have a new message pending so that you would know to check your messages. Once inside, the reader would dictate your messages to you and then indicate where you should enter your response. Here, the message bar shows that there is a new message in the inbox.

With Amaze, “The key challenge is that sites like Facebook and Twitter change their code on a regular basis,” said Steben. “As a third party, that requires us to monitor their UI, identify new accessibility bugs as they occur, and update our platform with an updated overlay. We have all the mechanisms in place to monitor and remediate, but it does require ongoing attention and focus to keep pace with the rapidly-evolving social media platforms.”

Image by nokhoog_buchachon via Shutterstock.