Calling Mark Zuckerberg! We are seeing you everywhere now, Mark, telling the world that you want to do good in the world, that you want to give away half of your billions to charity. How about starting by doing good in your world, on Facebook? How about using some of the cadre of Facebook developers to make Facebook ADA compliant? The over 75 cohort is the single fasted growing demographic on Facebook but, for many who are visually impaired, Facebook is nearly impossible to navigate alone. Mark, if you made Facebook work for the visually impaired, you'd be increasing your numbers, you'd be doing good in the world, and you'd probably be developing new techniques and tools that others could apply in other instances too. It would be a net good for the 'Net!
I was visiting with my inlaws outside of Boston this week when one of their friends, who suffers from macular degeneration, told me about how much he would love to keep up with his friends and family on Facebook but he cannot. His wife, who is very accomplished in all things digital, told me about the various things they had tried but were still frustrated at how difficult it was even for some with Web talents who regularly uses voice-recognition software. Later, I contacted a friend who is often on Facebook. He's a professor, an athlete, a stand-up comedian, a fabulous human being--and is also 100% visually impaired. If anyone who had figured out a workaround on Facebook, he is the one. He lives his whole life by figuring out what he needs to do and getting it done. Here's what he wrote me when I asked if he had found tools or practices that helped him use Facebook: "The answer is not very satisfying. Essentially, Facebook so far as I am aware is simply a pain for blind folk. I can access much of its functionality with my off-the-shelf screen reading software (JAWS for Windows), but it takes a *lot* of time and patience as well as a certain amount of familiarity with the site. I know where to 'look' on the screen to update my status or to accept friend requests. I do not upload my own pics. I have relied on friends to do it."
Really? A man who runs marathons without benefit of sight cannot navigate the world's most profitable social network? That is shameful.
So, again, dear Mark, please, in addition to giving hundreds of millions to schools (a worthy goal--but one that requires some creative thinking and a roadmap and a gameplan), please get your brilliant Facebook developers to think about the visually impaired so your social network can be as inclusive as it is popular and profitable. This would be a wonderful act of philanthropy that could make a difference immediately--and it would also help to further a range of audio-to-text and text-to-audio technologies that, we all know, are necessary to take social networking and the Web to the next level of interactivity.