How visually impaired people use new media technology, such as accessing the internet, social media, smartphones, PCs, tablets, and other computerised gadgets, is a question that frequently crosses the minds of sighted people.
New media technologies, also known as Web 2.0, encompass a wide range of web-related communication technologies such as blogs, wikis, online social networking, virtual worlds, and other forms of social media. In general, “new media” refers to emerging information and communication technologies and applications such as mobile phones, the Internet, streaming technologies, wireless networks, and the World Wide Web’s high-quality publishing and information-sharing capabilities. The shift from “old media” to “new media” over the past twenty or so years represents a significant shift in how technology is used for communication. Devices and the messages they carry move from “mass” to “micro,” and human interactions with new media are much more social and personal than they were with old media.
Social media is defined as websites that permit the creation of profiles and the visibility of user relationships; these are referred to as social media, as are web-based programmes that offer functionality for sharing, relationships, groups, conversations, and profiles. The terms “social media sites” or “social media” also refer to a group of information technologies that facilitate networking and interaction. Given the widespread coverage of social media in the popular press today, it appears that we are in the midst of a completely new communication landscape.
The mode of communication has evolved rapidly as a result of technological advancements and implementations. Social interactions are the main foundation for various realms of human interaction. It is a pleasant theme, and when it comes to specially-abled people, nature becomes more relevant. The Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) estimates that there are 49.1 million completely visually impaired people worldwide, 221.4 million people with moderate vision impairment (VI), and 33.6 million people with severe vision impairment.
New media has become an indispensable part of human life; it can no longer be avoided. Despite the fact that new media technology has revolutionised the world, it benefits visually impaired people and attempts to reach them in comparison to sighted people. Traditional media, on the other hand, is extremely difficult for visually impaired people to use. The new media technology is dynamic in nature and offers significant conveniences to the satisfaction of visually impaired people.
Therefore, these people depend more on receiving information from other sources than on their sight. Computers, for instance, have become increasingly important as communication tools. This particular need is met by the WWW, also known as the Internet. Additionally, Web 2.0 technology gives the visually impaired the chance to easily share their opinions with the rest of the world in addition to enabling them to receive information. It is obvious that computer-mediated communication (CMC) plays a significant role in assisting them in independently accessing information. Unlike in the past, most visually impaired people had to rely on others, particularly family and friends, as important resources.
Similarly, some people find it very challenging to use cell phones and other portable electronic devices, which frequently have constrained audio capabilities and small, densely packed buttons. These disabilities include hearing and motor impairments. Accessible mobile and portable systems, however, as well as extensions of current systems, are now more and more popular. The first mobile phones originated in a straightforward manner, and visually impaired users were only accustomed to using them for voice calls. As a result, the development of Voice Over and Screen Readers has allowed Visually impaired people to have full access to cell phones. After that, they used their mobile phones as a clock, alarms, calculators, e-banking, and so forth. Still, it has been suggested that a physical Dot is made up of the keys ‘F’ and ‘H’ on a computer keyboard and the key 5 on a mobile phone keypad, which serves as navigation for visually impaired users.
There are now many accessibility features for cell phones, such as text-to-speech output, screen magnification, audio amplifiers, hearing aid compatibility, and hands-free operation. Additionally, more potent assistive technology features are being created, especially for portable and mobile devices. Therefore, in this very advanced age of computers, the existence of new innovative contrivances such as screen readers, magnifiers, and Braille displays makes it possible for blind users to access the devices.
Without assistive technologies, people who are completely visually impaired are unable to interact with computers. They mostly use screen reader software and Braille displays to overcome this barrier. In layman’s terms, a screen reader system speaks all of the information that appears on the screen as well as the text that is typed on the keyboard in a human voice. The same information is displayed on a Braille line by a Braille display, which visually impaired people can read with their fingers. There are numerous types of reader software available to assist them with the content on the screen. It is not difficult for them to navigate social networking sites via mobile phones or desktop computers.
The theory of ‘homophily’ supports the fact that visually impaired people can form strong bonds with one another and enjoy being connected with one another. They use social media in the same way that sighted people do. Social interaction and fellowship are both motivating factors. The enhancement of social media, with features that allow people with specific needs to interface with them, is of great help to people with visual disabilities who rely on different technological tools. Nevertheless, social networking sites play an important role in socialisation for people who are visually impaired, particularly in their education and acquisition of social cues. Nothing can truly replace a visually impaired person’s sight, but social media has opened doors and facilitated many activities in their daily lives for visually impaired users. Notably, it enables them to access information, work independently, carry out errands like shopping, participate in education and training, navigate the physical world, and communicate and socialize with others.
Social networking sites fit in this kind of application that contains a large amount of information but are still widely used by visually impaired people. Moreover, new technology has been improved to help visually impaired people gain employment, literacy, and communication skills. They can now use new media devices such as screen readers, voiceovers, Braille displays, and screen magnifiers to interact with web technology. Yet, little effort has been made to understand the challenges that blind people face as well as the opportunities for improving their interaction with such applications.
According to Statisticstimes.com, the total population of India as of July 2021 is 1.39 billion. According to the National Medical Journal of India (NMJI), the population of completely visually impaired people in India till 2020 is 18 million. As per the 2011 census, Jammu and Kashmir has a population of around 68,000 visually impaired men and women as its citizens. However, since then the number has increased. Officials believe that the number could have increased to over 70,000.
Although visually impaired persons are an important part of society, there is a significant information gap between sighted and visually impaired people. They have a lack of knowledge of modern media technologies, particularly in rural parts of Jammu and Kashmir, and they can scarcely afford to gain such technological gadgets because they are economically dependent on others. In this digital age, ethical difficulties are becoming more prevalent as spam and online fraud instances increase on a daily basis, but they also face challenges such as security and privacy concerns. Responsible institutions, such as the social welfare department and other social NGOs, can play a very significant role in uplifting blind people by organising and carrying out campaigns to raise awareness of new media technology. They also need to make such technology accessible to them because they have a right to live their lives as normally as possible.
The author is a research scholar of Journalism and Mass Communication, a political consultant, and a poll campaign manager. He can be reached at [email protected]