A team of eight hardworking Code the Dream students and mentors spent over 20 hours last weekend developing an app to improve internet access for the visually impaired. Their efforts were part of a Startup Weekend event hosted at the American Underground in Durham. The team’s app, The Blank App, won the weekend-long competition sponsored by AT&T to develop the best app to improve the lives of people living with disabilities.
We’re proud of the team for winning, but of course we’re even more excited about the opportunity to make something that stands to improve people’s lives.
A bit more information about our app, The Blank App:
The Problem: Poor Web Accessibility for the Visually Impaired
The internet, and all the information, tools and experiences it offers, should be a boon to the visually impaired. It has the potential to bring a hard-to-navigate world to our doorstep. But sadly, much of the internet itself remains very hard to navigate for those who can’t see or see well. We need to make it easier to share where the problems are and fix them.
Visually impaired users are often frustrated by images with no descriptions or fields that cannot be read by their screen reader. There’s usually no easy way to lodge a complaint or to coordinate with others facing the same problem. Even on sites developed by conscientious coders following accessibility norms, it’s easy to miss problems. Hence the need for more feedback directly from visually impaired users.
The Solution: Seamless Problem Logging and Automatic Fixes
Our team of developers includes visually impaired members who use zoom text and screen readers tools every day. Our easily downloadable browser extensions (currently available for Chrome and Firefox) allow visually impaired users to use a single keyboard shortcut to automatically capture problem URL’s and log their feedback.
With the browser extension, users will also automatically upload fully accessible “fixed” versions of sites commonly reported to have problems. Based on helpful feedback we’ve received from many of our first users, our team has a number of fixed sites currently in beta testing.
In addition to our in-house developed fixes, theblankapp.com will also share collected accessibility data and allow third-party developers to upload their own fixes for common issues — thereby creating a crowdsourcing platform to rapidly multiply the number of “fixed”, fully accessible sites.
Beyond directly improving visually impaired users’ experience, we believe the data we capture will be a valuable tool for sharing with policymakers and fostering a more inclusive society with fully equal access.