Over the years, I have learned a lot about internet safety from my teachers, family, and other adults who have shown me the importance of making good decisions online. After starting my own website as a college student and creating my first public social media profiles, I’ve had the opportunity to not only practice these online safety skills, but also see the scary things that could happen if I didn’t know these skills beforehand. Here are my tips for how to be internet awesome and practice online safety with visual impairment, in honor of Safer Internet Day 2020.
Ensure that kids are accessing positive online content
As fun as it can be to explore random websites and applications, it’s important that kids are accessing positive online content that lists their educational and safety needs as a priority. This includes websites that are easy to navigate and appropriate for kids to use by themselves, as well as websites that do not collect information about users or require accounts. Users can read more about positive online content at the Safer Internet Day 2020 links below.
- Safer Internet Day official website
- Better Internet For Kids- positive online content
- Five Websites That Teach Kids About Vision Impairments
- Seven Factors That Make Websites Accessible To The Visually Impaired
Whenever possible, opt out of data collection and recording
In order to help maintain online privacy, I go through websites and settings to see what data is being collected about me, and how it can be used, sold, or otherwise shared without telling me first. Users should opt out of as much tracking as possible and take advantage of extensions such as Ghostery which can help with disabling internet trackers.
Users of remote visual assistance services such as Aira can opt out of having their sessions stored and recorded by starting off every call by saying “please stop recording,” according to a tip I learned from Twitter user Chancey Fleet (@ChanceyFleet).
- Ghostery plugin
- Tweet from @ChanceyFleet
- Ten Ways To Reduce Eye Strain From Screens With Technology
- Aira For Low Vision Review
Take advantage of content filters
Even as an adult, I frequently use content filters to ensure that I do not access inappropriate or unsafe websites when I am browsing the internet. In addition to web content filters, I also disable auto-play of gifs and videos so that I don’t have to worry about surprise strobe lights or other content that could trigger a photosensitive migraine or otherwise make my eyes hurt. While it’s important to block obvious explicit content for children, it’s also helpful to block content that could be harmful in other ways if flashing/strobe lights are a known trigger.
- Tips For Using Social Media With Photosensitivity
- How To Use Guided Access For Testing
- Life with Chronic Migraines
Don’t disclose identifying information without consent
One of the alarming behaviors that I regularly see on social media is that people will post detailed information about their visual impairment or another health condition, and include their full name, their child’s full name/age, and even their precise location/where they go to school. I’ve seen this in the form of blog posts, blog comments, and Twitter/Facebook posts from both parents and children alike, and it frustrates me because once that information is posted, there is no way of knowing who will see it, or what they will do with it.
When writing comments or posts on social media, I highly recommend refraining from posting real names, ages (if possible), and precise location information such as your city or school district. In addition, I recommend asking the child for consent prior to posting the comment or hitting publish on a post, so that they do not feel uncomfortable if they find out about this post later on. I do not approve any comments on my blog that I believe contain identifying information.
What about your blog?
It’s true that I share identifying information about myself and disclose my disability on my blog, though this is a choice I made by myself, and it’s not a choice that another adult such as my parents or a teacher made for me by posting my information online without my consent. I take several measures to ensure the privacy and safety of myself and others around me when writing my posts, and refrain from talking about specific people and locations whenever possible. In addition, I do not collect any information about people who use my website and have no way of knowing who reads my articles.
- How To Make Your Instagram Feed Accessible For Visual Impairment
- Using Twitter With Vision Impairment
Learn how to enable privacy settings
Remember how I mentioned it’s hard to know who will see certain social media posts? One of the things that can help is having privacy settings enabled so that only certain people can see a website or profile. This can be configured within the settings menu of almost all popular websites.
This is especially important to do for school projects, since it’s highly likely that a student’s first and last name, school, and teacher name will be visible on the project. Teachers should ask students and guardians for consent prior to having projects posted on social media or otherwise published online that contain identifying or sensitive information about a student.
Check that pictures on social media do not contain identifying information
Have you ever taken a selfie and realized that there was something in the background afterwards? People with low vision are at a higher risk of accidentally including identifying information in a photo if they are unable to clearly see what is in the background, so I recommend double-checking to make sure that information such as addresses, building names, school names (especially on clothing), or certificates with location information are not visible in photos.
Learn how to identify and report cyberbullying
Unfortunately, people with disabilities are at a higher risk of being cyberbullied or otherwise receiving negative or threatening messages online. While it can be difficult to prevent cyberbullying, it’s easy to learn how to recognize and report it, especially on social media. When learning how to use a social media website for the first time, I recommend familiarizing yourself with how to report and delete comments, as well as how to report posts that are making fun of someone with a disability. Knowing how to use the block button for users is also important, as is making sure that privacy settings are set up so that users can better control who their audience is.
Only share images that have alt text and videos with video descriptions
A few of my friends with low vision or that have no usable vision have accidentally posted explicit images on their social media or shared videos that contained obscene gestures without realizing it, because there was no alt text or video descriptions available. My recommendation is that people with low vision or blindness should only share images that have alt text and videos with video descriptions that they trust are accurate. While this may seem obvious for people with blindness and a bit extreme for people with low vision, it is important to ensure that you know what you are sharing and that it is appropriate for your audience.
- How To Add Alt Text On Social Media
- How To Write Alt Text For Gifs
- How To Write Video Descriptions For TikTok
Use secure passwords to prevent hacking
One of the best ways to remain safe on the internet is by knowing how to create and use secure passwords to prevent hacking of sensitive accounts such as email. I have an entire post below about how to create secure and easy-to-remember passwords, but some of the highlights include using a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and other symbols to ensure that passwords are not easily guessed.
Internet safety is an important skill for everyone to know about, but it’s important that people with visual impairments take the time to learn about how to stay safe online and “be internet awesome.” I hope that these online safety tips for Safer Internet Day 2020 are helpful for others who want to practice internet safety and use the internet in a helpful, safe, and positive way.