Safer Internet Day is a yearly event that raises awareness and provides solutions for making the internet and online spaces a safer and more positive experience for everyone, with an emphasis on children and young people. Internet safety education has improved a lot over the last few years, but one thing I have noticed is a lack of comprehensive resources about online safety for visually impaired users and how the experience of being blind/having low vision can influence how people use the internet, and how to use it safely. Here are my favorite tips for online safety for visually impaired users in honor of Safer Internet Day.
Understand identifiable information
Identifiable information, also referred to as personal information or personally identifiable information, can be used to distinguish or trace an individual’s identity, or any other information that can be linked to an individual. This can include information such as name, address/location, social security number, date and/or place of birth, medical records, financial information, employment history, and related items. Answers to common security questions such as mother’s maiden name, names of schools, favorite pet, and others can also be considered identifiable information since they can be used to gain access to individual accounts.
- How To Recognize Phishing Attempts With Vision Impairment
- How To Create A DonorsChoose Project For Visual Impairment
Opt out of data collection and recording
When using visual assistance applications such as Aira, user data is collected, and calls are recorded for quality and training purposes. When I am using tools like Aira in a public space where people around me cannot consent to being recorded, I request that the call not be recorded. Chancey Fleet, a technology educator who works at the New York Public Library, recommends that users start calls to Aira or similar visual interpreting services by saying “please stop recording” or “do not record” before working on the task at hand.
When using websites, I recommend using a plug-in like Ghostery to block third-party tracking tools, or using built-in tools for their web browser. Some websites may require the use of third-party plugins (such as my college’s two-factor authentication system), so I whitelist/allow tracking on certain websites to ensure everything works smoothly.
- Best Ad Blocker & Privacy Browser | Ghostery
- Tweet from @ChanceyFleet
- Using Aira With Low Vision
- Smartphone Apps For Orientation and Mobility
Use a content filter
Content filters aren’t just for blocking websites for children! I use a content filter to block out social media and online content that contains strobe or flashing lights, and disable auto-play for videos, gifs, and other media so that I don’t get surprised with flashing lights. I also use an ad blocker for this purpose, as flashing ads can render a website unusable for me.
- Tips For Using Social Media With Photosensitivity
- How To Improve Your Blog Theme For Visually Impaired Users
- How To Check Videos For Flashing Lights
- How I Watch Concert Videos Without Strobe Lights
Do not disclose identifying information without consent
When I made the choice to disclose my disability and talk about my experiences living with vision loss online, this choice was one that I made myself as an adult. I often encounter posts made by parents and teachers that share specific information about children or other people that live with a disability, sharing information such as the person’s name, age, diagnosis, location, and even where they go to school/work. People with vision loss can be identified with as little as two pieces of identifying information, such as a name and diagnosis, which can show up in search engines without the person’s consent.
When it comes to navigating support groups, online forums, and leaving comments, I strongly recommend refraining from posting real names, ages (if possible), and precise location information such as a city or school district. In addition, allow individuals to choose how they answer questions about disability, including choosing not to answer questions at all- avoid answering questions on their behalf.
What about your blog?
As part of maintaining a website that covers topics related to low vision and assistive technology, I take a few different steps for online and personal safety, which include:
- Referring to people or outside sources using they/them pronouns and keeping details vague, unless I have written consent
- I don’t post information in real time, and often edit posts to include additional details months or years later- for example, I didn’t share the name of the dorms I lived in until I had already moved out
- Third-party tracking tools such as analytics and social media are disabled on my website, so I have no idea who is reading my articles or how many readers I have
- How To Make Your Instagram Feed Accessible For Visual Impairment
- Twitter Accessibility Features For Low Vision
Enable privacy settings on social media
When posting content that contains personally identifiable information such as school projects, ensure that privacy settings have been enabled so that the content is only visible to the intended audience. This can include private social media accounts that require users to manually approve followers, unlisted videos or presentations that can’t be accessed via search tools, or password protected blogs. Since a lot of these types of content are public by default, users should ensure that they know how to lock things down or delete/deactivate accounts later.
I use school projects as a specific example because a student’s first and last name, school, age/grade level, 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 the background of images and videos before posting/streaming
During my internship at a major tech company, I almost posted a photo with a sign in the background that gave the name of the building where I was living. There are a few obvious and less-obvious background items that can reveal personal information, including:
- Clothing with writing on it, such as school t-shirts
- Signs, or distinctive landmarks/background items, such as the name of a hotel, apartment building, or other local area
- Prescription medication labels
- Diplomas or certificates
- ID cards and badges
- Reflective surfaces, such as those in glasses or mirrors
I check images and video environments by zooming in or using the pinch-to-zoom gesture to monitor the background before I start recording or before posting an image. When in doubt, ask a trusted friend or family member to check the image or video background.
Create secure passwords
Many users are tempted to use the same password for everything, even though they know it is a bad idea. However, there are several dangers associated with using the same password for everything or not changing passwords after a data leak, including:
- If a person can guess the password to an email account, they can go in and change all other passwords associated with that email
- Websites can be compromised and have passwords leaked, and it will make it easier for hackers to find the passwords to common accounts
- For a user that creates a password that contains a word in the dictionary, a password with 6-8 characters can be guessed by a password cracking program in about thirty minutes.
- By adding characters such as letters, numbers, and symbols, the time to guess a password increases to be several hours, days, weeks, months, or even years
One of my favorite tips for how to create secure and easy-to-remember passwords is to use a base password that changes for each website, adding characters, symbols, numbers, and other things to make it secure and unique. I have an entire post dedicated to creating secure and easy to remember passwords linked below.
Only share images with alt text and image descriptions
A few of my friends with no usable vision have accidentally shared explicit images on social media because they had assumed that the caption of an image gave an accurate description- for example, one person had shared a picture with the caption “a beautiful sunset” that contained nudity. Since images without alt text are read out by screen readers as “image”, it’s important that accessibility allies share images and videos with alt text, image descriptions, and video descriptions that are accurate, or use another tool to determine what is in an image before sharing.
Other tips for online safety for visually impaired users
- Ensure that mainstream and specialty technology devices such as computers or notetakers are up-to-date and install security and software updates as soon as possible
- When installing a new application, review the requested permissions and how they will be used in the context of the app
- Take action against cyberbullying by learning how to report/delete comments and block profiles, as well as report posts for cyberbullying content.