Skip to Content


Accessible Instant Messaging iPhone App Hits the iTunes Store

August 13, 2010 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

A highly-anticipated update to Shape Services’ popular IM+ iPhone app featuring comprehensive VoiceOver accessibility hit the iTunes Store Thursday.

According to its iTunes Store entry, the new version 4.30 of this app, renamed IM+ Pro, features “New themes and wallpapers, hi-res graphics for iPhone 4, full VoiceOver support, setting own display picture from iPhone 4 front camera, improved contact search and bug fixes.”

Blind high school senior Michael Hansen said he was delighted to learn of the accessible instant messaging option for his new iPhone.

“I use my iPhone mainly for various applications, messaging, and phone calls,” Hansen said. “I just found out about it this morning and I immediately purchased the app and tweeted to @implus to thank them for their work.”

He said IM+ Pro works better for him than other apps he has tried.

“I started out last week using Palringo, and I found that to be unsatisfactory because I could not log into Facebook and I could not read messages that were sent to me from AOL Instant Messenger,” Hansen said. “There went $4. I think that Apple should refund VoiceOver users if an app they purchased is not accessible. ”

He said IM+ works just fine with AIM, but he is having an accessibility problem connecting with Facebook.

“I have tried to connect to AOL Instant Messenger and Facebook; AIM worked fine, but Facebook did not,” Hansen said. “When I tried to add Facebook as a service, I got a message saying that I would have to tap the ‘Connect’ button to validate my information. However, I could not, for the life of me, find the ‘Connect’ button.”

He said he is confident the Facebook issue will be fixed quickly.

“I think that Shape Services has done the VoiceOver community a big service, and the Facebook connect button issue is a small bump in the road which I would imagine they could fix quickly,” Hansen said. “I just wish more app developers cared about accessibility—that’s the biggest problem with using an iPhone right now.”

Shape Services’ business development team official Natalia Kasyanova said the company has another nice surprise in store for blind users in the coming weeks.

“I would like to confirm that we are planning to release an IM+ Lite version with VoiceOver support by the end of August. It is a free adware version of IM+ which has the same functionality as IM+ Pro,” Kasyanova said. “We hope that it will make instant messaging even more available for blind users of iPhones and iPads.”

Let’s Ask Twitter to Enable Us to Moderate Follow Requests

September 27, 2009 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Hard-working, honest Twitter users are getting sick and tired of all the bogus follow requests they receive on a daily basis as they post updates to Twitter. It seems there are automated computer programs, AKA bots, that search for interesting topics and try to follow everyone who tweets about them in hopes the favor will be reciprocated. Once the user follows the bogus Twitter account, their time line can be spammed with unwanted links to advertising and marketing from a strange company with an unknown reputation. What measures can we take now to protect ourselves and what can Twitter do to help?

Some people I know take a conservative, guarded approach to Twitter. These users protect their accounts. They may be followed only by request and their tweets may be viewed only by approved followers. Users in this camp restrict their followers to close friends and relatives, limiting their participation in all that Twitter has to offer. These users can’t be followed by others with a legitimate interest in the topics about which they tweet and are unable to meet new people. It would seem they lose out on most of the benefits of social media. While a portion of these users really do want a private Twitter experience, others feel the need to employ these measures as protection against spammers.

In contrast, other users wish to avail themselves of all the social media benefits Twitter offers, putting up with the junk in the process. They allow everyone to follow their public tweets and revel in the prospect of connecting and communicating with people they met online. The public profile of these users exposes them to phishing, spamming, social engineering and other forms of abuse. How can public users protect themselves while enjoying all of Twitter’s benefits?

There are currently a number of ways for public Twitter users to combat abuse, but all may require significant time and effort. How does one avoid unscrupulous users while ensuring they allow participation by those who have a legitimate interest in their tweets? While much of the abuse is perpetrated by bots, it seems the defense must be conducted manually, on a case-by-case basis as attacks are attempted.

Good protection seems to start at the point where a user makes a follow request. The requester is asking for permission to see your updates on their Twitter home page or in their Twitter application. Once the user follows you, he or she typically hopes you will return the favor in order to form a connection. When two Twitter users follow each other, a two-way relationship exists permitting the private exchange of direct messages and the public swapping of Twitter updates. The malicious user can abuse this new relationship by posting pushy marketing information to all their followers or by attempting to lure their followers to questionable Web sites that try to collect usernames, passwords and other personal data.

The key is to ensure you are only forming healthy relationships on Twitter by carefully evaluating each new follow request and keeping these guidelines in mind before approving anyone:

  • Check the Twitter username. If it contains several numbers after the name, this may represent a red flag. Proceed with caution. Bots can create accounts based on a name, adding numbers until an unused one has been found.
  • Look for nonsensical names or missing biographical information on the user’s Twitter home page. If you don’t like what you see, by all means ignore the follow request.
  • Consider taking a look at the Web site linked in the user’s profile. Exercise caution, though, as this link might point to a malicious page or an attempted social engineering attack. Do not trust the page’s content and avoid entering any personal data.
  • Review the updates the user has posted. You can quickly see the 20 most recent tweets on the user’s Twitter home page. Red flags include a large number of links without context, little or no conversation with other users and a lack of information you deem interesting.
  • If you believe the user is malicious, press the Block button. If you just find the user’s content uninteresting, simply ignore the follow request but do not block. Blocking can have a negative impact on a user’s reputation and may potentially limit their future ability to use Twitter.

We can ask Twitter to develop an easy solution that would allow us to strike a balance between the limitations inherent in a protected account and the anything-goes nature of a public account. The solution is moderated following. In a moderated following scenario, anyone making a follow request would be asked to explain why they should be granted that honor. The proposed feature would work like this:

  • A user wishes to follow someone on Twitter.
  • She visits the person’s Twitter home page and presses the Follow button.
  • She is asked to provide the reason she wishes to follow the other person.
  • Twitter notifies the recipient of the follow request, including the stated reason.
  • The recipient is given a chance to accept or reject the request.
  • If it is accepted, the requester receives appropriate notification. If denied, the requester receives nothing.

Let’s all think about how a moderated follow scenario might work and, if it’s something worth pursuing, ask Twitter to consider putting it in place as a new feature. All comments are appreciated as always.

Categories: feedback, opinion, Twitter

Twitter Quietly Fixes Broken Audio CAPTCHA

June 6, 2009 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

A blind Internet user has reported that Twitter has corrected issues with its audio CAPTCHA during a one-hour Friday evening maintenance window. Blind Access Journal has confirmed the fix.

On August 22, 2007, Twitter implemented the ReCAPTCHA service to protect the site from abuse while granting a level of accessibility to blind and visually impaired people wishing to sign up for the new social networking service. The enhancement was implemented by Twitter in cooperation with members of the connected online blind community. Twitter received praise for this move.

On December 7, 2008, reCAPTCHA began deploying a new audio playback scheme. “Instead of using spoken digits or letters, our new audio CAPTCHA presents entire spoken sentences or phrases that the best speech recognition algorithms failed to recognize,” Luis von Ahn, the project’s executive producer, said on the reCAPTCHA Blog.

“For now, if you are using our custom theme option, we ask that you update the instructions for the audio CAPTCHA to say something along the lines of ‘type what you hear'”, von Ahn told web site developers who implemented reCAPTCHA, signifying the possible need to modify their sites in response to this change.

Reports began to surface of blind people locked out of Twitter’s account creation process. Investigating, Blind Access Journal opened the urgent support ticket 329388 with Twitter’s technical support team on May 28.

“Please resolve this because, as it stands right now, some people are being locked out solely because they’re blind / visually impaired,” Darrell Shandrow stated as part of the request for assistance.

On June 3, the support ticket was closed and removed with the statement “Twitter is a free service, and while we try to provide as much help as we can, we can’t get to every email”. A subsequent request for follow up went unanswered.

On Friday, Twitter underwent an evening maintenance window lasting approximately one hour. Shortly after, an update appeared on the Twitter Status site “The maintenance was successful and we are back up!”

Early Saturday morning, Mika Pyyhkala (pyyhkala) reported “the audio captcha for the Twitter sign up process has been fixed and works now!”

Twitter has made no statement regarding the audio CAPTCHA or any other issues that may have been resolved in Friday’s maintenance downtime.

“Unfortunately it was a very frustrating issue for a lot of people who couldn’t get beyond it,” said Larry Gassman (Lgsinger).

Visual Verification: Twitter Audio CAPTCHA Issues Likely Resolved – Please Retest

September 2, 2007 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

The reCAPTCHA folks have been hard at work over this Labor Day weekend chasing down the issues with their audio CAPTCHA implementations in secured forms with Internet Explorer 7.0. Please retest the Twitter audio CAPTCHA and submit your feedback as soon as possible. Let’s also be sure to show our appreciation to the reCAPTCHA team for going far above and beyond the call of duty to resolve this critical issue over a holiday weekend!

Visual Verification: Trouble with Audio CAPTCHA on Twitter

August 30, 2007 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

We have received numerous reports from blind users who are unable to use Twitter’s audio CAPTCHA for the past several days. We ask as many of you as possible to visit Twitter, try the audio CAPTCHA and report your results in this ticket opened with Twitter’s customer support team. If you’re already signed into Twitter, it will be necessary to sign out in order to try the audio CAPTCHA again.