What is Switch Access Facebook?

What is switch access?

Switch access is a technology that grants physically impaired people the ability to interact with other objects, including toys, games, and interfaces.  Switch access comes in a multitude of forms with all of them having an “on” and “off” stage.  A simple example is two buttons connected to a device.  One button means “on” while the other button means “off,” and depending on which button is pressed, the device will act upon it.  The majority of people who use switch access have difficulties using a keyboard and mouse.

How does your program use switch access?

Ultimately, my program is a Chrome extension(anyone using Chrome may download it for free) that allows switch access users to interact with their friends through Facebook by adding a switch accessible panel to the top of the Facebook page.  Specifically, it enables users to scroll through posts and like or comment on them if desired.  The extension comes with some pre-made comments for users to choose from, but also allows users to add their own comments.  When adding comments, the user has two options, either someone can type in their comment for them, or they can use the switch accessible keyboard implemented to create their own comment.  This feature allows for more independence and privacy.  These custom comments are saved and users can access them in the future.  However, if the user would like to permanently delete the custom comment, there is also an option for that.  The entire program allows for these choices to be made using the left and right arrows on the keyboard, with left being “yes” and right being “no.”  One using this extension would connect their buttons to the left and right arrow keys on the keyboard. Additionally, there is a one button version in which users are able to input a timer for the program to automatically scroll through options. When the program is on the desired position, they press their one button which will choose the position.

Why did you make this?

There are many reasons as to why I made Switch Access Facebook, but what really inspired me is my love for computer science and my brother.  My brother was diagnosed with Autism when I was much younger, meaning I grew up with him and saw all the obstacles he faced.  One of the main problems he  encountered was social interaction.   He longed for some connection, any connection, with another person, but would always have trouble just saying “Hi” back in the hallways.   It pained me to see him cry at night because he felt as if he would never get any real friends.  Because of this, i can’t stand to think about all the other people in the world who just want to say “Hi” and physically can’t.  Maybe they can’t talk, or maybe they barely leave their house, but allowing them to use Facebook is more than just that.  It allows them to be apart of their friends’ lives. It allows them to just say “Hi” back.

Before this summer, all I knew was Java.  But I was determined to do something with computer science, so I applied to a summer research program known as SMART.  The beginning of my research was making creative websites switch accessible, but I had no clue how to do that.   All I knew was that I needed to learn HTML, CSS, JavaScript and do a lot of research.  In less than a month, I produced code that made those websites switch accessible.  It was a lot of banging my head into a wall because I forgot a semicolon or didn’t close a string with a quote, but it was worth it.  Once my PI, Gary Bishop, suggested making Facebook switch accessible, I was all for it.  I felt like this project was going to be boss character in the end of a video game.  Through sleepless nights and tons of coffee, I did it.  Although, I must say, making Switch Access Facebook gave me much more gratification than defeating any boss at the end of a game.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Dr. Gary Bishop for being my wonderful Faculty Advisor and supporting me every step of the way.  He has taught me more than I could imagine and has been a true inspiration. This project was made possible (in part) by support from the Office for Undergraduate Research at UNC-Chapel Hill.