Investigating the Appropriateness of Social Network Question Asking as a Resource for Blind Users

As social networking sites (SNSs) have grown in popularity, more users are turning to their online social networks to seek answers to questions. These answers can be more personalized and trusted than answers coming from strangers, since members of your social network may know more about you than anonymous answerers on other sites.

Little is known about how blind people use SNSs, or view them as a resource for question-asking. Our research examined these questions through two distinct components – first, a large-scale online survey of blind people’s use of SNSs, and second, a smaller-scale field experiment examining motivations for SNS question-asking among blind users of the VizWiz Social application.

A Facebook newsfeed with a video clip and answers from friends in the comments
An example of a VizWiz Social question asked via Facebook. Answers are relayed back to the blind user’s phone.

Our large-scale survey of 191 blind participants found that, while many blind people are members of SNSs and consume content daily, they rarely post questions to the sites. Only about half of those surveyed said they thought SNS question-asking would be effective, or that they would feel comfortable posting questions. Some even limited their question-asking on SNSs, both for social reasons (eg. avoiding social costs of bothering friends) or practical reasons (eg. low response rates).

Our smaller-scale field experiment recruited users of VizWiz Social, a smartphone application that allows blind people to get answers to visual questions by having them snap a photograph, record a question about it, and send it to members of their social network or anonymous crowd workers.

We implemented financial limitations on the crowdsourced answers, which were previously free to VizWiz Social users. 23 users participated in the month-long experiment, but financial costs to answers did not motivate them to rely on free, friendsourced answers.

In a questionnaire after the field experiment, VizWiz Social users reported highly preferring crowdsourced responses for both social reasons (eg. preferring anonymity) and practical reasons (eg. speed of responses).

Through the combination of a large-scale online survey and a smaller-scale field experiment, we have found that blind people are reluctant to use SNSs for question-asking, even when presented with a financial motivation to do so.

For more, see our full paper, Investigating the Appropriateness of Social Network Question Asking as a Resource for Blind Users.
Erin Brady, ROCHCI @ University of Rochester
Yu Zhong, ROCHCI @ University of Rochester
Meredith Ringel Morris, Microsoft Research
Jeffrey Bigham, ROCHCI @ University of Rochester

About the author

Erin Brady

Graduate student in the ROCHCI lab at the University of Rochester, focused on using the combination of crowdsourcing and friendsourcing to help further accessibility.

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  • Really interesting work! Did you get a sense of the degree to which the blind users trusted the quality of the responses from the crowd?

    • From this study, no – we didn’t delve much into how the blind users trusted the crowd workers. In another study that I worked on with Michele A. Williams from UMBC, though, we learned that while blind users may start off hesitant of crowd workers, they can grow to trust them more if (a) the workers are volunteers, instead of being paid, and (b) if the quality of answers is good over time.

      If you’re interested in that at all, you can take a look at our other paper (, which Michele presented this fall at ASSETS. Thanks so much reading the post! :)