Taking On Bullying with the ‘Sit With Us’ App

By Tracey Dowdy

Raise your hand if your middle school years were amazing, you were overflowing with self-confidence about your appearance, you fit in with all the cool kids and you loved being the center of attention.

Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

I know, I know, not everyone hates middle school. Maybe those elementary years were worse for you or maybe you struggled in high school. The bottom line is that for a lot of kids, there’s a time when fitting in and making friends is a struggle, and there’s nowhere that’s more evident than the school lunch room. Enter “Sit With Us”, the app that’s designed to ensure nobody has to eat lunch alone.

Creator Natalie Hampton was inspired to create the app after she spent all of seventh grade eating lunch by herself. She remembers the awkwardness and embarrassment of being turned away when she asked to sit with other students and she says the isolation made her vulnerable to bullying. Her experiences left her feeling depressed, stressed out, and eventually she had to be hospitalized as a result. “I was a shell of the person I once was. When I walked into a classroom, I was planning an escape route,” she says.

Hampton is now an eleventh grader and attends a different school but she’s not forgotten what if felt like to be an outsider. “I felt that if I was thriving in a new school but didn’t do anything about the people who feel like this every single day, then I’m just as bad as the people who watched me eat alone.”

Sit With Us enables students to easily – and discretely – find a friendly place to sit at lunch. Because it’s based on an app, students don’t have to deal with the embarrassment or awkwardness of being rejected or told “You can’t sit with us.”

Kids simply download the app, sign in with Facebook or email, decide if they want to be an Ambassador or participant (you can change your mind later) and then add friends to complete their profile. Students can then search for events or create one of their own.

Students can start a Sit With Us Chapter of Ambassadors at their school by downloading a Welcome Packet on the Sit With Us website.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Just How Safe Are You When You Go Online?

By Megan Valente

I’d say that my bed is easily my favorite place in the world. It’s where I get a lot of my work done, a good night’s sleep, and binge watch all of my Netflix. However, I’ve slowly come to realize over the years that I might not even be safe in my own room. People can remotely access all of your information that you unknowingly give out online, even if you’re innocently clicking away at your keyboard in the comfort of your own room. Take a few extra steps to stay safe this holiday season:

Keep your public life private. Yes it is ironic, but also extremely important. Someone can easily click onto your social media page and know everything about you and your family within the first 120 seconds. They can see your friends, where you went to school, your interests, and where/when you travel if you like to ‘check-in’ to places. Hmm, that’s not creepy at all.

Once upon a time, all of my passwords were the same. It wasn’t until I got an email from a company telling me someone was trying to hack my accounts that I realized how dangerous that was. A great method to create a good password is to come up with a sentence you’ll remember, but only use the first letter of each word. Now all of my passwords are unique and secure, Just make sure to write them down so you don’t forget them all like I did!

Apparently webcam hacking is a thing, but this scares me the least of all. Go ahead, hack into my webcam. All you’ll see is me aggressively staring at my screen for hours, writing a paper or crying about said paper. But if you do actually care about that sort of thing, webcam covers are sold and suggested. If you don’t want to spend the money on that, you can even use part of a sticky note. Pick a neon color to add some style to your safety!

You shouldn’t only be worrying about the unflattering double-chin photo you were tagged in last week. Someone can type your name at random into the search bar and find out what you look like, who your friends are (by who is in the photo), and countless other things about you. A picture is worth a thousand words, so make sure you know what those words say before posting anything online.

Public Internet
You know that little pop-up notice about a server not being secure on a w-fi network? Everyone I know quickly dismisses it so they can log onto their Facebook page faster, but it is indeed there for a reason. As much as I don’t care about someone seeing that I’m looking at pictures of dogs on public Wi-Fi, I do care when I pull things up with sensitive information. There is a time and a place for everything, so do your e-banking at home.

Are we really as safe as we would like to think? Don’t let someone steal your identity because you didn’t set some time aside to protect yourself. May your passwords be strong, your Wi-Fi secure, and your bed as safe as ever!

Megan Valente is a lifestyle blogger and barista and is currently attending Montclair State University. Follow her on Twitter at @TheDayILived


Making Accessibility a Priority in a Tech-Driven World

By Tracey Dowdy

One in seven individuals worldwide has some form of disability – that’s roughly seven billion people. In a technology driven world, that should translate to ease of accessibility for many of those individuals. After all, companies are required by law to make their services and apps available to all people regardless of ability.

In reality, it’s an often overlooked area but recent trends indicate a paradigm shift with more and more big companies seeing and responding to the need.

Yahoo requires all new employees take an accessibility training workshop. Mike Shebanek, Senior Director of Yahoo’s Accessibility Team, states, “You can come in with a computer science degree, an engineering degree, a software design degree, you probably won’t have heard of accessibility,” he said. “People are coming to work in this field not realizing the need to do this work, and how to do this work.” By wearing goggles that simulate color blindness or gloves with fused fingers to simulate a lack of fine motor skills, employees get a real-world understanding of how limiting rather than liberating technology can be.

Assistive technology isn’t new. Shebanek was part of the team that developed VoiceOver for Mac that makes many apps and features available for individuals with vision or other impairments. Apple has always been at the forefront of accessibility tech and was awarded The American Foundation for the Blind Helen Keller Achievement Award in 2015 for “breakthroughs in accessible technology.”

Facebook has also seen the need and they too have added automatic alt-text for iOS, software designed to recognize and caption objects and scenes in photos. That may not seem innovative but for the visually impaired it means they can scroll through their newsfeed and know what’s in the photos their friends have posted without waiting for others to comment or caption. It’s not perfect – the caption may be vague as in “this photo may contain the ocean” – but the company is working on taking facial and object recognition to the next level.

“Automatic alternative text is the first step and focuses on object recognition, but in time we hope to include other technology like facial recognition, so that blind people have the same experience on Facebook that sighted people do,” wrote Matt King, accessibility specialist at Facebook. “Our goal isn’t to generate extremely long and detailed descriptions, but instead to provide enough of a description to enable blind users to ask the system for the additional details that they would like. We envision that someday, we’ll have developed a way for people to ‘interrogate’ photos in order to derive the information they believe most important.”

Twitter introduced alt-text last year to allow users to upload alt-text images, making their newsfeed accessible to the visually impaired and, although there is still much to be done, it’s encouraging to see industry leaders make accessibility a priority.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.