Facebook Accessibility for Users with Visual Impairments: What Facebook Wants You to Know, by Bill Holton
Reprinted with permission from “AccessWorld,” vol. 16 no. 4, April 2015.
Facebook is an excellent way to keep in touch with friends and family. For users of computer and mobile access technologies, however, at times, there can be challenges. The company continuously evolves its products, which can introduce changes to screen-reader flow. So, in order to help readers more fully enjoy their Facebook experience, we are excited to offer the following information.
Thanks to consumer feedback, and working with several organizations, including the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), Facebook has taken accessibility to a whole new level. In July of 2011, the company formed the Facebook Accessibility Team to improve its support of accessibility across products. Recently, AccessWorld spoke with team founder Jeff Wieland and accessibility engineer Ramya Sethuraman, who offered us a top-10 list of things they’d like readers to know about Facebook’s accessibility program and products.
Facebook Offers Extensive Keyboard Navigation
For computer users who do not use a mouse, including most screen-reader users, the main Facebook web site makes extensive use of headings, landmarks, and lists, which can be easily navigated with your screen-reader navigation keys. Additionally, the main Facebook web site also offers an extensive roster of Access and Shortcut keys to help you navigate the site and quickly perform actions, such as liking, searching, and sharing.
“Access keys let you jump quickly from page to page [within Facebook] with a single key combination and without having to tab down to or search for the appropriate control,” says Wieland.
Key combinations vary by browser and/or system:
- Chrome for PC users combine the ALT key with the access keys listed below.
- IE users combine the ALT key with the access keys listed below, completing each command by pressing the Enter key.
- Firefox for PC users press Shift + ALT in combination with the access keys listed below.
- Mac users press Control + Option in combination with the command keys below.
Facebook Access Keys
- Home: 1
- Timeline: 2
- Friends: 3
- Inbox: 4
- Notifications: 5
- Settings: 6
- Activity Log: 7
- About: 8
- Terms: 9
- Help: 0
Much the same way as most screen readers offer single-key navigation shortcuts to help you quickly find your way around a web page, Facebook offers a number of single-key commands to perform various actions. Many of these shortcut keys conflict with browser keys, however, so for now, at least, you will have to either use your screen reader pass-through command, or turn off enhanced browser navigation (Forms Mode in JAWS, Focus Mode in NVDA, and Browser Mode in Window-Eyes).
“If you happen to be in an edit box, or on some other pop-up control, you may have to tab away or close the dialogue before using the shortcuts,” says Wieland.
Facebook News Feed Shortcuts
- Scroll forward through News Feed stories: j
- Scroll backward through News Feed stories: k
- See more of the selected story: Enter/Return
- Post a new status: p
- Like or unlike the selected story: l
- Comment on the selected story: c
- Share the selected story: s
- Open an attachment from the selected story: o
- Search: /
- Search chat contacts: q
- Open a list of these keyboard shortcuts while in News Feed: ?
Facebook Messenger Shortcuts
- Search conversations: CTRL + g
- Show/hide keyboard shortcuts: CTRL + q
- Archive/unarchive conversation: CTRL + Delete
- Mark as spam: CTRL + j
- Start a new message: CTRL + m
- Go to Inbox: CTRL + i
- Go to Other: CTRL + u
Facebook Is Making Photos and Videos More Accessible
“We’re still rolling out the Dynamic Alt Text Generator to more products that will improve the accessibility of both photos and videos,” says Wieland. “We gather all the metadata a user supplies and combine it to generate a caption that tells a more complete story about that.” This Facebook Design video shows voicing for photos and videos before and after Dynamic Alt Text captioning: https://www.facebook.com/accessibility/posts/441575089212506.
Check out the Mobile Apps for Facebook
Facebook offers a mobile site, but Wieland encourages iOS and Android screen-reader users to try the native apps for these operating systems. “We’ve put a lot of work into improving the accessibility of the Facebook and Facebook Messenger native apps, and in some cases we can build accessibility experiences in these applications we simply can't easily replicate on the web (like use of gestures),” he says.
When you have finished reading a timeline entry using the iOS app, for example, you can now perform a two-finger double-tap to summon a VoiceOver menu, which includes options to like the post, comment, turn on notifications, or indicate “I don’t want to see this” (which will hide the story). The two-finger scrub gesture also now works to close any pop-up or dialogue screen. The Facebook Messenger iOS app also now includes an action item on the rotor. Perform a one-finger swipe up to delete a message thread, mute a conversation, archive a conversation and more.
It's Easy to Contact Facebook
“Facebook offers several ways to get in touch with the Accessibility Team, and we love getting your feedback,” states Wieland. Users can like the Facebook Access for People with Disabilities page (https://www.facebook.com/accessibility) to stay up to date on accessibility work and improvements, visit the Facebook Accessibility Help Center (https://www.facebook.com/help/contact/169372943117927), and follow the Facebook Accessibility Team (@fbaccess) on Twitter. The Accessibility Help Center offers an accessibility bug report contact form where you can report accessibility issues.
Spreading the Accessibility Message to Other Facebook Employees
In October of 2014, the Accessibility Team launched an installation at Facebook Menlo Park, Calif. headquarters called the Empathy Lab. The lab is designed to showcase the different and various methods that people use to interact with Facebook and broaden the company’s understanding of how to build products that are both usable to those with limited bandwidth and accessible to screen-reader users.
“We’re hoping to give Facebook employees an idea of what it’s like to use Facebook with magnification or a screen reader. We do this with a collection of laptops and mobile devices which can only be used with a keyboard or using screen readers or on slow network connections,” says Ramya Sethuraman. “The installation has become so popular, we’re looking to expand it to other campuses so more members of the Facebook team can experience it.”
The Facebook Team Is Constantly Improving the Accessible Facebook Experience
Below Wieland outlines just a few of Facebook’s recent accessibility enhancements.
- You now have the ability to control font size in the iOS Messenger app.
- New VoiceOver gestures were added to help people more easily access the Delete, Mute, and More actions within iOS Messenger.
- New access keys were added to the mobile site.
- A “Skip to News Feed” link was added to Facebook for people using just the keyboard and screen readers to easily jump to the News Feed stories.
- We now support multilingual caption files for Facebook Videos so you can provide subtitles for all of your video content.
Facebook Will Keep You Updated
Every month the team posts a comprehensive review of the key accessibility changes and enhancements. You can find the February 2015 update at https://www.facebook.com/notes/facebook-accessibility/february-2015-mont.... The 2014 year in review is available at https://www.facebook.com/notes/facebook-accessibility/2014-year-in-revie....
“Follow our Facebook page so you don’t miss any future updates,” Wieland suggests. The URL is https://www.facebook.com/accessibility.
Facebook Wants Your Help
Facebook has a dedicated User Experience Research team that runs many different kinds of studies, including in-house usability studies and phone interviews with people who use their products.
“Our last round of accessibility usability testing focused on TalkBack with Facebook for Android,” relates Wieland.
If you would like to be considered for participation in future studies and getting paid for your feedback, send an e-mail to the accessibility research team, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Accessibility Beyond Facebook
“The Facebook Accessibility Team is passionate about making accessibility more mainstream, and one of our top priorities is to introduce accessibility to new audiences,” says Sethuraman. “For instance, last year we spoke at Stanford University to introduce students to writing accessible code. We also gave a talk on web accessibility basics at the Grace Hopper Conference.”
In addition, the Facebook Accessibility team actively consults and collaborates with various disability organizations. Notes Wieland, “Last year we sponsored and spoke at the American Foundation for the Blind's Leadership Conference. We also sponsored the American Council of the Blind’s summer conference in Las Vegas. We recently joined the American Association of People with Disabilities Tech Forum and are excited about collaborating with industry leaders on a range of accessibility related initiatives.”
For Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), Facebook hosted companies from the Bay Area for a round of lightning talks on accessibility implementations. Guests included the co-founders of GAAD, Jennison Asuncion and Joe Devon.
Facebook Is Hiring!
“We recently grew our dedicated accessibility engineering team, and we are still hiring,” says Wieland. “We are actively looking for an accessibility specialist.” You can read more about the position on Facebook’s careers page.