For most users, a Facebook home page is something behold. With a rich trove of content at their fingertips — from pictures to videos to Wall posts — people connect and communicate with their friends at astonishing speeds, and with incredible ease.
But that hasn’t been the case for all users — especially those who are blind or visually impaired. From the hurdles caused by visual verification tools (like CAPTCHA) to learning what’s happening in a photo their friends share with them, many users have missed out on the joys of the Facebook experience.
Far from neglecting these users, however, Facebook has worked with the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) to make the social network more accessible to those with visual disabilities, according to AFB’s president and CEO, Carl Augusto, who published a guest blog post on Facebook this week.
Wondering how blind users get around Facebook? Augusto figures you’re not alone.
“The answer is quite simple,” he wrote in his post. “People who are blind or visually impaired use a screen magnification program to enlarge fonts in order to optimize the screen for reading, or they use a screen reading program that reads the text aloud. These are quick, efficient and helpful solutions — that is, if the websites and computer programs are properly designed.”
On Facebook, blind and visually impaired users have been challenged by barriers both technological and human. For one, like many other websites, Facebook uses CAPTCHA as a means to prevent spam. CAPTCHA is a technology that generates random letters and words that users must enter to authenticate that they intend to sign up for the site or publish certain pieces of content.
Another problem has revolved around pictures. Unless Facebook users write descriptive captions, blind users miss out on what’s being presented in the photos friends share with them.
While it’s largely up to users to deal with the caption issue, Facebook has worked on the technology side to make its site work better with screen readers and other technologies that aid blind users’ overall experience. As Augusto mentioned in his post, Facebook has set up a help page for Accessibility and Assistive Technology.
So far, Facebook has helped blind or visually impaired users in the following ways:
- Facebook has provided an audio CAPTCHA, which allows a user with a screen reader to access the site.
- Because screen readers don’t handle web pages with more advanced computing codes as well, Facebook has a full HTML version of the site (which is the same as its mobile site: http://m.facebook.com).
- Facebook enables Facebook Chat to work with screen readers (using the pop-out function).
- Facebook has several shortcut keys to navigate to key areas of the site, such as the Home page and Profile.
Users without these sorts of challenges shouldn’t take the plethora of rich content they see everyday on Facebook for granted. They can help fellow Facebook users with visual disabilities by adding more descriptive captions and comments throughout the site.
For Facebook, though it appears the site has worked hard to remedy the technological hurdles for blind users, more work needs to be done. As an example, a blog post on AFB’s site noted the audio CAPTCHA doesn’t always work.
Thus far, however, it sounds like great strides have been taken to help make Facebook more accessible for everyone. To learn more of how you might help visually impaired Facebook users, visit AFB’s Facebook Cause Site.