Facebook is working with the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) to make its social-networking service more accessible to users who are blind or visually impaired. The non-profit organization’s president and CEO, Carl Augusto, made this initiative a priority after finding that he and others with sight impairments had difficulties updating their profiles and using the site. Augusto, a self-described music fan who played in two garage bands when he was younger, uses Facebook to connect with former band members and fans.
People who are blind or visually impaired can use computers with a screen magnification program that enlarges fonts, 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. Facebook presents some unique challenges because images and photos are are rarely described with a text caption, and the myriad of pages, comments and links can throw off even the most sophisticated screen reader.
AFB first approached Facebook two years ago to discuss the accessibility issues of its pages and applications. Augusto said that from his very first interaction with Facebook, they were “responsive to our feedback and committed to finding solutions to these problems.” Today, Facebook has an accessibility-specific help center to channel feedback from the disability community and provide instructional tips on using assistive technology. Facebook is also working with AFB on design changes. Still, Augusto admits the ultimate goal — full accessibility for vision impaired users — is “far from being attained.”
Facebook is the most active site in the social-networking community in addressing accessibility issues. Google also takes accessibility issues very seriously. For example, Google is experimenting with a custom search engine and a touch-screen phone for blind or visually challenged users.