Posted on March 6th, 2015 by Beth Finke
I’m blind, and I don’t go on Facebook very regularly. Navigating through all those buttons and links and menus and edit boxes with a screen reader is very time-consuming, especially when you consider the reward at the end: A few funny posts, but mostly photos…and I can’t see them.
So I was pretty excited when my boss here at Easter Seals forwarded me a story in Wired about efforts by Facebook’s “Accessibility Team” to make the site more user-friendly to those of us who can’t see. Facebook’s Jeff Wieland founded the Facebook Accessibility team in 2011, and the Wired story was called “Meet the Team That Makes It Possible for the Blind to Use Facebook”. I was hoping it might be about Facebook coming up with an alternative website for blind users, one with fewer bells and whistles, or that maybe Facebook had decided they wouldn’t put apps or updates on their site until they’ve gone through a quality assurance process to make sure they meet accessibility standards.
But alas, the article was a disappointment. It focused on a speech-synthesizer program called VoiceOver, which is not a Facebook product at all. VoiceOver is a built-in screen access program that’s built into all Apple products. It’s fantastic, and I’ve been using it on my iPhone for years. It’s an Apple app, and it’s old news
The article was written by Cade Metz, and he only refers to one single blind Facebook user — a woman named Jessie Lorenz — in the piece. She speaks for all of us, I guess. An excerpt:
In letting her read and write on the social network, Voiceover and other tools provide a wonderfully immediate way to interact with people both near and far.
The story said Lorenz is one of about 50,000 people who actively use Facebook through Apple Voiceover, but it never referenced where it got that number, or how successful those 50,000 people are in their attempts to use the site. It also claimed “tens of thousands” of people who are deaf, or can’t use computer keyboards or mice or touchscreens use closed captioning, mouth-controlled joysticks, and other tools to access Facebook, but again, no reference to where the author got that number, either.
The writer said that some of the tools people with disabilities use to access Facebook come from other companies and plug into Facebook, but after he says that some are “built into Facebook,” the only built-into-Facebook accessibility tool he describes is one they’d developed to help with photos.
“Now, together with tools like Voiceover, Facebook can tell the blind when a photo was taken (based on meta-data uploaded with the photo) or who’s in it (based on tags from users).”
I haven’t heard descriptions like these when I go to the Facebook site, and I’m guessing that’s because I do that with another speech synthesizer –JAWS –on my PC. I’m not sure how many blind computer users use JAWS, but if I were this reporter, I suppose I could just say tens of thousands. The reporter would have learned about JAWS and other speech synthesizers if he’d interviewed a few other blind computer users besides Jessie Lorenz, and hey, even she had reservations about Facebook’s Accessibility Team. “Despite recent changes made by Wieland and team, Lorenz says Facebook still doesn’t give her much info on photos.”