What is Facebook?

Facebook is a popular social networking tool that allows users to create a personal profile, add other users as friends, exchange messages, and share information and media. Facebook also allows members to participate in interest groups, follow particular organisations and play simple online games.

As reported by Social Media News Australia in early 2016, Facebook remains Australia’s most popular social media tool with approximately 15 million users locally and over 1 billion daily users worldwide.

Why try Facebook?

Facebook is all about personal interaction – people use it to keep in touch with friends. You can let people know what you’re doing, read messages from one another, share photos, chat and even play games together. It is an important method of sharing information amongst people you know. You can search Facebook and ask people to be your friend, and likewise others can find you. Businesses and organisations also use Facebook to promote and build a community around their brands via Pages which members can ‘like’ to stay updated.

For people with disabilities, social interaction on Facebook can be especially beneficial. For people who have a vision or mobility impairment, it is often difficult to travel to see a friend, and Facebook can provide a quick and easy way to communicate and share information without the need for travel. For people who are hearing impaired, Facebook can be an effective communication platform as most of its key features do not have an audio component.

Additionally, Facebook can provide great community support for people with disabilities. There are many online community groups within Facebook that allow you to communicate with other people with disabilities to provide support or share information that can help overcome disability-related issues.

Facebook features

Here’s a quick tour of the most common Facebook features:

  • Profile: your profile contains the personal information that you would like to share with your friends.
  • Friend search: find your friends on Facebook and add them to your contacts.
  • Timeline: your personal profile page, with all your activities listed from the most recent dating back to the time you joined Facebook.
  • News feed: part of the home page that is constantly updating a list of stories from friends and Pages that you follow.
  • Poke and message features: if you want to alert a friend that you are using Facebook, you can do so using the Poke option. When you poke someone, they will receive a notification. There is also a message option which your friend can view
  • Chat: it is also possible to send real-time instant messages to friends who are online through the Chat function.

Facebook accessibility status

Prior to 2008, the Facebook website was generally considered inaccessible. However, through 2008 and 2009, Facebook worked in conjunction with the American Foundation for the Blind to improve the accessibility of Facebook.

In recent years, the accessibility of Facebook has improved significantly for people with disabilities. Facebook now has a dedicated accessibility team which supports both users and other Facebook staff members. Facebook has also committed to ensuring their web presence, iOS and Android apps are updated on a fortnightly basis. As a result, accessibility issues are generally addressed quickly. The addition of ARIA landmarks on the Facebook website has also significantly improved navigation for screen reader users.

However, despite the improvements, there are still some accessibility issues present. Fortunately many of these issues can be overcome.

Overcoming Facebook accessibility issues: tips and tricks

The research conducted by Media Access Australia and feedback from Facebook users has provided a number of accessibility tips to help you get your Facebook account up and running in an accessible way.

Mobile Facebook website

While the main website has improved greatly in recent times, many blind and vision impaired users have recommended using the mobile website as an alternative. The web address for the mobile site is m.facebook.com. You can sign up to the mobile website which provides basic Facebook functions through an HTML only interface. It is important to note though that while the mobile website is generally considered more accessible it only provides basic profile editing, messaging, posts and friend searching options.

Using an app instead of the website

Media Access Australia has tested a number of Facebook apps on iOS devices such as the iPhone and iPad, and Android devices. Based on our testing and user feedback, the default Facebook app on iOS works well. On Android the Metal app provides a lightweight and accessible interface for both Facebook and Twitter.

Automated alternative text in iOS app

Facebook has launched a feature based on image recognition to provide Automatic Alternative Text (AAT) for uploaded photos. The AAT is able to identify features such as the number of people in a photo, their facial expressions, weather and objects, providing alternative text examples such as ‘three people smiling next to a car’. While helpful, the feature is currently only available for English users of the iOS app.

Messenger.com alternative portal

An alternative to the messenger side of Facebook is messenger.com which may be a quick and accessible alternative for sending Facebook messages.

Additional keyboard shortcuts

The Facebook website has a number of additional keyboard shortcuts that let you quickly navigate between the Help, Home, Profile, Friends, Inbox, Notifications, Account Settings, Privacy and About sections. The keyboard shortcuts vary slightly between web browsers.

Finding friends if you can’t see their photo

A number of people who are blind or vision impaired have provided tips on how to find friends if you are unable to see their photo. Firstly, when you search for a name, it is likely that the first search results will be people who live closest to you or with whom you have friends in common and are therefore more likely to be the correct person. There is also often information relating to the city and country where the person lives which can also be helpful.

Adding a caption to Facebook photos

For people who are blind or vision impaired, adding a caption to a photo will enable screen readers to read out information about the photo.

Adding closed captions to a Facebook video

For people who are Deaf or hearing impaired accessibility can be significantly improved by adding closed captions to a Facebook video.

Navigation landmarks

While some accessibility issues are present on the Facebook website, some navigation help is available if you are using a recent version of a screen reader and web browser. WAI-ARIA landmarks provide additional accessibility information, and the Facebook website has some WAI-ARIA landmarks set up. This means that a screen reader is likely to read out more information and provide additional help in navigating between the Facebook functions. Further information on WAI-ARIA and the screen readers that support it can be found in the digital technology section of the Media Access Australia website.

Facebook’s accessibility resources and contact information

Facebook has created an Accessibility team to provide support to assistive technology users including JAWS and ZoomText, and they can be contacted via the Facebook support website.

Further information can be found from these sources:

  • Select the ‘Help’ option by locating the drop-down arrow at the top right of any Facebook page, then selecting ‘Help’.
  • Facebook 101 from LearnFree.org.

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