Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Facebook and JAWS

Facebook is one of the giants of social networking. I spent a happy half hour or so attempting not to look at my computer screen and instead listen to the delightful sounds of "Daniel" (he's my favourite voice, not unlike Cary Grant, if he'd been a computer) telling me what I was navigating through. It's interesting not being able to see it and have to rely on other senses instead and it threw up some interesting points:

  1. There's an awful lot of tables in Facebook. All those different boxes on the page with friend information, the Wall, the feed list, they're all tables. I'm not terribly au fait with accessing tables with JAWS, but it got quite annoying (I have my verbosity settings high) after a while.

  2. I am not a number!! There is, as some of you may be aware, nothing in the way of alt text for the pictures, instead it reads as a very long number. In effect you get a link to a person's profile through the picture, but you don't know who the person is because it's just a number....

  3. There's lots in the way of duplicate links on the page, because of the links on the feed, the Wall and Friends list. Hitting Ins+F7 gives a very very very long list indeed (often with many many numbers!)!

  4. When I put JAWS in "Say All" mode, it read from left to right across the page from the applications links, skipping out the picture in the middle to read the personal information. On a friend's page this made for very strange reading - going from "Events" to hearing what their religious convictions were!

I'm a novice JAWS user and maybe regular users would navigate round it quicker. On the other hand, not all assistive technology users are expert (think about how many people don't know how to use Word correctly but use it every day!) but most websites are easier to navigate because they are less dynamic and tend to have a more linear structure (if they're written correctly!). It wasn't impossible to navigate around the page, but it was quirky.

There's a lot to be said for social networking. I make use of it and I certainly do not wish to halt its progress, but I would like to see it easier to use for those who rely on assistive technology.

There are a some accessibility groups on F'book who are trying to improve the situation:

There are various other reports:

The BBC's accessibility blog had an interesting point to make "we all need to consider ourselves as TAB (Temporarily Able Bodied) and then design accordingly. " It's good practice and I'd highly recommend any web developers to have some basic knowledge of screenreaders and take the time to hear how a website or application "sounds".


Emma said...

Great post Ruth. As a web designer I do think about accessibility but am not sure I know enough to get it right all the time. Although it is my mission to avoid tables at all costs.

I was reading this post yesterday and it got me thinking about how accessible all of these embedded widgets are. I guess you'd find problems similar to those you encountered on Facebook which appears to me like a page with multiple widgets embedded.

Ruth said...

I think the more you think about your information and try to keep it simple (let's face it, it's what everyone wants!), with good contrast, easy to follow links and you're half way there.

There's loads of information online if you want some links and some good websites to look at.

Ron Graham said...

Hi Ruth,

Thank you for taking the perspective of those of us who rely on assistive technology to gateher information and make contact with the world through the computer.

I am totally blind and have been a JAWS user for more than 10 years. It has been nice to see JAWS evolve to make use of the ever-dynamic web. As the web has changed, offering a richer experience, including the progression to Web 2.0, accessibility has often seemed like an afterthought on many sites. I often find myself acting as a disability rights advocate with webmasters. I know that, for the most part, there is no ill will on inaccessible design. Its just that they didn’t think about it before creating inaccessible material.

It has been mostly worthwhile to interact with various webmasters, who are almost always willing to do what is needed to make material accessible. However, when dealing with larger sites/corporations, that has not been my experience.

One of the biggest headaches with using a screen reader is the use of inaccessible CAPTCHA. The worst part is that the sites who employ this don’t usually acknowledge the correspondence. Yahoo is on the top of my list of worst offenders here, as it is for many blind people.

CAPTCHA alternatives exist and once made aware of these, it just makes sense to do the right thing.

I’ve not ventured into Facebook. I had my fill trying to maneuver around myspace and getting hit with so much inaccessible content. Thank you for looking there and appreciating the screen reader perspective.