Podcast Episode 10 - Facebook Accessibility: A Year Of Progress

the IAP Your Accessibility Podcast

This week on the IAP, we talk about Facebook and the last year of accessibility improvements on the site.

Show Notes & Links


Announcer: This is the IAP - Interactive Accessibility Podcast with Mike Guill and Mark Miller. Introducing Mike Guill and Mark Miller.

Mark Miller: I'm Mark Miller and this is accessibility specialist Mike Guill and this is your accessibility podcast. Do us a favor, if you're enjoying the IAP: share it, tell someone about it, hey, even link to it from your accessible website.

Mark: Hey Mike how you doin?

Mike Guill: Great Mark, how you doin' this week?

Mark: Good! So, you've searched long and hard... the Twitter archives and come up with another good topic here about Facebook.

Mike: Yeah I couldn't let you do two weeks in a row of your own article.

Mark: That's right, once is enough. Maybe like another ten podcasts I'll...

Mike: No, man, you gotta get more... last week's was a great article, though. Find more of those.

Mark: So that's why... I'm I'm lower quantity, higher quality. How's that?

Mike: Okay I'll give you... you've got me there...

Mark: Nah, your quality is fine. So this was on Facebook and I love this discussion because Facebook is the ten thousand-pound gorilla out there on the web, and if these guys can focus on accessibility and if these guys can continually make what's already a crazy popular product better and better and better and better, I think that that is a great way to lead by example for the rest of the business community, the social community, all of it. The web community in general, right?

Mike: Yeah. I'll tell you what I like about it is that a lot of these changes that we've seen happen to Facebook... happening to Facebook with regard to accessibility have been transparent to the average user.

Mark: Okay.

Mike: Okay? And the reason I like that so much...

Mark: Which is a great point Mike, because in a few podcasts back we discussed... you're always discussing how you want accessibility just to be the way that people operate and one the biggest fear is that you're gonna change your beautiful look and feel. Right?

Mike: That's right. Yes.

Mark: So if you don't know it's happening on Facebook, that's a good indication that you don't have to change a look and feel.

Mike: Yeah, Facebook is an enormously complex site and system, they're, you know, however they have it set up in the framework... I mean, it's not, you know... it's not like just the same Facebook of say, five years ago...

Mark: Mmm hmm...

Mike: it's exceptionally complex and I get that sites they're like this have a lot love problems that are difficult to overcome because of the way that they're, you know, built. So I know that it's no small task to address some accessibility issues. However, if Facebook can do it and make most if it transparent to the average user, then really anyone can do it .

Mark: Right. Even you.

Mike: [laughs] Even me.

Mark: So, I i've got a question for you because... we're talking about an article on media access Australia that you've pulled up here about Facebook accessibility and what's happened over the past year and they talk a lot about what they've done with photos, what they've done with navigation... and as I read through this as somebody who knows accessibility at least on the surface level (I'm not down in the code level, like you) it kinda makes sense. But then when I think about it, you know, it really make sense to me that an image on a web page that conveys information needs and alt tag that conveys the same information and if the image is decorative it needs nothing. Right, or it needs to be coded properly, but it doesn't need information in there, right? Alt equals quote quote. So my question to you is Facebook is nothing but this big crazy mess of photographs (right?) that I put on there, that you put on there, that we link to that show up on our feed. It's images all over the place and and images are very predominant because of the way they quickly convey information to visual person or a person with sight, so tell me a little bit about how you turn that nuttiness into accessible images.

Mike: Well, first of all I have a confession to make, and that is that I haven't gone and looked at the code that makes the Facebook photos more accessible lately. So, I don't really know what it is they're doing. You know, let's put that the show notes as that as an extra thing, extra benefit.

Mark: OK

Mike: But I can tell you is that just programmatically what they're probably able to do is take the information that you're giving as a user, and structuring it into the photo in a way that assistive technology can get to it so whether they're doing that using an alt attribute or maybe some ARIA markup, I'm not sure, but the point is that you type in you know...

Mark: They're making it available for you to do that

Mike: Yeah, so...

Mark: I'm curious about the feed, is that just not possible in the feed, you know all those little a memes and stuff that come up and we look at and we go "ahh, that's funny, and I'm gonna share it out" - do those just remain inaccessible because that is user entered content that is not entered accessibly?

Mike: Yeah, that's the point... so if you put in the photograph and you put a nice caption or title or something to it and maybe you tag a couple friends

Mark: Mmm hmm...

Mike: ... then Facebook's gonna pick up on that. If you tagged a couple people it'll say you know "Mark Miller's photo of" and then in parentheses it will say "Michael Guill and So-and-So" and a few other folks... you know that's how it's announced in assistive tech...

Mark: Gotcha.

Mike: ... but if you don't put any of that, if you just throw a picture up with no title, no caption, no tags, it's gonna say "Mark Miller's photo."

Mark: So you think there's a bit of intelligence going on in there where it can use tags and comments and stuff like that to to glean...

Mike: Right.

Mark: ... what's probably the relevant information.

Mike: So, ideally, if your gonna post something that has... let's say you were gonna post something on Facebook that has text in the picture like a meme or something. You know, you like to share pictures of your cats with funny things on the pictures: that's cool but you might wanna throw in a little caption under the photo that says what the image represents and what it says if you wanna make it accessible

Mark: Yeah, well and which which kinda leads me to another thing because I am you know, I wonder how, as accessibility becomes more and more mainstream I wonder if you're going to get people sort of thinking that way... and I'm gonna give a little teaser here that you have coming up on the Interactive Accessibility website, a blog post, which may post tomorrow which would be September 12th, and that talks about how to make infographics which are widely popular in this kind of a social media format because of how quickly they convey information but again, to sighted users and... your article's all about how to make those accessible so they convey information really quickly to people who are using screen readers and that kinda thing, right?

Mike: Right.

Mark: So that's going to be there I think this kind of an interesting tie between those two things, but it makes me wonder if people are going to start doing that: creating infographics that are more accessible, making regular pictures and social pictures and stuff like that more accessible... or at least the people that know that they're broadcasting that to and an audience that may have people with disabilities in it. You know what I mean? If that's within their you know they know within their friend group at this people with disabilities if that'll cause them to be...

Mike: This is just my opinion, but I think that there's gonna be a lot of pressure on designers to start building infographics in a way that they can be consumed on mobile devices because those things are so shareable like you want to show them around, you know, you want to pass those things around. They're so cool they give a lot of information very quickly to... normally, the picture is for sighted users... you know, our brains process that information really quickly when we can see it shown in the graphic depicted insert or using a pie chart or what it whatever the case is. Especially when it comes to comparisons or numbers that we can't really comprehend easily. Gigantic members... you know, the first thing I think of is in science: Avogadro's Number. It's this huge number that you can't wrap your brain around, but if you imagine the number of ping pong balls it takes to fill up a football stadium or whatever... that kind of thing... so you an infographic does that for you in a picture and helps people. But in the future there's gonna be... there has to be... a lot of pressure to make those things consumable on mobile devices

Mark: well in that ...

Mike: when I look my phone and I see somebody sharing an infographic on Facebook and I want to look at it I just don't even... I don't bother. I give up, because I'm gonna spend all day pinching and zooming.

Mark: And a point that you've made, and maybe a point that I'm letting out of the bag before your blog post goes up, but a point that you've made is that if you're trying to create something like an infographic that conveys that information and you obviously... if you create it you want it to go viral, right? You're not creating it so that your one buddy looks at it and and then deletes it, right? You know, I mean maybe that's where you get your feedback is he calls you up and makes fun of you for making the infographic, I don't know.

Mark & Mike: [laughing]

Mark: It's not just for your your buddy Ray (like, who cares about him?) it's to go viral... you want you want it to be shot off to other people (and other people and other people) and if you're gonna make it go viral, doesn't it make sense to make it accessible to everyone? I mean isn't that the nature of viral?

Mike: oh yeah, that's the point. I totally agree... I mean, as a designer, all I want to do is get a big pat on the back, you know?

Mark: right

Mike: "Hey, that's really cool."

Mark: yeah I'm gonna pat you on the back, right? But it's not gonna go viral. I mean, it may go viral, you know, but it can go more viral if it's more accessible. And then, of course, this is off the Facebook topic, but you're talking about search engines and all that kinda thing being able to find it.

Mike: well and that's the point that I was trying to make is that... the infographic being more accessible is not... I'm not just talking about people who have a disability (visual disability, yeah, or a cognitive disability). I'm talking about mobile users, I'm talking about low bandwidth users. Everybody.

Mark: And nobody, you know, we... again going back to the architectural example that we always go to nobody I don't think guessed in the early days of the eighties that these accessible features were gonna end up being a benefit to society in general but they were in a way that we couldn't necessarily predict or see until they were in place I think we've got a lot of that that's gonna continue to happen with digital accessibility we don't even fully have our arms around what a benefit everything could be I mean we know a lot but but not everything you know because we haven't we haven't seen it out there in in force yet but I think that... with Facebook moving in that direction I mean this is a huge step and this is gonna start to sort of show us how accessibility can benefit not just people with disabilities but everybody on a mass level

Mike: well and at some point it's gotta benefit everybody because we live in an age right now where where the... you know a very high percentage of the population and at least in the US is plugged in. And plugged into technology: laptops, tablets, mobile phones, all that. What happens to us as we age? Are we just gonna stop using Facebook?

Mark: exactly yeah and that's what we have this generation wants their social electronics... they love it I mean... they they've already dragged into the business world with with things like Salesforce which is essentially a CRM and social media platform mushed together. They're not gonna go and play cribbage...

Mike: our generation as a population is going to experience some level of disability as we age. It could be sight, it could be hearing, it could be whatever, and we're not going to want to give up our iPad, and Facebook, and Pinterest, and Instagram, and Twitter, and all that, you know?

Mark: No, I want to be able to tweet about my cribbage game, even if I can't see. In the recreation center of the old folks home.

Mike: yeah, I want to be able to text, you know, text my daughter still and say "bring me more pudding."

Mark & Mike: [laughing]

Mark: Right, or, "winning... at bridge" - that's... Charlie Sheen's gonna be that one, right? "Winning... at bridge"

Mark & Mike: [laughing]

Mark: With his with his Captain and Coke or whatever he's downgraded to in his old age.

Mike: Too funny

Mark: Well, we gotta wrap it up once again. So, thanks Mike

Mike: yeah

Mark: Appreciate it, and I will talk to you on the next IAP

Mike: sounds good

Mark: This is Mark Miller

Mike: and this is my Mike Guill

Mark: reminding you to keep it accessible.

Announcer: The IAP - Interactive Accessibility Podcast brought to you by Interactive Accessibility, the accessibility experts. You can find their Access Matters Blog at Interactiveaccessibility.com/blog


Share This Post