Written by Jake Joehl
My name is Jake, and I can’t use Facebook.
I don’t mean this in the sense that I don’t know how to use Facebook. I don’t mean that I can’t find the time, or that I don’t quite see the value of the site. I don’t work someplace where access is barred, and my traditions don’t say I’m not allowed. No, what I mean is I physically cannot use Facebook because I am blind. And, with Facebook enjoying half-a-billion users worldwide and an estimated value of $30-80 billion, I am pissed off to be left out.
Don’t get me wrong: I have a Facebook account. I’ve been a member for a little over a year, but I must use the mobile site (have a look, I’m told it’s a completely stripped-down experience compared to the full site). I first joined, like so many users, after receiving an email from my friend Ted asking me to “friend” him on Facebook. I admit I was rather skeptical when I first heard about Facebook because I didn’t think it would be accessible with my screen reader. Unfortunately I was right…for the most part.
The trouble started during the registration process. I was able to complete much of the registration by myself; however, I was tripped by the CAPTCHA. Although Facebook provided an audio alternative, these are very typically a struggle. Luckily, my life-skills tutor was able to submit my registration and propel me on my way to learning about the various features of this hugely popular social network. Next up, navigation. Using my arrow keys, I explored the mobile Facebook site. But imagine my experience: close your eyes and think of your favorite website. All the content and links are being read aloud to you. At every new page, you must orient yourself with spoken cues.
As I moved around the page, text, links, and the alt tags of page elements were pronounced, but there wasn’t enough information written into the page code to tell my screen reader the appropriate orientation info: the page was labeled only as “Home” and gave me few clues as to content. Actions I took were only partially labeled; after clicking the “confirm” button my screen reader read the text that said “You are now friends with…” and sometimes did not finish. Additionally, the main site tends to refresh itself frequently, prompting my screen reader to restart reading everything, or to approximate its location in the page incorrectly.
While I am able to do what passes for using Facebook, it is very much a second-rate experience. With all the brilliant minds and big wallets behind the service, I find this to be unacceptable. So come on, Mr. Zuckerberg, if you really want to “make the world a more open place”, open Facebook up to people of all abilities.