Just the other week Facebook announced they were teaming up with Microsoft and Dropbox to make technology more accessible to people with disabilities. It might be prudent for Facebook to maybe sort out some accessibility problems of their own first in that case? I don’t use accessibility features on Facebook myself however over the past few months I have been talking regularly to Molly Watt over Twitter.
We spoke about Molly and her Apple Watch review when it was launched but in case you are unaware of her story, Molly has Usher Syndrome. She is deaf blind and has embraced technology to help her in every day life. Unfortunately, a platform that Molly has struggled with over time has been Facebook.
You can read Molly’s post in full at the following link below (and I would encourage you to do so – it is a very insightful read), here we are just going to address the main points she makes.
The Facebook app only allows a white background with black text which makes it hard for Molly to read. However, the thing that really confuses me is the fact that Facebook still do not support dynamic text in their main app. Oddly the text does enlarge in the Messenger app, however the font size in the flagship app is set to what Facebook dictates.
iOS has supported dynamic text for some time now, it is a setting which allows you to enlarge the system wide font of iOS (or make it smaller if you wish) however in order for apps to take advantage, the developers have to enable it in the app. It is bizarre that Facebook has still not enabled such a basic feature that would be required from a standpoint of using the app if you have certain accessibility needs.
The other thing that Facebook lacks is any kind of range of third party apps on the App Store. Now I’m not a developer so I don’t know if Facebook have made it hard to develop third party apps or if people simply don’t want to develop third party apps however compare to Twitter. Twitter has their main app and then there are a bunch of third party clients. Apps such as Twitterific, Echofon or Tweetbot allow for more accessibility options from the use of different fonts, changing the colour of the background between light and dark and also a range of font sizes. Even the main Twitter app supports dynamic text and has done so for a long time. Take note Facebook!
Facebook on the desktop is actually quite a noisy experience. The page splits into three columns which can make it hard for users with restricted vision to read and follow. Molly has to use the zoom functions on her Mac in order to see the content at all but again the colours prove to be an issue.
If you look at the Facebook page at the moment (I am looking at mine while typing this) you can see that there are a lot of areas where you have light grey text on a white background, hell if you look at the far left column under ‘your name’ and ‘edit profile’ you have headers such as, favourites, pages, apps, groups ect. These are grey on grey, grey text on a grey background!
I enlarged that screenshot from the original and it is still tiny…
Now it is not something that I have paid attention to until now, but I can see exactly why someone with restricted vision would struggle to read this. It is a God awful mess! Again Facebook runs into issues with text size, on the far left column the text is not only grey on grey in places but it is pretty small. The text attached to links when people share them to Facebook is tiny.
Oh and while we are at it, what is up with the tiny little pop up at the bottom of the screen when I want to use messenger on a desktop. Could they make the box any smaller? Sometimes I struggle with that one, so if I find it tough you can bet that others are getting a much harder ride than me.
One important issue that Molly does raise in her post too is that the settings is a tiny little arrow at the very top right of the page. Here it is next to the padlock…
Now this is very significant because in this settings menu we have important stuff such as the privacy settings. Facebook has been known to have privacy controversy in the past, they like to put on emphasis on privacy and about how we are in control of our own private settings.
Well this menu is so hard for users with restricted vision to get into and navigate through that users such as Molly need help setting her privacy settings, need we say much more? Not very “private” is it? When you start diving into the layouts, fonts and menus (something I never paid attention to in the past) you can see where the problems really are. Things we take for granted are in fact an absolute mess to others.
Poor font size choices, poor choices of colours and contrast issues, icons which are way too small, a tiny arrow to access important settings…the problems quickly start piling up.
Facebook has a tendency to tweak layouts and presentation from time to time. There is not much to say on this point that is not said in Molly’s blog post, this speaks for itself.
This changed on Friday and after over an hour trying to navigate the new layout I had very painful eyes and gave up.
It is odd that a social network which boasts about wanting to connect users from all over the world has such startling problems with basic accessibility features that people really need. Facebook does bring large numbers of people together but at the same time, if people are having big problems using their apps or their website because of issues like the ones mentioned above then surely they are at real risk of isolating small communities which rely on social media to connect with others.
These are things many of us, myself included take for granted and it has only been after reading Molly’s blog that I have started to look at the issues for myself and when you really start looking you can see where the problems are. So what was Facebook’s response to Molly’s blog post?
I asked her this morning.
— Mark Dalton (@TheMarkDalton) July 31, 2015
This was Facebook’s response…
— The Molly Watt Trust (@mollywatttrust) July 31, 2015
A link to the accessibility page in the help centre. A page about accessibility plagued with the same problems of light fonts, poor contrast and small text. So is this really the best Facebook can do? Is this the best their accessibility team can do? Raise the issues and get a link to the help centre in return.
Its frustrating to hear people having such poor experiences on Facebook, I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be for those trying to actually use the social network itself and it is at that point people start to give up. When that happens there is real risk of further isolation and not the connectivity that Facebook promises.
Just an additional update to this piece. The problem Molly has been experiencing is widespread at the moment. This morning I received an email from Suzie Jones who has contacted Facebook regarding problems she has been experiencing with the Facebook app on iOS. Unfortunately Facebook’s response was the standard robotic reply that lacks any form of context, compassion or care. (Click on below images to see them in full size).