I read an article today about Facebook’s attempt to make their social environment more accessible for people that are blind or have visual impairments. It reminded me of being a broadcast journalism student and volunteering to read news for the blind. I think often times, social networking, Web sites and web applications forget about this large population of people that want to connect with peers, friends and family–and they should be able to!
According to the post, the American Foundation for the Blind has been working with FB for 2 years tackling this issue and have made improvements which are listed here. Almost 20 million people in the U.S. have this disability (not sure of the Canadian numbers but the link to the CCB is here). The problem is that not all sites and programs are properly designed. People that have visual impairments rely on a screen magnification program to enlarge fonts in order to optimize the screen for reading, or they use a screen reading program that reads the text aloud. The problem with social networking sites specifically are that
images are an important part of the site experience, but it is rare that photos get described. Even while in the middle of reading a page, comments or links can change in ways that are undetectable to the screen reader or fall outside the viewing window of screen-magnification.
The article does mention Google's efforts to tackle this issue and suggests (very rightly so) that
...if you’re building websites and Web applications, you might want to keep into consideration that there are millions of people who could potentially be using them, provided you make it possible for them to do so.