Facebook is one of the most widely used social media platforms in the world; it now has more than one billion daily users and more than two billion monthly users. Usage of Facebook has also grown from a way for people to connect with each other socially to utility as a professional networking and workplace productivity tool. In our latest PEAT Talk webinar, we spoke with Jeff Wieland, Facebook’s Director of Accessibility, and Monica Desai, Facebook’s Director of Global Policy, to discuss why and how Facebook has made accessibility a priority.

Accessibility Brings People Together

Facebook’s mission is to bring the world closer together. According to our featured guests, accessibility is fundamental to that mission. The company aims to “give people the power to build community” both locally and across the globe—and that means everyone, including people with disabilities. “We believe that access is opportunity,” Monica emphasized, “and we want to drive innovation and accessibility that extends beyond Facebook.”

Jeff began the presentation by sharing a number of trends among Facebook users highlighting the importance of accessibility:
•    1 in 10 Facebook users zoom in on text
•    1 in 5 Facebook users increase text size
•    More than 100,000 people use screen readers to access Facebook on mobile devices

Considering Facebook’s size, these numbers are highly significant. Many people need the ability to make personalized adjustments to software to have a good user experience with the product. One of their biggest challenges is accommodating this at scale because thousands of employees are building thousands of features across hundreds of product teams. Jeff’s cross-functional team works to embed accessibility into these development operations and advances specific features in the accessibility space. “Accessibility is sort of an interesting space because on the one hand, it is a set of best practices around design and implementation, but on the other hand, it is also a set of very specific features that we need to support in order to make inclusive products,” Jeff said.

Reaching Accessibility Milestones

Facebook has celebrated several accessibility milestones during the last couple of years. Responding to the increase in real-time video streamed on the Facebook platform, the company has invested in real-time captioning capability. Other areas of investment include greater compatibility with screen readers and automatic alt text, which uses object recognition to describe objects, people, text, and actions in photos for users with screen readers.

Recently, Jeff and his team launched a stand-alone version of Facebook to help businesses enhance communication and organizational operations. This business product, called Workplace, allows businesses to communicate across desktop and mobile environments while using productivity features, such as groups, chat, and video calls. Workplace is built on the same infrastructure as Facebook’s consumer products, so it adopts the core accessibility features of Facebook. More than 30,000 companies and organizations worldwide use Workplace to enhance productivity for their employees, including Starbucks and the Royal National Institute of Blind People in the United Kingdom.

Educating for Accessibility

Facebook is also a partner in the Teach Access initiative—co-founded by Jeff—which brings industry, academia, and advocacy together to create models for teaching and training students in technology fields to create accessible experiences. Teach Access aims to integrate accessibility into computer science, design, and user experience degree programs via its online tutorial of best practices for accessible software design. PEAT is proud to partner with Teach Access to expand this kind of accessibility education.

To learn more about accessibility initiatives at Facebook, check out the archived PEAT Talk.