Facebook turns new leaf on accessibility

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Thursday, 2 April 2015 11:05am

Facebook has begun touting its accessibility credentials to developers and consumers alike, announcing that it has launched a new Accessibility Toolkit and that it is creating an accessibility culture.

HACK logo with American Sign Language hand signs

Facebook describes the Accessibility Toolkit as “a single destination to learn about how Facebook handles accessibility” when it comes to quality assurance, documentation, engineering training, a component library and communication and feedback.

In a blog post explaining the toolkit, the omnipresent social media service said it had initially been daunted by the challenge of accessibility, which it began tackling four years ago.

“When Facebook formed its Accessibility Engineering team in 2011, we experienced the same daunting challenge that many companies face: How do you incorporate accessibility within the company's existing engineering environment?” the blog post reads.

“Having spent the past few years working toward this goal, we’ve learned a lot along the way, and continue to learn each day. To share these lessons, we've created the Accessibility Toolkit, a behind-the-scenes look at how Facebook thinks about product usability for people with vision loss and varied abilities.”

On creating an accessibility culture, Facebook said making accessibility a part of the design and development process would require that more people around the company think about accessibility.

“In order to make that happen around the world, we must extend our work on culture and awareness within—and beyond—the walls of our company,” the blog post reads.

“This isn't something that can be broken down into a series of steps. Instead, it's a gradual shift in the way people think about accessibility internally. By constantly reinforcing the importance of accessibility and having spokespeople within the company delivering the same message, people will start to think about accessibility as a way of doing things in the company rather than as an afterthought.”

The company said accessibility now informs its decision making in various teams, including ergonomics, data science, operations and diversity. It has also created a ‘Differently Abled employee resource group’ and has built an ‘empathy lab’—a “living installation in the heart of our headquarters in Menlo Park that showcases how people with varied abilities and living in various parts of the world interact with Facebook.”

Facebook is not the only major technology company publicly talking about the importance of accessibility.

In March, Microsoft’s Chief Accessibility Officer, Rob Sinclair, explained why accessibility must be addressed and how accessibility and mobile devices, in particular, are merging.

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