What Leading Social Media and Tech Companies Are Doing to Boost Accessibility

Published April 23, 2021

With the growing influence of information technology and social media in every sphere of life, it is now more important than ever for large tech companies to prioritize web accessibility. Here are some of the key steps that major tech companies are taking to make social media and online information accessible to all.

Facebook

Facebook has been actively working to improve accessibility ever since it set up the Facebook Accessibility Team in 2011. To make keyboard navigation more accessible for people who don’t use a computer mouse or use a screen reader, the primary Facebook site has increased the use of lists, landmarks and headings, which are easier to navigate with screen reader keys.

The site also offers a wide range of Shortcut and Access keys to allow simpler navigation and provide easier ways to perform actions, such as search, share, and likes. To enhance the accessible Facebook experience, the company has introduced the following innovations in recent times:

  • You can now control the font size while using the iOS Messenger app.
  • You can access the More, Mute, and Delete actions more easily within iOS Messenger, thanks to the new "VoiceOver" gestures.
  • The Facebook mobile site now has new access keys added to it.
  • The company has added a "Skip to News Feed" link for persons using screen readers or just the keyboard so that they can easily access News Feed stories.
  • For Facebook Videos, multilingual caption support is now available, which allows subtitles for all video content.

Google

In 2013, Google created a dedicated accessibility team, which works to ensure that its products and services are accessible to all. Every new Google innovation must now go through a standard accessibility test, which is now as integral to the process as security and privacy. Some of the prominent steps the company has taken to improve accessibility include:

  • Google Chromebook now includes ChromeVox, which is a free, built-in screen reader to enable people with visual disabilities, or who otherwise prefer screen reader navigation, to more-easily use the Google Chrome OS.
  • Google has launched a unique app called Lookout, which makes use of computer vision to support people with visual impairments to navigate their environment more quickly and easily.
  • Google Maps now provides information about wheelchair accessibility for over 15 million places worldwide. Since 2017, this number has doubled with help from millions of "local guides" who have responded to Google’s global call to share information on accessibility.

Instagram

Instagram has launched new features in recent years to make the social platform more accessible for persons with visual disabilities. One of the important introductions from the company is automatic alternative text, which lets the user hear descriptions of images via their screen reader when they use Instagram Profile, Explore and Feed.

This feature is based on the fast-developing object recognition technology, which makes it possible to hear the list of items a photograph may contain. In addition, the company is in the process of launching custom alternative text, which allows the user to add an enhanced description of images when they upload on the site. Anyone using a screen reader can hear that description.

Microsoft

Microsoft has been one of the pioneers in the field of web accessibility technologies, and is currently investing in artificial intelligence programs to boost accessibility. Here are some other helpful steps the company has taken in recent years:

  • Microsoft’s "Ease of Access" settings have been enhanced with the addition of new keyboard shortcuts. In addition, the improved settings now enable users to make the things on their screen brighter and bigger as needed.
  • The innovative "Windows Narrator" tool is now more responsive and includes new features. The users can now adjust reading speed, pitch, or volume to denote formatting, such as underlined, bolded, italicized, or capitalized text.
  • Microsoft has launched a free "Seeing AI" app, which is designed to help people with visual impairment to turn visuals into an enriching audible experience. The Seeing AI app is able to identify and narrate a variety of things using your cell phone camera, such as handwriting, colors, currency, and barcodes. It can even describe human beings and their emotions.

Clearly, the fast pace of technological advancements can pave the way greater web accessibility, as long as the governments, corporations, and communities work with a commitment to create a more accessible and user-friendly digital world.

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