Facebook Introduces Accessibility Toolkit

Facebook formed its accessibility engineering team in 2011 to ensure that vision-impaired users had the best possible experience on the social network.

AccessibilityToolkitHackBannerFacebook formed its accessibility engineering team in 2011 with an eye toward ensuring that vision-impaired users had the best possible experience on the social network, and the company is now sharing its methodology.

Project manager Jeffrey Wieland introduced Facebook’s Accessibility Toolkit in a post on its engineering blog, with an eye toward enabling developers to improve accessibility in their products.

Wieland outlined the sections of the social network’s Accessibility Toolkit:

  • Component library: One of our first steps toward increasing accessibility was to incorporate assistive technology compatibility into the components used across the Web. We extended this approach to iOS and Android and continue to hold Web and mobile components to a high standard.
  • Documentation: Helping engineers work efficiently and independently on accessibility is hard. That’s why documentation should be specific to your stack and communicate what the team members should own.
  • Quality assurance: To maintain improvements to accessibility, you need regularly scheduled regression testing. You also need to train the people who help ship your product end-to-end on what they need to do for accessibility.
  • Engineer training: One of the biggest challenges with accessibility today is that most people aren’t aware of the need for it. Accessibility is often not taught in computer science, which means many developers don’t understand how to design and build accessible experiences. To tackle this, we provide a number of training opportunities for engineers working across platforms.
  • Communication and feedback: Getting feedback from the people who use your products with assistive technology is important for uncovering ways to improve. We describe a few channels we use to get input on our products and announce improvements and enhancements to our products.
  • Culture: Making accessibility a part of the design and development process requires more people around the company to 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.

And he introduced the Accessibility Toolkit as follows:

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? 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. The toolkit is a single destination to learn about how Facebook handles accessibility when it comes to quality assurance, documentation, engineering training and more.

Building products that everyone can use is key to Facebook’s mission of helping the world share and connect. Accessibility is one dimension of this important goal. In order to tackle this challenge, we’ve found it helpful to design a strategy that works for your company. We hope our learnings will help others make their products more accessible, whether companies are just getting started on an accessibility program or refining an existing approach. We’d love to hear about ways we can improve, as well, so give us a shout. We look forward to a future in which the Web is accessible to all.

Readers: Were you aware of all the resources Facebook devotes to accessibility engineering?


david.cohen@adweek.com David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.