Short Facebook training course for visually impaired users

Author: Catherine Kalvenes, MediaLT
Last up dated:  24.04.2012


1. Introduction

In an open web based survey of how disabled people use social media some visually impaired screen reader users reported that they had experienced difficulty in using Facebook and that they needed training in how to use Facebook effectively.  We therefore designed a short two hour training session with the aim of enabling users in this group to share information easily on Facebook.

2. Course participants

An invitation to attend a Facebook training session free of charge was published on our web site and also advertised by the Norwegian Federation for the Blind. Sixteen people responded during the first week after the invitation was sent. Training was offered to the first ten respondents.

During the next six weeks we set up eight individual two hour training sessions at MediaLT: six participants used their own laptop and two used our equipment. We also set up two distant learning sessions for users living outside the Oslo area.

All those who attended the training are blind and use a screen reader, most use the screen reader JAWS, with the exception of one participant who is using Window Eyes. All except one use a Braille display. The majority are over 50 years of age. Five were already familiar with screen reader techniques for navigating web pages such as navigation keys to move to headings and paragraphs etc., links list and virtual search for text. Five were less experienced, often using arrow keys to navigate a page.  

Seven had already registered on Facebook with help from sighted friends. Three had regularly been publishing status on mobile Facebook before the training. The others had not published on Facebook before their training session.

3. The training

We focused on the mobile Facebook site which is less complex and more easily accessible than the ordinary Facebook site.  We based the training package on previous experience teaching visually impaired users how to use web interfaces effectively. The Facebook sessions also emphasized screen reader functionality important for navigating the Facebook site easily and effectively.

The course covered the following Facebook topics:

  1. Introducing
  2. Create an account
  3. Edit profile
  4. Confirm friend requests
  5. Find friends and add friends
  6. Publish your own status messages and read other's status
  7. Publish photos
  8. Send a message to a friend / several friends

Teaching material

Each participant received teaching material on an USB pen; in easily accessible web format giving concise instructions on how to carry out the various functions (see Appendix 1).

Older versions of assistive technology and lack of competence

Older versions of screen readers proved to be a bigger problem than anticipated at the outset. Two participants had earlier versions of JAWS (versions 7 and 9) which do not work well on Facebook. One of these participants took the online training session as originally agreed but could not put the teaching into practice during the session.

The oldest course participant had only been using JAWS for 9 months and was not able to successfully complete the course with his present level of competence in JAWS.

4. Feedback after the training

A week after attending the session, a short questionnaire was sent to each participant who had completed the training to obtain feedback about their experiences on Facebook before and after the training and whether the training had helped them achieve what they wanted on Facebook (see Appendix 2).

Facebook is essential

In answer to the question about why they want to go on Facebook their response reflected earlier findings in the Social Media survey. They regard Facebook as a useful source of information about what is happening with friends and family. In fact they see it as almost essential if they are not to be excluded from what it going on.

“I feel that I must go on Facebook now, if I am to follow what is going on. Everyone else is there. And it is useful. I get information that I would not otherwise pick up. “

“Everyone is on Facebook now, my children, friends and colleagues at work. It has become a means of keeping up to date with what is happening.”

“I want to use Facebook to communicate with people, keep in touch with family in Lebanon. I'm curious. Everyone talks about it. I feel I am excluded if I can’t use Facebook.”

In addition, several participants mentioned that they see Facebook as an interesting source of information with relevance to their job, and other forums they are working in.

“Information about relevant links that are posted there can be very useful.”

“I can also get information about websites I subscribe to, and participate in groups.”

“… It is a useful source to pick up more academic information, and information that is relevant to my work.”

Although sharing links was not an aspect we had originally included in our teaching material, this important topic was described during the teaching sessions.

Lack of technical competence and previous knowledge of Facebook

Participants reported that poor knowledge of the Facebook site had been the main factor preventing them from participating fully on Facebook before the training sessions. Lack of technical competence in relation to navigation on this site had hindered them from gaining a proper overview of how Facebook works.

There was variation in the level of knowledge among participants before the training. Some were new beginners:  

“I have not had enough knowledge to use FB. I found the registration process cumbersome enough, and I did not know how to proceed further.”

“The main reason is that I haven’t known how to get started. As a blind user, I need some help to learn how to orientate myself on Facebook.”

“What stopped me before the training was that I did not have enough overview. I could not navigate to the location where I should write something. It is much easier to write an e-mail because you are where you should be and can write at once, you do not need to navigate to the right place first.”

But also more experienced users, who had previously been publishing status on mobile Facebook, felt they did not have sufficient overview of how to use Facebook in the way they wanted before the training. Although they already had knowledge of relevant screen reader functionality they did not always see how to apply this on the Facebook site.

“Some things have been difficult to learn by myself, and it’s not always easy to get the help you need. Not everything is easily accessible when you use a screen reader.  One has to know the right techniques, and sighted people can’t help you with this.”

Lack of overview had led to uncertainty which also troubled more experienced users:

“It is very difficult to orientate myself on these pages. I have been in doubt, both about which page I am on and whom I am communicating with. I like to know where I am and who it is I am contacting. When everything is so uncertain then I just let it be rather than trying to use it.”

“Uncertainty has held me back, both technical uncertainty, but also uncertainty about the Facebook "etiquette", how one should use it. “

General skepticism towards Facebook

Many participants also reported that they had been skeptical towards the Facebook concept.

“I didn’t like the idea of publishing things about myself that many people can read.”

“…I don’t think it is just the computer technology that has hindered me from using it so far, the idea of Facebook and giving out more of myself than I feel comfortable with has also held me back.”

“What stopped me in the beginning was that I was skeptical about the whole concept. I thought Facebook was a lot of gossip and rather futile. … I have found some quite interesting things, but much that is useless as well.”

One participant mentioned the focus on publishing photos as a drawback:

“FB has a lot to do with photos, people comment about photos all the time and this is not interesting for me when I cannot see the photos myself. “

Two participants were however interested in learning about how to publish holiday photos and family photos during the teaching.

A short training session is useful

Feedback relating to participant’s experiences on Facebook after the teaching session was positive.

“It has been good as a short and precise introduction to get going with the most necessary things on Facebook.”

“I learned how to navigate on the page, and how the Facebook site is organized, and where I can find what I want. I have now got started! Using the mobile site is ingenious and makes everything much easier.”

More experienced users also reported that they had benefitted from the course:

“It is very useful to learn more about what the Facebook page looks like”

“This short tutorial was very helpful. I learned about how to orientate myself on Facebook, how to know which page I'm on … I also learned Internet keystrokes that can be useful elsewhere on the web.”

“I knew how to publish things, comment and like other people’s status before the course. I learnt how to share links, and have managed it, but couldn’t write a comment in the edit box.”

Several participants who did not have a recent version of JAWS (before v.11) could not access other Facebook editing functions, for example writing messages, because the screen reader was not able to focus on the message editing field. 

There was also positive feedback regarding the teaching material:

“The simple descriptions of techniques in the training material are useful. “

A follow-up session would have been helpful

Three participants mentioned that they would have liked a longer teaching session or a follow-up session so that they had better time to put what they had learnt into practice during the training period.

“…it would have been better for me if it had lasted longer so I had more time to put it into practice myself during the session.”

“It would be nice to have a follow-up session after I had tried it for a little while.”

“I think it would be useful to test out what I have learned first. When I start to use the knowledge then in the second session I would know where the problems really are. In the first session there was a lot that was new and diffuse, after using the teaching in the first session I can find out how it really is.”

Two participants mentioned that they did not get sufficient training in particular areas such as Search and Sharing links:

“For the moment I am satisfied, but with time I would like to learn more about sharing links.”

“I would like to know more about sharing web pages on Facebook, and more about Search, for example how you can find businesses and organizations which have a Facebook page.”

5. Conclusion

Feedback relating to participant’s experience on Facebook after the training supports our observations during teaching, that learning to apply just a few useful techniques in a short training session helps visually impaired users gain a much better knowledge of the Facebook site and how they can easily and effectively use the mobile Facebook site to share information.

Appendix 1 - Facebook teaching material for Jaws and Internet Explorer

1. Introducing

While the ordinary Facebook site can be very demanding to use with a screen reader, especially as it is constantly being changed and updated, the mobile Facebook site is much less complex and relatively easy to use.

If you have not been on Facebook before, the first step is to create a Facebook account and sign up.

2. Create an account


If you want to change the language for the site, select the appropriate language link: press INS + F7 to display the list of links on the page, type the initial(s) for the language you want, and press Enter to select from the list.

To register an account:

  1. Choose the link Register here in the links list.
  2. Press Ctrl + Home to move to the top of the registration page. Press E to move to the first edit field (First Name).
  3. Press Enter to go into forms mode if forms mode is not already turned on. Type in your First name.
  4. Tab to Surname and E-mail and enter your surname and e-mail address.
  5. Tab to Gender and choose from the list (press Up/Downarrow).
  6. Tab to Date of birth and enter the day, tab to month and year and enter these.
  7. Press B to move to the button Register here, and press Space to activate.

Log in:

Use your e-mail address and password to log on to Facebook:

  1. Press E to move to the first edit field on the Log in page. Enter your e-mail address.
  2. Tab to Password and enter your password. Press Enter to log in.

(There is a link to Log out at the bottom of the page if you need to log out of someone else's account before logging in to your own.)

After logging in you will find four main categories in the main menu at the top of the Facebook page: Home (Alt +0), Profile (Alt +1), Find friends (Alt +2) and Messages (Alt +3). The main functions in these categories are described below.

3. Edit profile

Everyone on Facebook has a profile that says something about who they are. You can choose how much information you wish to publish on your profile.

To add profile information, select the category Profile: press Alt +1 to move to the link and press Enter to open your profile page. Then select the link Info.

Under Profile information you will find several different categories of information: contact information, basic information, interests, education and job. Select the link to the type of information you wish to edit from the links list. When you select the link you will open an editing page for this information. Press E to move to the edit field and type in the appropriate information. Tab to the Save button and press Space.

Note: On the ordinary Facebook page it is also possible to choose different Privacy settings (Public, Friends, Me only or Custom) for the different types of profile information you wish to publish. Public is the default setting. It isn’t possible to change this setting on the mobile site.

If others publish information about you in their profile, for example that you are a member of their family, you will be notified and must confirm the information before it will be published.

Upload a profile picture: This can only be done on the ordinary site, using the Edit Profile Picture menu.

4. Confirm friend requests

Press Alt+0 to move to the Home link and press Enter to open the Home category.

Friend Requests and other notifications are displayed at the top of the page under the main menu. If you want to confirm a friend request, select the link Add friend.

At the bottom of the page there is a link to notifications if you want to look for earlier notifications.

5. Find friends and add new friends

Your friends will soon discover that you are on Facebook. Facebook will send you more and more proposals for new friends that may or may not be of interest, under «People you may know."

To find friends yourself:

  1. Navigate to Find Friends (Alt +2) and press Enter to open this page.
  2. Press E to move to the search box. Enter the name or e-mail address of the friend you are looking for and press Enter.
  3. Any search results will appear below the search box, with a link to a profile and a photo.
  4. Open the profile. If the profile sounds right, select Add friend. A friend request will then be sent to that person.

To see your list of friends: Go Find Friends (Alt +2) and select the link Friends. There may be several lists organized alphabetically by first name. Select the appropriate list using the initial of the first name, A-I, J-M, N-V etc.

To remove a friend: Open the profile and select the link Remove from friends.

6. Publish your own status messages and read other's status

The editing field on your wall is used to share your status with your friends. Press E to move to the editing field. Type in your status message, tab to the button Share and press Space.

Note: to change the privacy settings for a status message, tab once to Privacy and select the desired setting from the list using down/uparrow.

Note: You can later remove a status message by choosing the link Remove after the status. Confirm that you want to remove the status by pressing Remove.

Under the editing field you will find the latest status messages from your friends. To navigate to the first of these messages quickly search for "Like" (Ctrl + F). "Like" is found after each status, then press Uparrow to read the message. You can also use Ctrl \ Downarrow.


Select Comment to write a comment to a status, this link opens a Comment editing page, type in your comment in the editing field and tab to Comment and press Space.

You will also be able to read other's comments on this page. The link to the comment page will for example be called "2 comments" rather than "comment" if two other people have already commented.

Remember to read the page title (Ins+T) if you are unsure which page you are on.

7. Publish Photos

Choose the Image link (under the edit field) to upload a photo. Use the Browse button to locate the photo you wish to upload. Tab to the edit field and enter a caption, then select Upload.

8. Send a message to a friend / several friends

 These are "private" messages that can only be read by the friends you choose to send the message to.

Press Alt +3 to move to the Messages link and press Enter to open the Messages page.

The messages you have received are displayed in a list, the most recent message is at the top of the list. To reply to a friend’s message open their link. Type in the reply in the edit field and tab to the Reply button and press Space.

At the top of the page there is a drop-down menu where you can choose several actions: for example delete or archive the message. Select the Apply button and the message will be deleted / archived.

To send new messages do the following:

  1. Select New message.
  2. Tab to Add recipient and press Enter.
  3. Tab to the list of friends and select the friend(s) you want to send the message to (press Space to check).
  4. Select Done when the recipient(s) have been selected.
  5. Type the message in the edit field.
  6. Press Send.

Appendix 2 Questionnaire about the Facebook training

We would like to collect feedback about how course participants use Facebook and how they have experienced the training they received at MediaLT.

We would very much appreciate it if you would answer the following questions.

(All answers are treated anonymously.)

1. Which assistive devices are you using, for example Braille display, screen reader and / or screen magnifier?

2. Why do you want to go on Facebook?

3. Were you able to get started using Facebook before the training? Was there anything that prevented you from getting started?

4. Are you able to use Facebook in the way you want now? Is there anything that is preventing you from using Facebook as you would like to?

5. What do you think about this short training session? What has been helpful? What has not been so helpful?

6. Do you need more training? If so, what should this further training include?

Thank you for your participation!