Accessibility Feature Highlight – Facebook Navigation Assistant and Keyboard Shortcuts

Discussion & Resources

One of our most common training requests is related to using Facebook with a screen reader. And, one of the most frequent questions I find myself answering is, “What is the best way to access Facebook, do I need an iPhone like others suggest?”. This is one of the most tough questions, and training requests because Facebook is constantly changing! Fortunately, Facebook seems to be changing for the better, as far as access to users of assistive technologies are concerned.

Historically the complex web of different sections and dynamic, ever-changing, content, has made the standard facebook.com site difficult for users of screen reading technology. This caused many users to use the m.facebook.com site, which often meant that they sacrificed access to the variety of features that make Facebook such a useful social network. Others turned to the Apps on their mobile devices. The mobile devices seem to provide greater access to many of the useful features of Facebook, but the native methods of using a screen reader often turns the experience into a long and drawn out exercise in tedium.

In an article, “Facebook AX Navbar” curated by Marcy Sutton on the A11yWins Tumbler page the Accessibility Navbar and its benefits are described. And, on the Facebook Accessibility Help page the keyboard shortcuts are listed, and the Accessibility Navbar previously referenced, which Facebook calls the “Navigation Assistant” is explained.

To get the most out of the new accessibility features however many users are having to change the way they think about interacting with web pages. Facebook is evolving into a Web App, or program accessed via a web browser, kind of like Google Docs, except the function is networking rather than document creation. Further, users may have to do some advanced configuration to their screen reader so that they have the experiential outcome as described by Facebook.

Tips for JAWS Users

In JAWS 2018 the Allow Web Application Reserved Keystrokes is enabled by default. This means that when you go to facebook.com you should be able to use any of the keyboard shortcuts, as defined by Facebook, even if they conflict with JAWS keystrokes, (e.g. the Letter “J” usually opens a Jump to Line Dialog Box, but on the Facebook page it will move among stories in the newsfeed).

If Facebook keyboard Shortcuts do not work as expected, you may consider checking the JAWS Setting Center to confirm that the option to allow web application reserved keystrokes is checked by doing the following:

  1. Press MODIFIER + 6 to open the JAWS Settings Center. Focus will be in the “Search” edit box.
  2. Type the following, without quotes, “web app”. A list of two items containing the search terms will appear.
  3. Press the DOWN ARROW repeatedly, pausing after each press to listen to the item in focus, to move focus among the results.
  4. When focus reaches the item that reads, “Allow Web Application Reserved Keystrokes” listen for the announcement regarding the status of the control (i.e. check box checked or checkbox not checked).
  5. If you miss the announcement, press either MODIFIER + UP ARROW or MODIFIER + TAB to have JAWS re-read the option in focus.
  6. If the status of the control is identified as, “not checked” press the SPACEBAR to check it followed by TAB, twice, to move focus to the OK Button and ENTER to activate it and save the changes.
  7. If JAWS indicates the status of the control as, “checked” press ESCAPE to close the Settings Center and note that you may need to contact someone for assistance.

Disable the Virtual PC Cursor – Yes, I said disable the very JAWS feature that often gives you access to information on a web page! While it is not necessary to disable the PC Cursor to use the Facebook keyboard shortcuts the experience is a bit less stressful if you do. For example, the Letter “J” is used to move among the stories in your news feed. If you press the keystroke, while the Virtual PC Cursor is on, focus moves to the start of an “article” or “post but doesn’t read it. You must then USE the DOWN ARROW or CTRL + DOWN ARROW to read the post. This also means listening to controls such as, “story options button menu” and others. If you disable the Virtual PC Cursor and press the Letter “J” to move among the posts on your newsfeed JAWS will not only move focus to the post, but also read it, without causing you to navigate other elements on the page. If you want to read through the text of the post word-by-word or letter-by-letter then leaving the Virtual PC Cursor may be your preferred method, but most users just want to hear the content of the post and avoid the extraneous element information.

Facebook Keyboard Shortcuts – Interacting with the Newsfeed

  • J: Move forward through Newsfeed stories
  • K: Move backward through Newsfeed stories
  • ENTER: See more of the story
  • P: Post a status update
  • L: Toggle a like reaction to a post on or off (unfortunately JAWS does not tell you if you “like” or “unlike” the item)
  • C: Comment on a post (focus will move directly to the comment field, and you can begin typing. ENTER will post the comment)
  • S: Share a post (a menu with sharing options appears. Use the UP/DOWN ARROW Keys to move among the options in the menu and ENTER to activate the desired option)
  • O: Open an attachment in a post (the link in the page will open in a new tab and if you disabled the Virtual PC Cursor it will be enabled again)
  • SLASH (/): To move directly to the search box, and begin a search
  • Q: To search contacts to chat with (focus will move to a search field. After a name is types results will appear in a list. UP/DOWN ARROW will move among the results. ENTER is used to start a chat with the contact in the list that is in focus. If a contact is selected, with ENTER, focus moves to an edit box where your message can be typed. There is more involved in working with messaging. ESCAPE will close the chat search and return focus to the Newsfeed)
  • QUESTION MARK (?): Open the list of keyboard shortcuts (it is necessary to enable the Virtual PC Cursor, then move focus to the level 3 heading at the bottom of the page to access the list that appears. ESCAPE will close the list)

Enjoy your new facebook.com experience!