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Visually impaired people on Facebook

By Shaomei Wu and Lada Adamic, Facebook Data Science.

This research was conducted using anonymized, aggregated data.

There are 285 million people with vision impairment globally and their experience on Facebook is really important to us. Since Facebook's mission is to connect the world, we were interested in how inclusive the experience is for visually impaired users of Facebook. For example, how much do they use Facebook? What kind of content do they produce and share? How are their social networks structured?

To answer these questions, we analyzed anonymized and automatically processed status updates, photo uploads, comments and likes of people who accessed Facebook using a screen reader. Screen readers are more likely to be used by those who are visually impaired [1,2]. This analysis helped us understand their experience.

What do people with vision impairment do on Facebook?

Do people with vision impairment use Facebook mainly to get updates from friends, or to share their own status? The chart below shows the average number of photo uploads and status updates per visually impaired user over a 3-week period, in comparison with the overall population. Overall, visually impaired users are sharing as much content on Facebook as others. In addition to posting more status updates, they also upload a significant number of photos. We know (and love) several amazing photography Apps designed for people with vision impairment (e.g., TapTapSee http://www.taptapseeapp.com, VizWiz http://www.vizwiz.org). However, the amount of photos uploaded by visually impaired users is nevertheless striking. We are glad to note that people with vision impairment engage well with Photos - one of Facebook's most essential features. But, it would be interesting to learn if the way they use photos is different from others. Here are some data and observations that provides more insight into this question.

Photo uploads and status updates

How much do visually impaired users interact with friends on Facebook? In this next chart, we show the number of comments and likes by visually impaired users to their friends, compared to the overall population. Again, we see similar trends here: visually impaired users comment and like more content in general. However, the same is not true of photos, where their commenting activity is in line with other users' (although they still like more photos).

Comments and likes given

In return, visually impaired users receive more comments and likes for their status updates, but not for their photos.

Comments and likes received

What do people with vision impairment talk about?

So, we know that visually impaired users actively post status updates and upload photos to Facebook. What do they talk about? What kinds of photos do they upload? Why are their status updates attracting more comments and likes but not the photos? To answer these questions, we aggregated over a three-week period anonymized status updates and photo captions by tens of thousands of English-speaking users with vision impairment [3].

The above picture shows the word cloud of the most disproportionally popular words used by people with vision impairment in their status updates (as compared to the general population). The color and size correspond to the frequency of the word's occurrence.


Notice that many of these are related to vision disability and accessibility. We are amazed by how open people are in voicing their thoughts and experience about accessibility issues on Facebook: the usage of these words is rather prevalent in the visually impaired community; 7% of people used at least one of the top 10 words in their status updates over the course of 3 weeks.


The next word cloud shows words that are disproportionally popular in captions of photos uploaded by visually impaired users. The words that jump out are those related to online radio apps (tunein, radio, peachtree) and a photography app (TapTapSee [4]). It seems that many of the photos uploaded by visually impaired users are generated through these apps, with typical captions like "I am listening to .... with TuneIn Radio" and "I discovered this was a '....' with TapTapSee".

What do the social networks look like for people with vision impairment?

Some researchers have found that people with vision impairment have smaller social networks. At first, the data seemed to back this up: on average, people with vision impairment do have fewer Facebook friends than other users. However, if we notice that they have also been on Facebook for less time, this is not a fair comparison. After controlling for how long a person has been on Facebook, the difference between people with vision impairment and  others has been diminishing through time. In the following figure, we see that for people who have been on Facebook for less than 30 months, the two curves overlap - this means that there is no difference in network size. There is only a difference for those who have been on Facebook for about more than 3 years. This is very interesting as it suggests that for people who joined Facebook recently, vision impairment does not correlate with the number of friends they have on Facebook, thus they could potentially have the same rich experience interacting with friends just as everyone else does. Some further investigation also confirmed that, the overall density (measured by cluster coefficient) and the diversity (measured by number of different communities) of the visually impaired users' social networks are exactly the same as the average.

Median number of friends for people who have been on Facebook for different length of time

In the end, another interesting finding from the networks of visually impaired users is that they are much more likely to be friends with one another: while there are less than 2% randomly-sampled users having at least one visually impaired friend, over 23% of the visually impaired users are friends with at least one other visually impaired user. In other words, visually impaired users on Facebook are tightly



We are happy to see people with vision impairment engage with Facebook as much as everybody else, leveraging Facebook to connect with each other and sharing their opinions and experience about vision disabilities as a community.


[1] For this study, we consider a user as visually impaired if he or she logged into Facebook for at least 3 times a month using iOS's built-in screen reader software - VoiceOver, through mobile devices. We sampled 50K users who qualify this condition for this study.

[2] To make a fair comparison, the "average Facebook users" population we used here consist of a random sample of 150K Facebook users who logged in at least 3 times a month through their iOS mobile devices.

[3] All text was de-identified and processed automatically, splitting text into words, which were  counted to determine most disproportionately popular ones used by visually impaired users.

[4] TapTapSee is an iOS app that automatically identify and describe objects from photos.


Read the full paper here: Shaomei Wu, Lada Adamic, Visually Impaired Users on an Online Social Network, Proceedings of ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2014)