For most of us, there are few things in life that are more important than obtaining and maintaining a good job. As important as this is, it isn't the easiest thing to do. In fact, for some, it can be quite a challenge. It's one thing to know your own strengths and weaknesses, but it's quite another to organize all that information in a way that is both informative and interesting to a potential employer. For people who are blind, it can be especially difficult to get paperwork filled out, read and respond to correspondence in a timely manner, and make sure that résumé you just spent hours working on looks visually appealing.
The Internet has become an invaluable tool for blind people all over the world. It is possible to search the Web for jobs, correspond with companies via e-mail, and more easily format that shiny new résumé you just created in a way that will catch the eye of the sighted community.
One of the most powerful tools available today is the professional social media platform known as LinkedIn. This website provides a place for people with skills to connect with other people who need those skills. Sounds like a win-win for everyone, right? It sounds even better for a blind person who already has good screen reader and Web surfing skills. That only leaves one question: is LinkedIn accessible to those who use a screen reader to navigate the Web?
Getting Up and Running with LinkedIn
Over the past several months, it seemed that almost every time I checked my e-mail, there was a message from someone inviting me to connect with them on LinkedIn. Many of these e-mails were from people I knew, and some were from people I wasn't familiar with. I had never bothered to sign up on LinkedIn, but I always intended to. After all, the sign-up process was free. One day, for no particular reason that I can articulate now, I decided to go ahead and sign up with the service. I honestly don't recall whether I was using my computer or my iPhone to read e-mail on that particular day. I do know, however, that the sign-up process was painless. A simple e-mail address and password were all that was required, and I had a LinkedIn account. I went about completing other tasks that day, and didn't explore the site further.
After taking on the assignment of writing this article, I went back to LinkedIn and signed in with my credentials. That's when the adventure really began. LinkedIn is all about connecting with other people. I gave the site permission to access my Facebook account and e-mail contacts so that I could find out who in my networks was already using the service. I was pleasantly surprised to find that a number of people who I know well or am somewhat acquainted with were already on LinkedIn. I enjoyed looking through the short descriptions they provided about themselves. Some of my friends had skills, and even side businesses, that I didn't know about. I was able to select the people with whom I wished to connect, and send them an invitation easily. I was next presented with a list of my contacts who were not yet members of LinkedIn and could select those I wanted to invite. After sending out several invites, I very quickly received a couple of e-mails from people who very politely but firmly requested that I not send them any more LinkedIn invitations. One gentleman told me that he had experienced problems opting out of e-mails from LinkedIn, and he didn't wish to go through that experience again. By and large, though, the vast majority of responses I received were quite positive.
I used a Mac for my first exploration of LinkedIn, so I decided to give the iOS app a try. I chose to receive notifications from the LinkedIn app, and boy did I get several! I actually enjoyed finding out in real time when other LinkedIn members connected with me. I was able to take a look at their LinkedIn profiles from the app, in much the same way that I had done from the Mac. As I read other people's profiles, I realized that I hadn't really taken the time to set up my own. I used the LinkedIn app on my iPhone to complete this process, and found it to be fairly easy to accomplish. I had already written a short one-line description of my skills, but I added more information such as where and for how long I attended college, what my major was, and what my current jobs were. Being self-employed, there wasn't just one simple answer to that last question.
With my wife's help, I took a photo of myself and added this to my profile as well. With the addition of the photo, I felt satisfied that I now had an acceptable LinkedIn profile for others to view, whether they were blind or sighted.
Over the next several days of exploration, I discovered that LinkedIn is like a good text adventure game. It can be engaging, you never know what surprises are just around the corner, and you can find yourself suddenly transported to a whole different world without warning. What do I mean by this? Whether you are viewing LinkedIn as a sighted person, or as a blind person using a screen reader, you will discover that the site is huge! There are all kinds of opportunities available. You can join groups of other like-minded people—I found several groups for musicians—you can explore job possibilities, and you will never run out of people with whom to connect. Activating a link on the website can take you in a whole new direction, and it can sometimes be tricky to retrace your steps. This is especially true for a blind person who can't quickly glance at the screen, but must explore it in greater detail with their screen reader of choice.
In previous articles, I have made mention of Amazon, a Website that is familiar to anyone who uses a computer, and the Blackboard service used by many college students and instructors. In both cases, I stated that accessibility to these sites was a challenge, not because they were not well designed for screen reader users, but because of their sheer size. The same concept applies to LinkedIn, as far as I am concerned. I used the site with Safari on the Mac running VoiceOver, JAWS for Windows, Window-Eyes, NVDA, and the LinkedIn iOS app on my iPhone. Each screen reader behaved differently as one would expect, but they all performed as they should. The trick, as far as I am concerned, is making good use of web-surfing techniques on whichever screen reader you choose to use.
Is LinkedIn Aware of the Needs of the Blind?
Jennison Asuncion is the senior staff technical program manager responsible for accessibility at LinkedIn. He has worked in the area of accessibility for the past 10 years, and has been with LinkedIn for the past 2 years. Asuncion was a LinkedIn user before he went to work for the company. As a blind person who uses a screen reader himself, accessibility is more than just a job. It matters to him on a personal level as well.
The LinkedIn website conforms to Web accessibility standards, so it works with all screen readers. Asuncion points out that all screen readers behave differently on the Web, so anyone who uses multiple screen readers is encouraged to explore the site with all of them. The site makes use of heading level implementation, as well as meaningful labels for links and buttons. If you have had an unpleasant experience using the site in the past, it might be worth paying frequent visits to LinkedIn to determine how things may have changed since your last visit. Accessibility is important to the company, and constant improvements are being made all the time. Asuncion stresses the need for good Web navigation skills when browsing the site with a screen reader. The use of heading navigation commands, text search commands, and exploring form controls will all be helpful. Also, familiarity with the site will make the experience less frustrating for the frequent visitor to the service.
The LinkedIn accessibility team welcomes feedback from its users. In addition to feedback from users of Windows screen readers, the team has heard from those using Mac, iOS, and even Linux. Asuncion says they have not yet received any feedback from Android users at the time of this writing.
When asked if he had any tips for blind people who might want to get the most out of LinkedIn, Asuncion stressed the need to add a photo to the site. This is an important visual component to one's profile, and should not be neglected even if, as I did, one needs to gain sighted assistance to accomplish this task.
Asuncion also stresses the need for a complete profile. You might want to include volunteer work that you have done, along with the professional skills you choose to add. Whether or not a person wishes to mention the fact that they are blind is a personal matter, although Asuncion laughed when he remarked that a profile photo of someone standing beside a guide dog might give that fact away.
Another important tip is to spell check everything. It might be worth writing your profile information in a Word document, and checking for spelling and formatting errors before you add this information to the site.
Finally, Asuncion says that, although he is blind and has personal insight into the needs of screen reader users, the needs of people with all disabilities are important to the LinkedIn accessibility team.
Getting Even More Out of LinkedIn
While most people will probably be quite happy with the free version of the site, LinkedIn has four premium subscription plans available to anyone who wishes to get even more from the service. Two of these plans are geared toward consumers, while two are aimed at enterprise.
The Job Seeker plan, which runs $29.99 per month, allows for direct messaging of job recruiters, shows the user a report of who has viewed their profile over the past 90 days, and can move the user to the top of a recruiter's applicant lists.
The Business Plus plan, which comes in at $59.99 per month, adds the ability to contact anyone on LinkedIn, even if you aren't connected with him or her. It also allows for more advanced job search filtering tools.
A USA Today article entitled Seven Ways to Take Your LinkedIn Profile from Mediocre to Amazing provides good suggestions for writing an effective LinkedIn summary, using visual elements to spice up your profile, and making use of LinkedIn groups.
The Bottom Line
LinkedIn is a very popular and powerful tool for connecting with other professionals around the world. The company is aware of, and cares about the needs of all of its customers who have disabilities, and the needs of the blind community have been, and continue to be addressed. While I find the site to be a challenge at times, I believe that I can learn to use it effectively for my needs, and I encourage others to give it a try. Feel free to write to the LinkedIn accessibility team with questions or suggestions.
Product Name: LinkedIn
- Computers for the Blind: Opening Worlds—One Computer at a Time by Bill Holton
- 2014 Employment Resources for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired by Joe Strechay
More from this author: