Facebook has introduced a new feature known as Automatic alt text to its iOS app to assist blind to see photos. This is done to enhance the social networking experience for users with visual impairment. Each day, people share more than 2 billion photos across Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp.
We all know that visual content gives enjoyment and is an expressive way to communicate with people only, but this is impossible or challenging for people dealing with visual impairment. More than 9 million people are blind, and over 246 million have a severe visual impairment, may not able to access these photos and that was needed to be fixed. So, Facebook built a technology known as “automatic alternative text” to help the blind community experience Facebook like others.
Automatic alt text
It is introduced to generate a description of a photo using enhancements in object recognition technology. People generally use screen readers to read what they can’t see and now on their iOS devices they will hear a list of items a photo may contain as they swipe past photos on Facebook. Before that, people used to generally hear the name of the person who shared the photo, and that was followed by the term “photo” when they came upon an image in News Feed. So, that was not of so much help, right?
As said above, now Facebook offers a richer description of what is in the photo. For example, now you can hear, “Image may contain five people, smiling, outdoors.“. Facebook did this using its object recognition technology based on a neural network that has billions of parameters and is trained with millions of examples.
Also, every advancement in the object recognition technology will lead the Facebook Accessibility Team to make technology even more accessible for more people. Yes, Facebook believed in connecting everyone with equal access. Isn’t it fantastic?
Shaomei Wu, Software Engineer and Hermes Pique, Software Engineer on iOS and Jeffrey Wieland, Head of Accessibility stated via official announcement,
“We are launching automatic alt text first on iOS screen readers set to English, but we plan to add this functionality for other languages and platforms soon. While this technology is still nascent, tapping its current capabilities to describe photos is an important step toward providing our visually impaired community the same benefits and enjoyment that everyone else gets from photos.”