Date
23 March 2017
Facebook has unveiled automatic alternative text, which generates a description of a photo for the benefit of those who are visually impaired. Photo: Bloomberg
Facebook has unveiled automatic alternative text, which generates a description of a photo for the benefit of those who are visually impaired. Photo: Bloomberg

New Facebook tool lets blind people ‘see’ photos

Facebook and other social media platforms are a great way of sharing ideas and experiences with friends, families and loved ones.

But think of those who cannot see or are having difficulty in seeing: their disability prevents them of participating in online communications.

“With more than 39 million people who are blind, and over 246 million who have a severe visual impairment, many people may feel excluded from the conversation around photos on Facebook,” Facebook said in an online post.

That’s the reason the social networking giant is enhancing its technology to help blind people participate in social media.

It is introducing what it calls “automatic alternative text”.

Automatic alternative text, also known as automatic alt text, generates a description of a photo by means of object recognition technology.

People using a screen reader on an iOS device will hear a list of items a photo may contain as they swipe past photos on Facebook.

Before, they would only hear the name of the person who shared the photo, followed by the term “photo” when they came upon an image in News Feed.

But thanks to the new technology, they could now hear a description of the photo, such as “image  may contain three people, smiling, outdoors”.

At present, the software can identify more than 100 types of objects and scenes, including those associated with nature, sports and transportation, CNBC reports.

As the technology improves, Facebook said it will be able to make it even more accessible to more people.

“When people are connected, they can achieve extraordinary things as individuals and as a community — and when everyone is connected, we all benefit,” it said.

Other technology companies are also working to make their products and services more accessible to people with visual disabilities.

Twitter, for example, allows users to add captions to images they post on the platform so that those who are visually impaired could use braille displays and screen readers to access the online content, according to CNBC.

Microsoft also unveiled a “Seeing AI” app which provides technological accessories for visually impaired users, the report said.

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