Blind and visually impaired people using Facebook can now enjoy an enhanced experience after the social network introduced an artificial intelligence system that helps to interpret images.
Facebook says that every day, people share more than two billion photos across Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp.
While visual content provides a fun and expressive way for people to communicate online, consuming and creating it poses challenges for people who are blind or severely visually impaired. 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. That’s why the network has introduced automatic alternative text.
Automatic alternative text, or automatic alt text, is a new development that generates a description of a photo using advancements in object recognition technology. People using screen readers on iOS devices will hear a list of items a photo may contain as they swipe past photos on Facebook.
Until this update, people using screen readers 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. Now they will receive a richer description of what’s in a photo thanks to automatic alt text. For instance, someone could now hear, “Image may contain three people, smiling, outdoors.”
This is possible because of Facebook’s object recognition technology, which is based on a neural network that has billions of parameters and is trained with millions of examples. Each advancement in object recognition technology means that the Facebook Accessibility team will be able to make technology even more accessible for 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.
Automatic alt text will initially be available to iOS screen readers set to English, but we plan to add this functionality for other languages and platforms soon.
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