On April 4, Facebook announced a new feature designed to describe aloud the contents of pictures to the blind and the visually impaired. This is by no means a new initiative, given that in recent months, companies like Microsoft and Twitter have also unveiled technology designed to accommodate the needs of the blind.
Facebook’s addition to this developing area is the automatic alternative text. The feature gives the visually impaired the chance to create a mental image of what the pictures contain, by giving them a rich description of the photos, such as how many people are in there, whether those people are smiling, where are they and so on.
This is made possible by the object recognition technology behind this feature. Prior to the release of this feature, a visually impaired person needed a human guide for timeline photos.
Shaomei Wu (Software Engineer), Hermes Pique (Software Engineer on iOS) and Jeffrey Wieland (Head of Accessibility) wrote for the Facebook Newsroom that “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”, the team added.