Facebook Adds Accessible Feature to Make Site More Inclusive to People with Vision Impairments and Blindness

fb_icon_325x325People share over 2 billion photos across Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp every day. Visual content provides a fun and expressive way for people to communicate online; however, consuming and creating it can pose a challenge for people who are blind or visually impaired.

There are more than 39 million people who are blind and over 246 million people who have severe visual impairments. This leaves many people feeling excluded from conversations surrounding photos on Facebook. Facebook is looking to make a change to make their social media site more inclusive which is why they are introducing automatic alternative text.

Automatic alternative 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 the photo may contain as they swipe past images on Facebook.  Before automatic alternative text, 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 their News Feed. Now, a richer description of what’s in the photo is offered.  For example, someone could now hear, “Image may contain three people, smiling, outdoors.”

Each advancement in object recognition technology allows the Facebook accessibility team to make technology even more accessible for more people.

Facebook is launching automatic alternative text first on IOS screen readers set to English, but plans to add this functionality for other languages and platforms soon.


Obama to Forgive Student Loan Debt for People with Permanent Disabilities

President Obama Holds Bill Signing In Oval Office Of White HouseOn April 12, the Department of Education announced it will forgive an estimated $7.7 billion dollars in student loans for 387,000 people with permanent disabilities.  Starting next week, the Department of Education will send letters to Americans who have been identified as eligible for what is called a “total and permanent disability” loan discharge because they have a disability and are unable to work. The Department of Education and Social Security Administration worked together to identify borrowers who have been receiving disability payments and are eligible to have their loans discharged.

By law, anyone with a severe disability is eligible to have the government discharge their federal student loans. The administration took steps four years ago to make the process easier by letting people who have a “total and permanent disability” to apply for a discharge using their social security designation, but few took advantage.

This is why the Department of Education and Social Security Administration began to identify borrowers who have a specific designation of “medical improvement not expected.” Of the 387,000 people identified, about 179,000 of those people are currently in default on their loans, putting them at risk of losing their tax refunds and having their Social Security benefits garnished.

Starting next week, borrowers identified in the match will receive a letter form the government explaining the steps needed to receive a discharge. They will not be required to submit documentation of their eligibility. Notification letters will be sent over a 16-week period.

Tax Credit Proposed for Caregivers of People with Disabilities

tex-credit-1A bill introduced in the beginning of March in the House of Representatives would allow family members who care for people with disabilities or aging family members receive up to $3,000.00 in tax savings annually. The bill is known as the Credit for Care Act.

The tax credit offsets expenses for things like home modifications, groceries, transportation and hired help to care for individuals with long-term needs who need assistance performing at least two activities of daily living such as eating, walking, dressing or grooming.

Family members could qualify for providing care to a spouse, parent, grandparent, sibling, child, niece, nephew, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, father-in-law or mother-in-law. To be eligible, caregivers have to be working and earning at least $7,500.00 per year.

“This is more than just another tax credit,” said U.S. Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., who introduced the legislation along with U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y. “This is about how we can help older adults and people with disabilities live independently in their own homes and communities.”