People 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.