A new tool for Facebook is allowing its visually impaired users to more easily identify the photos in their feeds using audio descriptions.
“Automatic alternative text” is a new development launched by Facebook that generates photo descriptions using object recognition technology.
Prior to this development, people with poor vision could use screen reading software, which scans text on screens and converts the information into speech or Braille, but it doesn’t tell the viewer anything about what’s in the photo.
Now, screen readers on iOS devices can hear a list of items the photos on their feeds contain, such as “three people, smiling, outdoors,” making it easier for them to participate.
The tool was launched after Facebook and Cornell University teamed up to publish a research paper examining the relationship visually impaired users have with social media. Their findings suggest individuals often feel “frustrated” and “excluded” when trying to participate in daily social networking activities.
Leaders in the development of the tool, Shaomei Wu, Hermes Pique, and Jeffry Wieland said in an online post late Monday night:
“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. We want to build technology that helps the blind community experience Facebook the same way others enjoy it.”
This comes in the wake of a number of other artificial intelligence developments being utilized by platforms to increase accessibility for users.
Last week, Twitter announced that Android and iOS app users can now add captions to images that can be read with braille displays and screen readers. Additionally, Microsoft recently announced what it calls its “Seeing AI” app, which is a tool people with visual impairments can use to better identify and understand who and what is around them.