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New Facebook tool helps blind people “see” photos

There over two billion photos shared across Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp every day—a proof how visual content has become one of the more popular ways for social interaction. But in this age where conversations could be built around your latest Facebook photo update, to what can the blind and visually impaired cling on in order to cope with the changing times? Thankfully, Facebook announced a new innovation—the automatic alternative text (AAT), or automatic alt text—to fill this void. The AAT generates descriptions of Facebook photos using object recognition technology to help the blind visualize the photos posted on their News Feed. For instance, users can hear a list of items found on the photo. The technology could describe that an image “may contain three people, smiling, outdoors.” Facebook Automatic Alternative Text So far, below are the words that the technology can accurately depict:

  • Transportation words: car, boat, airplane, bicycle, train, road, motorcycle, bus
  • Nature words: outdoor, mountain, tree, snow, sky, ocean, water, beach, wave, sun, grass
  • Sports words: tennis, swimming, stadium, basketball, baseball, golf
  • Food words: ice cream, sushi, pizza, dessert, coffee
  • Words that help describe someone’s appearance: baby, eyeglasses, beard, smiling, jewelry, shoes

Of course, the AAT will also be able to identify your self-portraits and say the word ‘selfie’ out loud. For now, the feature works for iOS screen readers set to English, but Facebook looks to further add the AAT on other languages and platforms. To use AAT, simply enable VoiceOver by asking Siri to “turn on VoiceOver,” or by tapping on Settings > General > Accessibility > VoiceOver. Once enabled, you can open the Facebook app and start scrolling down your News Feed and your friends’ profiles. Prior the launch, screen readers were limited to mentioning the name of the person who shared the photo, and a voice over that reads “photo” every time an image comes up. But with this latest advancement in the technology, Facebook made a great leap toward the right direction in creating a better world for the disabled.

Words Antonio Jose Galauran
Main photo (L-R): Matt King, Jeff Wieland, and Shaomei Wu of Facebook's Accessibility team

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