Today I wanted to share with you something super exciting (well I got excited about it anyway) so read on to find out what it is!
One of the biggest features of Facebook is uploading and sharing photos but for blind and visually impaired people this can often be frustrating. It’s fine if you upload the picture yourself and actually know what it is but can be rather annoying when someone tags you in a photo or shares one with you and you have no idea what it is.
Well guess what? Facebook have now developed a photo description feature that uses artificial intelligence to describe photos to blind and visually impaired users that are using Apple’s VoiceOver on iOS. It is in its early stages, but it is expected to soon be available for android users and people using Facebook with a screen-reader on the web. For those of you that don’t know what a screen-reader is, it is software that reads what is on the screen out loud to blind and visually impaired users enabling them to be able to use a computer, phone or tablet. On apple products it is pre-installed on all of their products, it is known as VoiceOver.
Facebook call the photo description feature “Automatic alternative text” because when it detects a photo it describes it to users automatically. It recognises transport such as “train” “car” or “boat”, nature such as “flower” or “snow” and it can even recognise a selfie. For a selfie it reads “image may contain, x amount of people, selfie, close up”.
Twitter announced a similar feature last week but personally I think that there are a few downfalls with twitters photo descriptions. Firstly, users have to enable this feature, and it is hidden away in the accessibility settings within the app. The other downfall is that users have to type photo descriptions in so that they are accessible for blind and visually impaired users. Personally I don’t think that many sighted people will even think to enable this feature let alone type descriptions when tweeting a picture. It may improve over time though!
The Facebook photo descriptions do have negative aspects as well, some of the descriptions are very vague so users don’t have a clear description of what the picture is. Also, they do not read text within photos, it says “image may contain text”. I’m sure that Facebook will improve the descriptions though.
I love how both social networking websites are taking this approach to making it more inclusive and giving disabled people the same experience as everyone else. Personally I think that this is a huge step in the right direction for blind and visually impaired people and I would love to see other social networking websites adopting the same or a similar approach.
I hope you found this post useful if you didn’t know about the photo description feature! I would love requests on topics you’d like me to cover, please do send me your suggestions, you’re the readers after all!