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Facebook's Automatic Alternative Text Gives Photo Descriptions to Blind Users


Facebook just launched a program that reads keywords related to images on users’ newsfeeds. Automatic alternative text, or automatic alt text, uses object recognition technology to offer a “richer description” of the photo content.

On its Newsroom press page, Facebook stated that 2 billion photos are uploaded across its family of apps every day, and 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.”

“Each advancement in object recognition technology means that the Facebook Accessibility team will be able to make technology even more accessible for more people,” the social network added. “When people are connected, they can achieve extraordinary things as individuals and as a community — and when everyone is connected, we all benefit.”

Automatic Alternative Text from Facebook on Vimeo.

In the video above, one user with a visual impairment says:

That whole saying of pictures being worth a thousand words — I think it’s true, but unless you have somebody to describe it to you, even having three words, just helps flesh out all of the details that I can’t see. That makes me feel included and like I’m a part of it, too.

Prior to this advancement, people using screen readers only heard the name of the person who shared the image, followed by the word “photo.” Now, when they scroll through their newsfeeds, they might hear, “Image may contain three people, smiling, outdoors.”

Automatic alt text is first being launched on iOS screen readers set to English, but Facebook plans to add the program for other languages and platforms soon.

“Facebook’s mission is to make the world more open and connected,” the social network concluded in the video above. “And that goes for everyone.”

You can read more about the development of automatic alt text here, and learn more in Facebook’s Help Center and at facebook.com/accessibility.