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.”
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.”
When people see me read within five inches from my face, they ask me, “Do you wear contacts?” or “Do you have glasses at home?” To which I say yes, and then they have a look of confusion on their faces.
For most people, vision is something that can and must be fixed. They snap on some contacts or glasses and have 20/20 vision. For me, my retinas are scarred and can only be changed so much.
At this point in my life, I’m tired of people treating my vision as if it’s broken. I have done what I can to adapt to my surroundings, and I live a happy life. When I tell people how my eyes work, they feel sorry for me.
I know I can’t get frustrated with this, though, because most people don’t understand what it means to be legally blind. Legal blindness is when your visual acuity is 20/200 or lower, with or without corrective lenses. It’s sort of a spectrum of conditions. No one person’s vision is the same, or happened the same way, but one thing we share is the stigma behind it — that we should fix ourselves.
In my case, I have congenital varicella syndrome, nystagmus and I’m near-sighted. When my mom was pregnant with me, she had chicken pox during her first trimester and it scarred my retinas. My vision won’t weaken and can only be corrected to 20/200 and 20/400.
For those who don’t understand what this means, let me explain: Something that’s 20 feet away from you appears to be 200 or more feet away from me. I wear contact lenses to help me see details further away, but I see better close up without any lenses.
I don’t focus on the distant blurs, however. I choose to focus on what is in front of me and my better senses. My sense of smell and hearing are heightened because they compensate for my vision. When someone doubts my ability to complete a task, I prove them wrong. I am strong. This is a part of me, and I never let my disability hold me back.
Living with low vision is often a struggle, but it can be transforming. Those who are legally blind are stuck between a culture of full blindness, where people use Braille to read, and total sight and never needing aids.
We are in the grey area of blindness, and we’re pressured to choose a side: blindness or normal vision. I have good days where I’m an advocate for the visually impaired, and other days I’m filled with self pity. It happens.
But when I am asked the million-dollar question, “If you could have surgery to fix your eyes, would you do it?” I have to say no. Why should I have to feel sorry for myself and fix part of my identity? I was born this way, and I can’t help but think there’s purpose in it.
I wasn’t meant to live a life where I have to feel broken. I’m not bashing on those who have undergone surgery to help their conditions, but I don’t believe people with disabilities should feel pressured to be “fixed.” If a person chooses to undergo surgery, therapy or anything else, let it be from personal choice and not because of a cultural stigma. We are beautiful, not broken.
The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.
I once believed that no man would want to spend the rest of his life with me, let alone date me. I have been called many names based on my disability, and those words are hard to forget. “She does not matter. She is blind.” “You poor thing.”
Having a disability can cause a battle between my self-confidence and the truth that I am strong and brave. I have many insecurities, and felt that no one would be able to put up with them. Many of these struggles are in my head, and many of them I will have the rest of my life. I fear new places, people, and being judged by others. I am strong, but I am only human, and everyone has their bad days.
And then I met you. I knew I wanted to be around you, because getting to know you was easy. It was not scary; it was fun. You pursued me every day. You said you wanted to be a part of my life when we first met, whether it was romantically or not. I told you I was not ready to be in a relationship, even though I wanted to. We were falling for each other, but it was hard for me to believe someone as caring, funny and handsome as you wanted to be with me. I told you I was legally blind and that I was going through counseling at the time, but you said it did not matter, that it made me stronger.
We met only a couple of years ago in college, so the dating phase was fun. I could tell you anything at all, from my childhood or from a few months ago, and it was all new to you. It was fun getting to know someone who came from such a different background, and find someone with the same values. It was easy to fall for you. You listened to what I said, and remembered it all. You still do. This is important, because the little things you remembered meant you actually cared. You were the one I dreamed about, but never thought I would find. You made me feel special and still do every day.
After a few weeks I told you I wanted to be official because I could not ignore the fact that I already fell for you, and you caught me. You made me feel respected, and I respected myself around you. There was no question about being together. It was the way you respected me, loved me and made me laugh that caused me to finally be happy about who I was. I get so caught up in my own insecurities, but you bring me back to reality.
When you got down on one knee a year later, I could not wait to be Mr. and Mrs. Thank you for choosing me, and for the many things that you do. You make me feel like what I call my “silly girl emotions” are legitimate feelings. When you look me in the eyes, I am able to hold your gaze. You make me feel safe when I am anxious. Thank you for being the love of my life. Thank you for reading menus to me when I cannot. Thank you for driving me around because I cannot. Thank you for teaching me sports, when I do not know what is going on. Thank you for dancing in my apartment with me, even though you never dance without music. Thank you for being the man I will soon call my husband. I promise to see the best in myself, and always in you. I promise to always be there for you, like you are for me.
The Mighty is asking the following: What do you want your past, current or future partner to know about being with someone with your disability, disease or mental illness?If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.
Being a young, 30-something, blind woman, I usually stand out in a crowd. People are often shocked to see someone my age wielding a white cane as I navigate through my local neighborhood. When my husband and I found out we were expecting just six months after I had been declared blind, the two of us were in absolute shock. The idea of impending parenthood thrilled and frightened us both. We had no doubt in our ability to raise and love a child. However, we knew the words “disability” and “pregnancy” were not exactly synonymous.
As my belly began to grow, I felt like I graduated from neighborhood oddity status to circus sideshow act. People could not seem to get over the fact that a blind, disabled woman could actually be pregnant and was planning to raise a child. Already scared out of my mind, the intrusive, jaw-dropping questions I received began to add additional stress to my already high-risk pregnancy.
I didn’t want to feel bad about being pregnant. I didn’t want to feel sorry for myself for being blind. I just wanted people to be happy for me; but congratulations and inappropriate belly rubs were hard to come by. At a weekly ultrasound appointment with my doctor, I burst into tears talking about the situation. He listened sympathetically during my hormonal tirade, handing me Kleenex after Kleenex. When I had finished, he put his hand on my shoulder and gently said, “But I have one question, why do you care?”
His words rocked me to my pregnant core and then it hit me. If I was about to be somebody’s mother, I had better grow some thicker skin. I couldn’t succumb to this negativity. Why did I care? I was not going to feel bad about this pregnancy or the baby I so desperately wanted because I was disabled. I decided right then and there if people had the nerve to ask, then they needed to be prepared for my answers and a few follow up questions.
1) Was this pregnancy planned?
The sex was, but the baby was an added bonus. Issues relating to family planning involve two people, my husband and myself. But, if you must know, we were thrilled when we found out I was pregnant. No, we didn’t plan to have a baby six months after I became blind. We had tried to start a family for years and oddly enough in the midst of a catastrophic health crisis, it happened. There’s a precious bundle on the way and, planned or not, we’re so excited. Can you just be happy for us?
2) You’re not keeping it?
If by “it” you were referring to my baby, why wouldn’t I keep my child? I’m an educated woman in a happy, stable and committed relationship. I have the financial means and support system in place to provide for this baby. I want nothing more than to become a mother. The world is filled with disabled people who are capable, competent and financially stable enough to raise children, biologically or otherwise. Maybe you were unaware?
Oh, you mean the man I’ve been married to for 10 years? The person I share a life with? Are you referring to my husband, the soon-to-be father, who’s over the moon about impending parenthood? He’s right over there. Disabled people are married. Our relationships are not unlike any other you’ve encountered. We go through our fair share of good times and not so good times. Did you assume somebody wouldn’t want a meaningful relationship with me because of my disability?
4) I didn’t think disabled people were “allowed” to have kids.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but there is no law that states people must become sterilized if they become disabled. We have sex. We reproduce, same as you. People with all sorts of disabilities make the conscious decision every day to have children. This may come as a shock, but “people like me” don’t need permission from “people like you” to have a baby.
5) But how will you _________?
How will I change the baby? How will I feed it? How will I get to the pediatrician? Don’t you think I’ve thought about all this stuff? Don’t you think I lay in bed every night worrying about how I can accomplish these things? I’m scared. Terrified even. But here’s a newsflash, what new parent isn’t? I have nine months to make a plan, figure things out, network and put resources in place to enable me to meet the ever-changing needs of my baby. And frankly, since you’re not the one responsible for my kid, then you’re not the one who has to worry about any of it. I don’t have all the answers, and that’s OK. Disabled or not, I am about to be a mother, and when it comes to my baby, I will go to the ends of the Earth to make sure he or she has everything that’s needed.
6) Don’t you think having a disabled mother will be hard on your child?
Yes, having a disabled mother may be hard on my child. Despite my best efforts, I know I have limitations. As a blind mom, I might not be the ideal soccer coach, and there is no chance in hell I am going to be volunteering for car pool duties. But I know having me for a mother means my child will learn determination. My child will know when life throws them a challenge, and there will be plenty, they don’t have to succumb to it. They will understand what it means to have empathy for another human being. My child will know that someone’s disability does not define them as an individual, because it does not define my role as their mother.
So please, if you ever encounter a disabled pregnant woman, don’t make assumptions. Don’t interrogate them. Tell them they are glowing. Say congratulations. Treat these soon to be mommies like you would any other expectant mom — and always remember, despite the woman’s disability, loving their baby requires no “accommodations.”
The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.
I used to go to an eye doctor whose words showed that he looked down on me and my disability. He said, “You poor thing,” when I could not pass the eye exam. He was trained to be an expert on vision, but he was not an expert on my life. He looked at the results of my tests and only saw the impairments in my eyes. He did not know the things I could do.
What I would tell him now is that he might think he knows my challenges on paper, but he does not know how I handle them. I am legally blind, but I never let it hold me back. It is a part of me, but it does not define me. When I look at the world in front of me, I do not see blurry vision or strained pictures. I look at what I know and appreciate what is there. I look at what is in front of me, not in the far distance or past. I love to take photos of the beauty in this world, but he would not know that by looking at my test results. I love to play cards, but he would not know that by his perception of my abilities.
When people have doubts about my abilities, I see it as a challenge. No, I will not play football in a 100-yard field, but I will play football with a small group of friends. I am as capable as anyone else — I just adapt to my surroundings in a different way. I am thankful for my life, and the ability to be strong in a situation others may question. I know my limitations but challenge myself every day. My eyes might be scarred, but my ears are open to see. I should have responded to his comment right then, and helped him to change his view.
Having a disability, there will always be people who doubt our abilities, but they do not have to be right. Even though doctors may know about a condition, they cannot assume they know the patient. No one can do that. Only I know what I am capable of, and only you know what you are capable of and what you want to achieve.
This tattoo (right) in Braille says “strength.” Even though I am not fully blind and have never used Braille, I carry my disability with me every day, and I am stronger because of it.
The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a moment when you were at a hospital and a medical staffer, fellow patient or a stranger made a negative or surprising comment that caught you off guard. How did you respond to it? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.
When I was in the 8th grade, I was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa. I had no idea what it was at the time, and didn’t really feel it affected me. I could still see very well, and most of the effects weren’t supposed to happen, or so I read, until one was older. Here is what I wish my family and I had known then…
Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is an inherited disease causing retinal degeneration. It can occur and be diagnosed anytime from childhood to later adulthood, and varies in its speed of progression and severity. Growing up sighted and then losing your vision rapidly can be scary. You will have to make a lot of adjustments to how you do things over time, but with the right support and resources, it is entirely possible to live the life you want to live, and live it to the absolute fullest.
Retinitis pigmentosa is a very tricky disease. Night vision is usually the first to go, followed by peripheral vision, and then it gradually closes in, until it also takes out your central vision. The degeneration can come in waves. You can have stable vision for years and then suddenly lose a lot at once. In the advanced stages of RP, you might not be able to read a menu or identify a face, but still be able to tell someone is there and make eye contact with them. This can be confusing to the general public, who may not understand as well as they might if you had a more visible disability.
Research says many individuals with RP don’t start losing their sight until they’re in their 40s, but that’s not always the case. I’m 26, and I have lost the majority of my vision. I didn’t always recognize how much vision I had lost, like the time I missed a stop sign during my driving test. I tried to dismiss it, until I would catch myself missing many other things. I didn’t want to stop driving, but a friend with RP put things in perspective. What if I were driving, and a young kid decided to cross the street, and I didn’t see him just like I didn’t see that stop sign? How could I live with myself? I took my friend’s advice and eventually surrendered my license.
If you are diagnosed while still in the public school system, it will be highly beneficial to get an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) for services in the classroom and other supports that will affect your development. While I disclosed to principals and teachers that I had a visual impairment, I didn’t know special education or disability services could benefit me until much later, when I was a sophomore in college. I wish I had known. Many of my high school teachers did a great job with accommodating me, but a lot of broken bones and headaches (literally and figuratively) could have been prevented if I’d had a Teacher for the Blind or Visually Impaired and an Orientation and Mobility Instructor in high school. I would have been able to start the process of adjusting to my disability much sooner.
Outside of the school system, there are many other supports. Each state in the United States has a Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program that prepares individuals with disabilities for employment. Most states also have a Division for Blind Services (or a name very similar) for individuals with vision loss. In Texas, our VR program starts working with children at the age of 10 to help them learn everything from independent living skills, to Orientation and Mobility, to specialized instruction in Braille, etc. If you have a significant enough visual impairment and qualify for these services, it is great to start early. However, you can also start as you are transitioning out of high school or college into employment. I found out about VR services after my freshman year in college, and started receiving Orientation and Mobility training, and later Assistive Technology, Independent Living skills training, and more. I highly encourage every family who has someone newly diagnosed with RP to contact their local VR program. There is also Lighthouse for the Blind and similar organizations in many states.
The above services helped me make great strides, increase my self-confidence, and develop more independent living skills. However, one of the things that helped me the most was meeting a young lady with RP. She was a mother to two beautiful children, graduated college with two degrees and managed her house independently. She had already been through what I was going through, and had great advice for me. She showed me how creativity goes a long way in terms of figuring out how to do things. She rocked being blind, and as one of the first people I knew with RP, she gave me a lot of hope.
She and her brother, who also has RP, introduced me to guide dogs. I always thought guide dogs were for individuals with total blindness, but in fact they can help individuals with RP, who might be able to see a person’s face but will miss every curb and bump or any obstacle that is not directly in front of them. Guide dogs can provide a lot of help in the nighttime, when the weather is bad, and as your vision degenerates. They can be that solid companion to help you with the emotional impact of vision loss. My Makiko has been instrumental in helping me maintain my level of independence. She has adjusted well to the changes in my vision, learning to help me with my new needs.
RP can be a roller coaster ride with its periods of stability and then sudden degeneration, constantly learning how to accommodate your new state of vision loss and continuing to do what you were doing. However, there are many resources out there that can make the roller coaster a little smoother. When I was diagnosed, my family and I all wish we had known about all of the services and support available. It would have made the transitions less of a headache.
I am now 26 years old. I am a huge family person. I am very active within my community. I am a full-time VR Counselor for the State of Texas and absolutely love my job. I live independently, love to travel, and have a great social life. I also have retinitis pigmentosa, and thanks to the amazing support and services I have now received, I live a very full life.
The Mighty is asking the following: Write the article you wish you’d found the first time you Googled your or a loved one’s diagnosis.If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.