The company notes that with 39 million people who are blind and over 246 million who are severely visually impaired, many users feel excluded from conversations that often revolve around photos on Facebook.
Today the company unveiled a feature called automatic alternative text to address that problem.
Automatic alternative text, or automatic alt text, is a new development that generates a description of a photo using advancements in object recognition technology. People using screen readers on iOS devices will hear a list of items a photo may contain as they swipe past photos on Facebook. Before today, people using screen readers would only hear the name of the person who shared the photo, followed by the term “photo” when they came upon an image in News Feed. Now we can offer a richer description of what’s in a photo thanks to automatic alt text. For instance, someone could now hear, “Image may contain three people, smiling, outdoors.”
This is possible because of Facebook’s object recognition technology, which is based on a neural network that has billions of parameters and is trained with millions of examples. Each advancement in object recognition technology means that the Facebook Accessibility team will be able to make technology even more accessible for more people. When people are connected, they can achieve extraordinary things as individuals and as a community — and when everyone is connected, we all benefit.
Automatic alt text is initially launching to iOS users with their language set to English but it will move to other languages and platforms soon.
You can download Facebook from the App Store for free.