Facebook has just announced that it is improving accessibility on the social network by launching a new feature called automatic alternative text.
It means that people who use screen readers – software that vocally describes what’s onscreen – can now receive summaries of the elements captured in photos posted on Facebook.
Before this update, a screen reader’s automated voice would react rather simplistically to a photo appearing in the News Feed, only giving the name of the person, the description the person added to the picture, and the word “photo.”
But thanks to artificial intelligence (AI), people with disabilities will finally be able to get a better grasp of the things their friends want to communicate. For now, Facebook is testing this feature for people on iOS who use the social app in English.
Some of the new captions are almost poetic in their simplicity; for example, the screen reader could say the “image may contain sky, tree, outdoor.”
According to Matt King, accessibility specialist at Facebook, the new feature is meant to make it possible for people to “feel totally included in the social interaction and be able to feel part of it without having to feel awkward.”
Facebook’s improvement of its accessibility comes only a few days after Twitter announced that users could include captions of the photos that go along with tweets, for the same purpose. Apple and Microsoft have also hinted they will renew their commitment to accessibility.
But instead of letting users do the work, Facebook has invested a lot of money on AI research and has placed deep learning at the core of the new feature.
Deep learning is one of the most fascinating branches of artificial intelligence – it involves training artificial neural networks to interpret lots of data, like photos, and then expecting them to be able to make accurate predictions about new data.
But in an attempt to make sure the information it gives about a photo is accurate, Facebook designed the automatic alternative text to present users with only a few select words.
As Facebook head of accessibility Jeff Wieland said, “less information is better than inaccurate information,” which means the feature will only mention the things that it knows for sure are actually in the image.
Users can enable automatic alternative text by turning on VoiceOver in the Accessibility menu on iOS devices.
Image Source: Silicon Beat