Social media has become an increasingly visual driven experience, thanks in large part to everyone having a camera always in their hands and in small part to vanity. The visual nature of social media, however, is a deterrent to the visually impaired and blind, who are unable to experience these platforms the way the rest of us do. No longer, if Facebook has anything to say about it. The social media titan has introduced a powerful artificial intelligence tool that provides automatic alternate text enabling the visually impaired to “see” photos that appear in their news feed.
This new tool capitalizes on Facebook’s object recognition technology comprised of a neural network foundation with billions of parameters and trained with millions of photographic examples in order for the text to convey what appears in an image. With the tool, any iOS screen reader can inform a user that a photo is present when scrolling through their news feed and what is in that photo. Announcing this new tool, Facebook stated the company wanted to “build technology that helps the blind community experience Facebook the same way others enjoy it.”
With more than 39 million blind individuals and 246 million with extreme visual impairments, this tool is a monumental endeavor in leveling the playing field for a significant population, and allowing them to be as social and active on social media as the rest of us. Since much of the conversation on Facebook these days revolves around visuals, this AI tool will help bridge the gap for the visually impaired so they no longer feel excluded from the conversation. The tech is still in its infancy, but Facebook has no plans to stop advancing it. Currently, the tool is limited to the English language and to iOS devices, so Facebook’s next step is to introduce more platforms and languages that can host it. Check out a demonstration of how the technology works below.