Facebook for the Blind
Social media has become such a dominant feature in daily life for many people. Between popular websites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram, it is believed that humanity has developed a social media addiction. It has gotten to a point where the internet is littered with lists detailing how to overcome social media addiction and start living real life once again. However, an entire portion of the population is on the periphery of this craze. Not many people, while shooting out their midday tweet, realize that those who are blind or otherwise visually impaired cannot experience social media in the same way that they do. At least, not until now. As it turns out, Facebook is putting artificial intelligence resources toward making their website more readily available to the visually impaired.
The company has rolled out a new program called automatic alternative text, aimed to connect with the millions of visually impaired people in the world. The program has object recognition technology, based on Facebook’s neural network, that allows it to describe any photograph to its users with an incredible amount of detail. The program will be rolled out in English initially, however several other languages are expected to follow soon after.
How does it work exactly? According to Facebook software engineers, people swiping through Facebook photographs will now be told descriptions of what is in the pictures, as well as who, instead of just hearing that a ‘photo appeared.’ It was a project worked on by a blind member of Facebook’s accessibility team, which makes it personal to the company as well.
Facebook is not the only social media company looking to become more accessible to those with disabilities. Twitter recently announced that it will be taking on an initiative similar to Facebook’s new program to describe photos in tweets to the visually impaired. The partaking of these two major social media companies to build out programs for those with disabilities foreshadows other social media platforms doing the same.
Of course, the technology is quite young and not yet perfected. There will be a trial and error period for Facebook as they test out the program and fix glitches in the system. This is, however, an important step in inclusion for the disabled. It is easy to forget how much of daily life is taken advantage of by those without disabilities. Facebook’s decision to actively include individuals that are visually impaired indicates a promising future for inclusion in social media.