Facebook Adds Feature to Accommodate Blind Users

April 6, 2016

3:24 pm

Facebook can only be described as a cultural phenomenon. Everyone and their mothers use it for multiple hours a day for everything from crush-stalking to awkward commenting. It’s so popular that people famously say, “if you don’t post a picture on Facebook, it didn’t happen.” But there are millions of users that are missing out on this fundamental aspect of the world’s most popular app: blind people.

But with the addition of a brand new feature, Facebook is making their world-changing app even more accessible. Named “automatic alternative text,” this feature will actively describe photos to blind and visually-impaired users. Through the use of machine learning, the software uses an algorithm to notice patterns and shapes that are easily identifiable and describable. While it is still in the early stages, it can recognize transportation, nature, sports and food quite consistently.

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 4.14.51 PM

With 285 million blind people in the world, this technology has been a long time coming. The 5-year-old accessibility team for Facebook can be credited with the rollout, along with other blind user-focused initiatives like the larger font update, which 10 percent of users take advantage of. This team has spent the last half decade making the Facebook experience possible for everyone, particularly those with disabilities.

“What we’re trying to do is make a more inclusive platform and make the world a better place,” said Matt King of the Facebook accessibility team.

So is this technology a game changer? Probably not. While it speaks volumes for Facebook’s commitment to making their product accessible to differently-abled users, it is just listing off words that are in the picture. Granted, any information is better than none, but there is still something lacking from the real world. The “Visible” episode of The Truth Podcast does an excellent job of showing how these “seeing eye apps” still lack the human touch. Hopefully, as time goes on, technology will improve to a level that matches the necessity for compassion. But until then, this will have to do.

Photo: Flickr / Sarah Marshall


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Conor is a writer, comedian and world-renowned sweetheart. As the Assistant Editor and Writer at Tech.Co, he’s written about everything from Kickstarter campaigns and budding startups to tech titans and innovative technologies. His background in stand-up comedy made him the perfect person to host Startup Night at SXSW and the Funding Q&A at Innovate! and Celebrate, posing questions to notable tech minds from around the world. In his spare time, he thinks about how to properly pronounce the word "colloquially." Conor is the Assistant Editor and Writer at Tech.Co. You can email him at conor@tech.co.

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