Facebook is introducing the new feature of automatic alternative text, a development that generates a description of a photo using advancements in object recognition technology.
The initiative has been created to help the millions of people who are blind or suffer severe visual impairment to feel a sense of inclusion and engagement when it comes to the two billion plus photos shared across Facebook’s platforms every day.
Automatic alternative text, or automatic alt text, allows people using screen readers on iOS devices to hear a list of items a photo may contain as they swipe past photos on Facebook.
Prior to this development, 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, for instance, someone might hear, “Image may contain three people, smiling, outdoors.”
It comes after Twitter launched an update designed to assist people who are visually impaired by allowing users to attach image descriptions within their Tweets.
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.
Facebook is launching automatic alt text first on iOS screen readers set to English, but plans to add this functionality for other languages and platforms soon.