On Tuesday facebook unveiled a new tool that describes the images to the user. The tool called “automatic alternative text” which is currently available on iOS enabled devices recognizes basic images in pictures. If there is a picture of two people outside on the beach smiling, then the app will read it as “2 people, outdoors, smiling”. This is just a start and facebook said that it hopes the alternative text will make the descriptions more detailed and in a narrative form in the future.
The app can currently identify 100 images for now; the vocabulary of Facebook’s photo recognition program includes “car,”sky,”dessert,”baby,”shoes” and, of course, “selfie”. It is careful with the automation to avoid the risk of offending anyone.
Last year Google unveiled a tool of a similar nature in its Photos app but was quickly shut down when it identified a black couple as gorillas, prompting the company to issue an apology.
Past viewing experience of the blind
Just because the blind can’t see that does not mean they are not on the internet; their internet experience is just slightly different.
Apps like screen readers are used to narrate the websites and or translate them to Braille. The process is cumbersome as it only reads or translates one line at a time. A variety of keyboard shortcuts is used to navigate the web page instead of the mouse.
Earlier the information was only text based so it was easier for the blind, but now that the entire nature of the internet has changed to a more visual nature with the advent of pictures, videos etc a large section of the population is missing out.
Facebook is not the lone crusader in the effort to make the internet more usable for the blind. A couple of months earlier twitter announced that their platform will be more blind friendly by letting the users caption the images and screenshots. The change did not receive accolades among the community as it increases the effort on the part of the user. They will have to tweet, post an image then write a description for it. As it increases a step further to post a tweet, not a lot of media organizations and people will be ready to go the extra mile. This problem is eliminated by facebook’s automatic alternative text app.