Facebook Builds New Program to Help Blind Users ‘See’ Photos
Lifestyle| | By Margo Gothelf
Facebook has developed a new tool that will help blind users “see” their photos by describing what’s going on in photos that users share on the social networking site.
The new feature will debut on Tuesday in Facebook’s iPhone app. The app will use an AI to interpret the picture and give a brief description. The program will recognize faces and objects, reading the description out loud to the user. The VoiceOver feature (the iPhone’s built-in screen reader) must be enabled for the technology to work. Currently, it is only available in English.
Right now the program only has a vocabulary of about 100 words, keeping the descriptions from going into a lot of detail. An example of a description may be, “three people, smiling, outdoors,” shared USA Today.
Facebook is being highly sensitive with the name of the product, “automatic alternative text,” making sure not to offend its target audience.
“We really want to start with a set of concepts that frequently appear in photos that add a lot of value to the narrative of the photo,” Jeff Wieland, Facebook’s head of accessibility, shared with USA Today.
The tool was developed after a request from the visually impaired, sharing they felt left out and “excluded from the conversation surrounding photos in their News Feed.”
Currently, more than 2 billion photos are shared every day on the social network, including the other applications Facebook owns such as Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp.
In a video uploaded to Facebook’s Newsroom page, blind users get a first-hand account of the new program.
“I love it. You have no idea,” says one of the unnamed women in the video. “I feel like I can fit in.”
Another says, “That whole saying of ‘A picture’s being worth a thousand words,’ I think it’s true, but unless you have somebody to describe it to you – even having three words – just helps flesh out all the details that I can’t see. That makes me feel included…and that I’m a part of it too.”
Facebook has plans to develop the technology for the Web and Android apps in the future.