Every day, people share millions of pictures on all sorts of different social media platforms. Sharing visual content is a great way for people to communicate online, but unfortunately present a challenge for the visually impaired. According to the World Health Organization, 285 million people are estimated to be visually impaired. 246 million who have low vision and 39 million who are blind. In order to help this community enjoy social media the same way as others enjoy it, both Facebook and Twitter are now more accessible to the visually impaired.
Facebook Uses Artificial Intelligence
The social media platform released a new update of the iOS version of the Facebook app on April 4th. Thanks to this update, the visually impaired can now “see” the pictures on their timeline. This is due to the app now being able to tell people what kind of image is being featured on their timeline. For iOS users it was already possible to have the Facebook app read text on their timeline, however pictures were simply described as ‘picture’. Thanks to Automatic Alternative Text, a brand new object recognition technology, it is now possible for users to get a description of an image. Users will for example get to hear “ice cream, food” if there’s a picture of ice cream on their timeline and “trees, sky, outside” when there’s a picture of park. “While this technology is still nascent, tapping its current capabilities to describe photos is an important step toward providing our visually impaired community the same benefits and enjoyment that everyone else gets from photos” said Jeffrey Wieland, Head of Accessibility at Facebook. At the moment, the update is only available for iOS devices, but will soon be released for Android too.
Twitter Releases Compose Image Description Option
Twitter announced in March that the social media platform would be more accessible for the visually impaired. The new feature is available for both iOS and Android. Unfortunately, this option is a lot less advanced than its competitor Facebook. One important thing that should be noted is that this is not an automatic update; users need to turn the new feature on themselves in Twitter’s accessibility settings. When enabling this function, every time you add a picture to a tweet, you’ll be able to add a description of up to 420 characters. People who are visually impaired then have access to the description via their assistive technology (such a screen readers). The downside of this feature is that Twitter users have to actually add the descriptions themselves, instead of using automatic software like Facebook. Twitter took a step in the right direction, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement.
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