How Facebook Is Making Photos Accessible To The Blind

Accessibility is clearly in focus for Facebook.

For the majority of its users, Facebook is the one-stop social media app. Current events, status updates, videos and photos are all integral parts of the Facebook user experience. But how do you appreciate a photo on your News Feed if you can’t see it?

The Facebook Accessibility Team is working on an artificial intelligence tool—known internally as Facebook for the Blind—that will analyze any photo and describe what that picture shows to an end user, Wired reports. Facebook already embeds text-to-speech software in the platform and approximately 50,000 members access the site through a screen reader such as Apple’s Voiceover.

Facebook for the Blind is now the next step up the accessibility ladder for the social network’s end users.

Making The Most Of Artificial Intelligence

Accessibility team member Mark King—who is blind himself—said to Wired that being able to increase a blind user’s perspective of an image from basically nothing to approximately 50% of potential enjoyment is a massive leap forward in terms of accessibility. At the time of writing, the AI tool is still in the early stages of development but King said that the potential for this tool is beyond question.

The AI tool for the blind is based on the principle of deep learning—a standard part of the Facebook playbook since inception. In much the same way that users can tag locations, friends and objects in the standard version of Facebook, this latest feature will paint an accurate—if simple—version of the picture.

For example, the screen reader software could tell the user that the image has “a bridge, clouds, grass, a bicycle and a smiling person.” It may also provide the end user with some context as to where it was taken and which friend is in the shot.

At a recent town hall meeting in Delhi, India, Mark Zuckerberg said that AI was a crucial component of Facebook’s accessibility goals.

facebook_townhall

Facebook for the Blind is part of creating a computer system that is better at understanding the main human senses than people, although Zuckerberg said that the goal was not to create a system that was smarter than a human. In other words, developing an AI tool that can replace or complement specific human tasks that includes enhancing visual experiences for disabled users is just part of making Facebook accessible to all.

He said:

We take accessibility features at Facebook very seriously. For people who are blind or can’t see the service, we want to make sure that they can experience the moments that their friends are sharing with them. So one of the things that we are doing now is that if you are blind and you can’t see a photo, we can have our AI look at the photo and read an explanation of that photo to you. It is not 100%, but it will improve and get better in the future … and I think that that is a really cool thing when you have computers that can see the world in the way that people do.

Part of the “Accessibility: Inclusion Is Not An Illusion” Series

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