Facebook has created a new feature that will help people with visual impairments experience photos on the social media site. The feature, automatic alternative text (AAT), is designed to describe pictures to people who are blind or visually impaired.
AAT enables the Facebook app to recognize visual cues in a picture and to describe these cues out loud. Currently, the feature is available on the iPhone and iPad and can be turned on by asking Siri to “turn on VoiceOver,” an iOS feature that describes what is on the screen out loud.
The creation of this feature marks an important move towards making social media and technology accessible to more people. Around 285 million people in the world are blind or visually impaired.
Matt King, a member of Facebook’s accessibility team who is blind, experienced difficulty using Facebook in the past.
“What you might do in 15 or 20 minutes, just sitting back enjoying a cup of coffee, looking at what pictures your friends posted, an equivalent activity [for me] would’ve been like four hours of strenuous figuring out what to do,” King said. “It’s a feeling like all of technology and society is moving against you. You’re shoved to the margins yet again.”
With the creation of this feature, King and other blind and visually impaired Facebook users are beginning to be included in the experience of technology and social media.
Facebook plans to continue working on the AAT feature to include improvements such as more detailed and captivating descriptions of photos.