New Facebook tool lets blind users ‘see’ photos

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A new tool was launched by Facebook this week that aims to help the visually impaired ‘see’ images hosted by the social network.

Facebook can now describe the contents of photos to blind and visually impaired users using something it calls ‘automatic alternative text’.

The tool works on Apple iOS devices, and will eventually become available for Android and those accessing through a traditional web browser as well.

Screen readers, which are already in use by the visually impaired, describe the contents of a webpage via audio. Until now, however, the tool was limited to reading out text elements.

Facebook’s object recognition technology - the same tech that allows the social network to identify friends’ faces in photographs - means that visually impaired users will now be able to hear a description of the contents of any image hosted on the site.

A Facebook statement read: “With more than 39 million people who are blind, and over 246 million who have a severe visual impairment, many people may feel excluded from the conversation around photos on Facebook.

“We want to build technology that helps the blind community experience Facebook the same way others enjoy it.

“Before today, people using screen readers would only hear the name of the person who shared the photo, followed by the term “photo” when they came upon an image in News Feed.

“Now we can offer a richer description of what’s in a photo thanks to automatic alt text. For instance, someone could now hear, ‘Image may contain three people, smiling, outdoors.’”