Every day, people share more than 2 billion photos across Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp.
Facebook accessibility specialist and engineer Matt King lost his vision completely in college. When he joined accessibility team after more than 20 years in the accessibility field, one of the projects he was most excited to work on centered on using object recognition technology to automatically describe photos for people who are not able to see those photos.
Automatic alternative text, or automatic alt text, is a new feature that generates a description of a photo through object recognition technology for someone who cannot see the photo. Before today, people who are visually impaired could only hear the name of the person who posted the photo as they scrolled past photos on Facebook. Now, if they’re using a screen reader on iOS, they’ll hear a richer description of the photo thanks to automatic alt text. For example, for a group photo on the beach, a person using a screen reader on iOS would now hear, “This image may contain: Three people, smiling, outdoors.” We are rolling this out in English over the next few weeks and will add more languages and platforms soon.
Facebook’s mission is to make the world more open and connected, and that means everyone, including the visually impaired community. Worldwide, more than 39 million people are blind, and over 246 million have a severe visual impairment. While this technology is still in its early stages, tapping its current capabilities to describe photos is a huge step toward providing our visually impaired community the same benefits and enjoyment that everyone else gets from photos. As Facebook becomes an increasingly visual experience, we hope our new automatic alt text technology will help the visually impaired community experience Facebook the same way others enjoy it.
Today we’re proud to introduce automatic alternative text, a new feature that provides people who are visually impaired with descriptions of a photo’s content using advancements in object recognition technology.