The internet is changing,from a medium almost based entirely on text, it’s now becoming increasingly picture lead.
But what does that mean for blind and visually impaired people?
For the majority it means we are left behind, kept out of the loop not being able to interact with our peers the way we want to because we lack the vision to see pictures our friends and family are uploading to Social Meia platforms.
Modern assistive technologies can only work so far… Screen readers can only do basic functions, unless coded otherwise. A screen reader is software used by blind and visually impaired people to navigate around their phones/ tablets/ laptops. On Apple products this is already part of the computer systems software, called VoiceOver.
However this is all set to change; in the last month both Twitter and FaceBook have set up new features enabling blind and visually impaired people to feel included with the use of Alt Text (Alternative Text,) and A.I. (Artificial Intelligence)
Alt Text is a coding function used by HTML attributes. Users of assistive technology called screen readers can read the Alt Text aloud, enabling blind and visually impaired people to understand the context of the picture. It is embedded within the picture so people with sight do not see the descriptions. However this does not come automatically with any picture uploaded to the internet. The person uploading the picture must configure the Alt Text; giving a brief description of what the picture contains.
For example this picture here is a picture of the beach. I have added the Alt Text: Sun shining on a beautiful Spanish beach.
I have given people that use screen readers a visual explanation of what the image contains.
If I were not to edit my images before I uploaded them to my blog, the picture may say something like Image46754524-spa213456 (ok so I just made that up, but it’s not far off what a person who uses a screen reader might hear.
This is the feature that Twitter has installed in it’s latest version. You can enable this by going to
Me > Settings> Accessibility > Compose Image Descriptions
*Adds the ability to describe images for the visually impaired*
Once this function is enabled, anyone who adds a picture on Twitter then has the option of adding a description. This can be a maximum of 420 characters. Again, this will be embedded within the photo, so people using screen readers can access it.
Here is a Tweet I sent out yesterday.
For those who cannot see: this is my profile picture/logo that I use throughout my blogg platforms. #NoUglySelfie pic.twitter.com/rqX1DW3UE9
— Thinking out Loud (@SassyWyatt) April 24, 2016
My description of the picture says: White figure on dark blue background using a white cane.
This is the test that will read to those using a screen reader.
I feel this is a fantastic way to encourage the public to be more aware of blind and visually impaired people using Twitter, especially if they have blind or visually impaired followers. It will make people like myself feel included, and trust me if people are anything like me, they will be jumping for joy at that inclusivity! 🙂
Personally although I love the feature, people who do not pay attention to social media updates, or have friends with visual impairments may not know of this feature, and would therefore not have it switched on.
This in itself is a major drawback; although there are advocates such as myself for inclusivity and accessibility, it’s not widely known by the general public.
I believe if these sorts of updates were shown on the news and local papers, the public would be far more likely to pay attention, and try their best to support disabled people in whatever way they could.
So this is my polite request:
If you are adding images to your Tweets, please enable the *Compose Image Descriptions* and add a short line explaining the picture. It won’t interfere with your Tweet or character length, but would certainly make my day 🙂
Artificial Intelligence is a branch of Computer Science concerned with making computers behave like humans. Facebook servers have now been coded to describe uploaded images to the site.
Matt King,is a blind engineer who helped develop this feature.
“Our Artificial Intelligence has advanced to the point where it’s practical for us to try to get computers to describe pictures in a meaningful way.”
So far it is in it’s very early stages, but for people like myself it’s moving in the right direction. The system currently describes up to 80familiar objects and activities.
These include: transport, environment, food, appearance and sports.
Here is a recent image posted to FaceBook
The A.I. describes this image as
I am truly pleased that Facebook is trying it’s best to become inclusive of visual impairment on it’s site. It’s also fantastic that there is a blind man at the forefront pushing this along, no doubt he has put a lot of hard work and effort into getting the A.I.to work successfully.
I am going to be slightly pessimistic here though: for the most part, the A.I. almost sounds like it doesn’t know what it’s explaining… When VoiceOver is engaged, it says: “could contain” and “may contain”
Facebook has also exclaimed that this system can discriminate over 80 objects, yet the most i’ve managed to get from is vehicle, food or outdoors or “no automatic Alt text available”.
So not the best really for how much FaceBook is raving about this new feature.
After lots of searching, and then eventual help from Gary I found this
It says: “Image may contain tree, sky, outdoor, nature.”
Without this sort of technology I would not have known what this picture included at all unless I asked Gary. I am grateful that this technology exists and that major Social Media platforms are trying their best to incorporate inclusion for all disabled people!
I am beyond pleased that I live in a day and age where I have access to all the technology I do, and use, on a daily basis to get around independently.
From talking scales, to GPS apps, to colour detectors.
I am extremely fortunate to be blind in 2016 and not 60 years ago, nevermind living in 1016! Technology has advanced so quickly in the last 10 years and if that has taught me anything, it’s to appreciate what access and technology we have, and in another 10 years who knows where the future will take us? What technology for the blind will be like?
Thank you FaceBook and Twitter… And please don’t forget to give your photo’s a quick description! 🙂
What are your thoughts on these new features? How quickly do you think technology will advance in the next 10 years?
Much Love, Sassy x