Facebook Helping The Blind "See" Their Newsfeeds

Posted: Apr 5 2016, 8:55pm CDT | by , in News | Technology News


Facebook Helping the Blind "See" Their Newsfeeds
Photo Credit: Getty Images

The Washington Post sat down with Matt King, a man who is completely revolutionizing the way that blind people use the internet, particularly social media.

Six years ago, King struggled to add a few friends on Facebook.

“I eventually accomplished my goal,” he said. “But I have to say, it took me an entire morning -- at least 4 hours -- to do what somebody else probably could have done in a few minutes.”

This happened because King, along with being a world-class cyclist and an engineer, is also blind. He was born with a degenerative disease that caused him to lose almost all of his vision by the time he was in college.

However, now he's working to make Facebook usable for everyone. His newest movements is a feature that rolled out today. It allows blind Facebook users to "see" the pictures that likely clutter their newsfeeds. The new feature is called "Automatic Alternative Text," and with 39 million people in the world who are blind, it is going to help a lot of them.

The way that blind people interact with the internet is completely different than those who can see.

“You can see a whole screen full of information and because of that you're able to make decisions about how to get to the information you need,” explained Chris Danielsen, director of public relations for the National Federation of the Blind, or NFB. “For a blind person, it's a bit more cumbersome.”

The blind are usually read the words on a screen by narrative websites or apps that translate them into braille. Most often, they will use keyboard shortcuts to navigate. However, the problem is that those programs only read the website's code, not what is on display. This makes them almost incomprehensible unless they were designed to be read. Developers who understand this will use "alt texts" to help describe images on the pages.

“There are all kinds of little tricks like that,” said Danielsen. “If the website is properly coded, you can get around it pretty easily -- otherwise, it can be very frustrating to navigate.”

According to King, things are getting harder and harder as the internet becomes more image intensive. “But overtime not just the content, but also the design has become much more visual in nature,” he said.

Social media is a big part of that, and Facebook users share upwards of 2 billion images per day across its platform. Those images rarely come with text that describes what is pictured.

What Facebook is trying is to use artificial intelligence to detect the most basic features of the image to help describe it.

For example, if an image were to show a couple overlooking the ocean while wearing sunglasses, the new alt text will look something like this: “This image may contain: two people, smiling, sunglasses, sky, outdoor, water.”

It might not be descriptive, but it is helpful.

For now, the feature is only available on the iOS app and in English. It only recognizes about 100 basic concepts, but they are hoping that it will grow.

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The Author

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/46" rel="author">Noel Diem</a>
Noel passion is to write about geek culture.




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