Facebook: New 'automatic alt text' feature launched to describe photos to blind people

Posted: 05/04/2016 | ,

Screen shot of phone screen showing Facebook's alt text feature

Facebook has become more accessible to blind and visually impaired people with a new feature which uses artificial intelligence to describe images.

The automatic alternative text feature comes just one week after Twitter launched a new ‘alt text’ feature for their app. 

Facebook’s alt text function will enable people using screen readers on iOS devices will hear a list of items a photo may contain as they scroll past images on their newsfeed.

Before today people would only have heard the name of the person who shared the image, followed by the term ‘photo’.

For example, if someone posted a status saying ‘It finally happened!!’ alongside an image, the user would not have any information about what that person is referring to.

Alt text provides a richer description of what’s in the photo, giving context to their Facebook posts.

Unlike Twitter, the alt text technology automatically generates an alt text caption, for example a visually impaired user using a screen reader might hear ‘image may contain: three people, smiling outdoors’.

This means that blind users won't have to rely on individuals to add an alt text caption to each of the images they share. 

The technology is launching on iOS screen readers set to English today. It is expected other languages and platforms will follow soon.

In Facebook’s press release about the new feature, they said: “While this technology is still nascent, tapping its current capabilities to describe photos is an important step toward providing our visually impaired community the same benefits and enjoyment that everyone else gets from photos.”