Most people are able to instantly see what’s in images when you post on social media. However, those who are blind or visually impaired (BVI) can also experience that imagery on social media, provided it’s tagged properly with alternative text (or “alt text”).
Unfortunately, many photos on social media are posted without alt text. So in 2016 Facebook introduced a new technology called automatic alternative text (AAT). This feature utilizes object recognition to generate descriptions of photos on demand. With this, blind or visually impaired individuals can more fully enjoy their News Feed.
Facebook: Alt Text Features
Facebook’s previous model used human-labelled and human-vetted data. But to expand its range, and cut down the training time, the team trained the new model on public images such as Instagram photos with captions and hashtags.
When users select that alt text option, a panel is presented that provides a more comprehensive description of a photo’s contents. This includes a count of the elements in the photo like who is in the middle and what elements are in the picture?
Features of the Alt Text Options
The new model allows users to
- choose to get a detailed description of all photos or some specific interests. Such as pictures from friends and family on Facebook newsfeed.
- AAT can reliably detect and identify information like activities, landmarks, types of animals, and so forth. For example, “May be a selfie of 2 people, outdoors, the Leaning Tower of Pisa.”
To make our models work better for everyone, we fine-tuned them so that data was sampled from images across all geographies, and using translations of hashtags in many languages. ~ Facebook
Facebook also notes that the AI can in fact identify gender, skin tone, and age axes. It even does more. They can, for instance, identify weddings around the world based (in part) on traditional apparel.
The same feature can also be seen on Twitter. However, the difference is that on Twitter, you have to type in your description. Here’s how it looks.
So, next time you post a photo, remember to use Alternative Text.