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A new feature from Facebook will change how millions experience it

The system, automatic alternative text, will help those who are blind or visually impaired know what is in a photo.

Soon those with vision problems will be able to know what exactly is happening in photos like this one.
Soon those with vision problems will be able to know what exactly is happening in photos like this one.
Image: AP Photo/Dar Yasin

THOSE WHO ARE blind or have visual impairments will soon be able to find out what is contained in photos on Facebook.

The system, called ‘automatic alternative text’, was launched today and creates captions for photos posted on the site. Using a screen reader, which uses a device’s built-in text-to-speech function to read out text, the system will offer a brief summary of an image when it sees it.

So for example, a photo with your friends outside may be described as “image may contain three people, smiling, outdoors”.

Currently, the system will only read the person posting it and mention the term ‘photo’ on its own before skipping to the next post. This update will try to describe what is in the photo.

The description appears at the bottom of the image and is repeated by the phone’s text-to-speech function.

The descriptions aren’t the most comprehensive, instead focusing on basic labels like people, trees, and cars, but it only identifies objects when it’s confident it knows what’s in it. It is a work in progress, but Facebook hopes it will continue to improve over time.

facebook image description Source: Facebook/Vimeo

How it manages to do this is through object recognition technology developed by its accessibility team, which was created five years ago. In recent months, the company had been demoing the service and explaining how it used artificial intelligence to power it.

Those who use the iOS version in the US will have access to it first while the feature will roll out to users in other countries over time.

When it arrives, you need to turn on VoiceOver on iOS to use it. Go into Settings > General > Accessibility > VoiceOver and you will see the different options and settings for it.

Read: A new iPhone bug lets you talk Siri into giving you its contacts and photos >

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About the author:

Quinton O'Reilly

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