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Facebook allows visually impaired to ‘see’ pictures

If you’ve scrolled through your Facebook feed recently, you may have noticed, like me, that your screen is filled with video after video, or pictures. Long gone are the days where your newsfeed read just as status updates from friends and pages – now almost everything is communicated visually.

Statistics show that almost 1.8 billion images are loaded onto social networks like Facebook every single day. This could be good news for those hoping to get their pictures out to the masses: brands, photographers, celebrities, fan pages, but what if you are blind or visually impaired?


A new service from Facebook is using artificial intelligence (AI) in order to decode and describe the images uploaded to the social network and manipulate them into a form which can be read out using a screenreader.

Blind and visually impaired people use screenreaders to make computers easier to use. They turn the contents of the screen into speech output or even braille. Until now, screenreaders have only been used for text.

Facebook’s new technology can recognise just under 100 objects or activities, and adds descriptions as alternative text on each photo. The technology is still in its early stages, but the company says that as the software scans more images, the more sophisticated it will become.

The man behind the development is Matt King. He works for Facebook as an engineer and lost his own sight as a result of retinitis pigmentosa – a condition which destroys the light-sensitive cells in the retina.

“On Facebook, a lot of what happens is extremely visual,’ says King, “And, as somebody who’s blind, you can really feel like you’re left out of the conversation, like you’re on the outside.”

“This is helping us move in the direction of that goal of including every single person who wants to participate in the conversation.” He adds, commenting on Facebook’s initiative to develop and invest in accessibility for different communities, allowing them to engage online.

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