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Facebook's New Tools to Help the Blind Navigate Social Media

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Accessibility Specialist at Facebook Matt King, who is blind, demonstrates how a new Facebook tool verbally describes photos to users.

Facebook engineer Matt King, who is part of the company's accessibility team, is blind so he knows firsthand what it is like to use social media without sight.

Credit: Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group

Engineer Matt King is blind and works on Facebook's accessibility team. He knows through firsthand experience that even as social media becomes a more integral part of the modern world, it often is hard for people with disabilities to interact with the latest technologies.

King says the process of browsing Facebook as a blind person five years ago was so frustrating that he gave up and let his wife control his account for him. The problem has only gotten worse as social media has shifted to focus heavily on sharing and commenting on visual media such as still and animated images and video.

Facebook has made strides in making it easier for the visually impaired to interact with the service by instituting changes that make it easier to use the site with a screen reader. Some of the changes include improving HTML headings, creating keyboard shortcuts, and adding alternative text for images. The company also is trying to make visual content more accessible to the blind by using artificial intelligence software to create alternative text for images that describe the setting as well as the people and things within it.

The technology, which is being tested in 32 languages, could be publicly released early next year.

From San Jose Mercury News
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