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OPLIN 4cast #485: Reading the pictures

Posted in 4cast

blindfolded womanMany things in life are not easy for blind people, and the internet is certainly one of those things. Screen reader software has never been particularly easy to use, and with many newer website designs, it simply doesn’t work. (We have only recently been able to add drop-down menus to the OPLIN Dynamic Website Kits, for example, because most drop-downs are not friendly to screen readers.) And screen readers are limited to text; as images become an ever larger part of the information posted on the internet, it seems like the blind are being left behind. But lately some very large companies have been taking some very big steps to make the internet, and a few other things, more accessible to the blind.

  • Identity 2016: Facebook lets blind people ‘see’ its photos (BBC News | David Baker)  “Blind people use sophisticated navigation software called screenreaders to make computers usable. They turn the contents of the screen into speech output or braille. But they can only read text and can’t ‘read’ pictures. Using artificial intelligence (AI), Facebook’s servers can now decode and describe images uploaded to the site and provide them in a form that can be read out by a screenreader. Facebook says it has now trained its software to recognise about 80 familiar objects and activities. It adds the descriptions as alternative text, or alt text, on each photo.”
  • Making social media more accessible to the visually impaired (The Boston Globe | Michael Andor Brodeur)  “Automatic alternative text arrives as part of a recent wave of advances in accessibility for the blind across tech and social media. Just last week, Twitter announced that iOS and Android users would now be able to add descriptions (i.e. old-fashioned non-automated ‘alt-text’) to any photo posted to the service. These text descriptions can extend up to 420 characters (no need to be pithy there), and are detected and read by screen reader programs.”
  • Seeing eye phone: Giving independence to the blind (CNET | Shara Tibken)  “Apple’s device isn’t the only smartphone to have accessibility features. Google’s Android software also has text-to-speech and screen-reading features for phone makers to use. Microsoft, working with Guide Dogs UK, has developed a wearable system that creates a ‘3D soundscape’ similar to BlindSquare. But not all apps are created equal. Some lose their assistive benefits after being updated. Others add the features as an afterthought, instead of from the get-go.”
  • Toyota creates device to help blind people move around (The Detroit News | Michael Martinez)  “Whereas a guide dog can lead a blind person to a doorway, Toyota’s device will be able to let the person know if it’s an entrance to a Starbucks or men’s restroom through speakers and vibrations. The user can communicate back through voice recognition and buttons to help locate a particular location or person. Toyota hopes to add mapping, object identification and facial recognition software to the device.”

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