Huffington Post: How Accessible Technology Is Moving Into The Mainstream

1 September 2016
Source: Huffington Post

By Robin Spinks, Senior Strategy Manager at RNIB Solutions

Facebook recently launched “automatic alternative text”, a piece of software that describes photos for blind and partially sighted people who cannot automatically see them. The system was created by Facebook’s accessibility specialist Matt King who lost his sight in college, according to the social network, and wanted to create a project using object recognition technology to describe photos.

Before this system launched users could only hear the name of the person who had posted the picture as they scrolled down the page.  The technology can’t identify people in pictures, only giving a description of what the pictures show, but it demonstrates the work being done to make everyday experiences accessible to everyone.

A similar tool exists on Twitter with users able to tag images with alt text, which allows blind and partially sighted people with braille displays and screen readers to hear what the picture is about, even if they can’t see it. The system requires each individual image to be tagged but, again, shows the steps being taken to make technology accessible.

There are about two million blind and partially sighted people in the UK, and this number is only set to increase as the population gets older. One in three people over the age of 85 can be classified as blind or partially sighted and a quarter of over 75s are deemed to have some kind of visual impairment. In the past, this would have left those affected reliant on others to go about their day to lives. It would also have left them unable to use the same technology products as their friends and family, or at least be forced to buy extra, and potentially costly, accessories to make them usable.Finding out what is in the picture they’ve just scrolled past on social media would have required someone to be there and tell them.

Given the range, and wide use of available products, software companies and developers have a responsibility to think more about how they can be inclusive to all customers straight out of the box. And thankfully in recent years those “add on extras” that were once viewed as a niche market, are becoming part of the mainstream and are making lives more convenient for everyone.

For the full article please go to:  Huffington Post Accessible Technology

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