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Blind People Can Now “See” Photos On Facebook And Twitter

text to speech

Less than a week apart, two giants of social media announced new text-to-speech based features aimed at increasing accessibility on their websites. Both have similar purposes, and may seem like small additions. However, it is a huge step in making the internet more accessible to people with disabilities. People with vision impairments will now be able to “see”, or more accurately, hear photos on Facebook and Twitter.

It’s no secret that Facebook and Twitter are two of the most popular websites on the internet. They’re the 3rd and 11th most visited websites in the world, respectively. The practice sharing information with friends and families through these social networking sites have become a norm in today’s society.

Social networking, in a sense, is like real life put onto a computer screen. This is great for most people, however, it becomes very complicated for people with vision disabilities, or blind people.

It is estimated that there are 285 million people worldwide who are visually impaired. With social media becoming a bigger and bigger part of our daily lives, it’s important to keep these websites accessible to these people.

Screen Readers Do The Work

screen readers convert text into speech

Some of you might be asking, “So how do blind people navigate the internet?” The answer is screen readers. Screen readers are applications that anyone can download onto their computers. Once installed, the screen reader will read out all of the text that is on the screen. They will read out the text from any program you are running or any website you are on.

This technology applies to social media as well. Screen readers are able to read out who is posting and everything they wrote.

However, what’s missing here is that a significant portion of social media posts aren’t text-based, they’re pictures. Screen readers can’t say anything when there isn’t any text.

Last week, Twitter broke the news that they developed a feature that would allow screen readers to describe images to users. And just this week, Facebook announced a similar feature.

The short way of saying it is that screen readers will now be able to describe images to users so that they can gain an understanding of the picture. However, the methods that Facebook and Twitter use to achieve this are quite different, and it is important to understand how each one works so you can be sure that the images you post will be accessible to those with disabilities.

How Twitter Does It

twitter uses text to speechIf you want visually impaired people to be able to “see” your photos on Twitter, then it’s up to you to determine what they’re going to hear. With Twitter, users can add captions to
their photos. This caption will be recognized by a screen reader and converted to speech.

Thankfully, Twitter doesn’t limit you to just 140 characters. Instead, you have up to 420 characters to describe your image.

This feature is only available on the Twitter iOS and Android apps. To add a description, just tap the pen icon on the image after you have uploaded it.

twitter text to speechTwitter thanks their users for coming up with this idea. When Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey asked developers about which features they wanted Twitter to have, adding descriptions to images was the fourth most requested feature.

How Facebook Does It

facebook uses text to speechFacebook, like Twitter, also uses alternative text on images that are then converted to speech by screen readers. However, the big difference here is that users don’t write the image descriptions. Instead, Facebook does it themselves.

“Automatic alternative text” is a tool that recognizes objects and uses that to describe an images. For example, if I posted a picture of myself standing next to a car, then Facebook’s automatic alternative text tool might describe the image as “a man and a blue car”. People using a screen reader would then hear that description as they are browsing Facebook.

Facebook’s new feature is currently only available on their iOS app and only in English. And as of now, Facebook’s tool can recognize about 100 different types of objects and scenery.

Here’s a video showing Facebook’s new feature in action:

Text-to-speech technology has long been used to help make the world around us more accessible to everyone. We’re excited to see two such popular websites using this technology for that purpose! If you’re interested in having your screen read out loud to you, then check out our interactive demo that lets you type any text you wish to hear from any of our voices to see which one is right for you!

What do you think?

Are these features that you’re going to use? What other accessibility features do you wish Facebook or Twitter offered? Can you think of something else that text-to-speech may help with? Let us know in the comments!

Learn More about NeoSpeech’s Text-to-Speech

To learn more about the different areas in which Text-to-Speech technology can be used, visit our Text-to-Speech Areas of Application page. And to learn more about the products we offer, visit our Text-to-Speech Products page.

If you’re interested in adding Text-to-Speech software to your application or would like to learn more about TTS, please fill out our Sales Inquiry form and one of our friendly team members will be happy to help.

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