It's always a cause for celebration when a company gives attention to accessibility features within its apps or services. Apple
is one of the most prominent companies when it comes to this, offering a slew of features that allow people with special needs to efficiently use its products.
Now, it's Instagram
's turn. With the help of artificial intelligence, the app can now identify objects within a photo and describe them to visually impaired users. This is done in two ways: the first is by using AI to automatically make sense of a photo's contents. The second is through custom descriptions added in by uploaders.
"With more than 285 million people in the world who have visual impairments, we know there are many people who could benefit from a more accessible Instagram," the company said
in a blog post. "These are just first steps toward creating a more accessible Instagram."
Instagram Rolls Out Alt Text
The descriptions, also known as "alt text," are widely used online and will now be incorporated into Instagram. Users will be able to input their own descriptions so people using screen readers can hear it as they browse their Feed, the Explore page, or a Profile.
If a photo doesn't contain a description, Instagram will automatically summon the powers of AI and attempt to identify what's in it through the use of object recognition technology. Then, the app will read an automated description of what's in the photo. The alt text descriptions, to be clear, won't be visible in-app. Additionally, users will have to go into a photo's "advanced settings" to enter one.
Instagram And Accessibility
Alt text is the first feature Instagram has rolled out to aid visually impaired users, but its parent company, Facebook
, has been using AI for quite a while to describe photos to blind users.
To be fair, it's not clear just how well Instagram's object recognition technology works
. After all, Google is clearly the top dog in that department. However, this addition is undoubtedly a step in the right direction and will likely get better overtime. While the text is likely to be rudimentary — the AI will include lists of items that appear in a photo — it's probably the only practical way to give context on the enormous amount of photos uploaded on the platform daily.
Instagram said it plans to make this accessibility feature better going forward, but it failed to provide details about any future initiatives.