Social Media

Facebook and Twitter Improving Accessibility for the Visually Impaired Is Noble, But Both May Have Another Motive

Facebook and Twitter Improving Accessibility for the Visually Impaired Is Noble, But Both May Have Another Motive
Image credit: gmstockstudio | Khomkrit Phonsai | Shutterstock
Entrepreneur Staff
Staff Writer. Covers leadership, media, technology and culture.
3 min read

Facebook on Monday joined Twitter in making its site more accessible to the visually impaired. Not only does this boost the number of potential users for both sites, it also puts them ahead of a potential government mandate.

"There is not really a financial risk for the companies not to do these things," Andrew Johnson, a managing vice president at Gartner, told Entrepreneur. "There is an outside chance that the Department of Justice could have what they call a demand letter against them if there is a petition that their website or application is not accessible. It's fairly rare, but a very effective motivation tool."

Facebook on Monday rolled out a tool called automatic alternative text, which allows people who are blind or visually impaired using a screen reader on an iOS device to be able hear more in depth descriptions of the images that pop up in their feeds. 

Related: 5 Things You Need to Know About Web Accessibility

Twitter last week announced its own alternative text feature for images. By selecting the "choose image description" option in the accessibility settings for the app, users will be able to include up to 420 characters for the photo's description.  

More than 2 billion images are shared on Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp. There are more than 20 million Americans living with vision loss.

Related: This Program Wants to Help People With Disabilities Become Entrepreneurs

"I think what we're seeing from Facebook today and Twitter last week, is them just doing the right thing and getting around to it," Johnson says. "I would say both took way too long to do it -- but better late than never."

Previously, Facebook users would hear only their friend's name and that he or she was in a photo, but with automatic alternative text, they'll hear how many people are in the picture, how many comments and likes there currently are, and the words "image may contain" followed by elements of the photo such as jewelry, smiling, outdoor, cloud or foliage.

Related: This Brilliant Braille Smartwatch Lets the Visually Impaired Feel What Time It Is

The development of the technology was informed in part by a paper that Facebook worked on with Cornell University to better understand how visually impaired users interact with social media.

While the technology is currently only available in English for iOS users in the U.S., U.K., Australia, Canada and New Zealand, the company says that it is working on expanding into more countries and languages.

More from Entrepreneur

Grow Your Business at Entrepreneur LIVE! Join us on Nov. 16 in Brooklyn, NY, to learn from legends like Danica Patrick and Maria Sharapova, pitch our editors, meet with investors, and potentially walk away with funding!
Register here

One-on-one online sessions with our experts can help you start a business, grow your business, build your brand, fundraise and more.
Book Your Session

Whether you are launching or growing a business, we have all the business tools you need to take your business to the next level, in one place.
Enroll Now

Latest on Entrepreneur

My Queue

There are no Videos in your queue.

Click on the Add to next to any video to save to your queue.

There are no Articles in your queue.

Click on the Add to next to any article to save to your queue.

There are no Podcasts in your queue.

Click on the Add to next to any podcast episode to save to your queue.

You're not following any authors.

Click the Follow button on any author page to keep up with the latest content from your favorite authors.