How Facebook is helping your friends with visual impairments 'see' photos.

Facebook wants every one of its users to feel connected.

Last October, Facebook announced it had found a way to make its platform more accessible for users with visual impairments. Today, the company has done just that.

It's all thanks to the fine folks on Facebook's Accessibility Team.


Image description: Matt King is on the left, Jeff Wieland is in the middle, and Shaomei Wu is on the right. Together, they make up Facebook's Accessibility Team. Photo courtesy of Facebook, used with permission.

The team, which took shape about five years ago with a goal of making the social media giant useable for everyone, celebrated the launch of automatic alternative text on April 5, 2016. The feature looks like it'll be a game-changer for the more than 39 million Facebook users who are blind and the 246 million users who have severe visual impairments.

Facebook is using artificial intelligence to describe photos aloud to those users. This way, users who are blind can "see" what's happening in their newsfeeds.

Many users who are blind or have visual impairments use screen readers, which read aloud the text a user is scrolling past. Previously, when screen readers would come upon a Facebook image, the technology would only be able to voice the word, "photo."

Now, automatic alternative text can scan the image, decipher what's in it — an object? A person? A landscape? — and provide a rough description.

So, in this pic of a smiling couple on a mountain hike with a beach behind them, for example, a user would hear, "image may contain two people smiling, sunglasses, sky, outdoor, water."

Image description: An iPhone screenshot of a photo showing a couple on a hike near a beach. Photo courtesy of Facebook, used with permission.

Or in this photo of a pizza, a user would hear, "pizza, food."

Image description: An iPhone screenshot of a photo of an olive and pepperoni pizza. Photo courtesy of Facebook, used with permission.

The new feature's rollout isn't universal yet. Currently, only those on iPhones and iPads can use it, but Facebook says it's expanding to other platforms soon.

So if you're on one of those devices and interested in checking it out, simply go into your Settings, select "general" and "accessibility" to turn it on. Alternately, you can ask Siri to "turn on VoiceOver," which is an iOS feature that allows automatic alternative text to do its thing.

The audio descriptions may not be all that creative. But they can still make a profound difference for those with impaired vision.

In a video announcing the new feature, Facebook shared reactions from people using it for the first time.

“I feel like I can fit in," one user said. "There’s more I can do.”

GIF of a person saying, "I love it, you have no idea. This is amazing," in regards to Facebook's new feature. GIF via Facebook/Vimeo.

Another user explained how the simple description makes her feel connected to the larger world.

GIF of a person saying, "That makes me feel included. Like I'm a part of it too." GIF via Facebook/VImeo.

Facebook's new feature is a huge step forward. But there are ways you too can help friends on social media who are visually impaired.

The simplest (but most effective) thing you can do is always include descriptive captions on all of your Facebook photos. This way, when visually impaired users are using screen readers, they'll be able to hear how you've captioned the picture (on top of hearing the brief description created by automatic alternative text).

So if you snapped this selfie...

Image description: Here's a happy woman outside in the snow, giving the peace sign with her fingers. Image via iStock.

...you'd probably want your caption to read more along the lines of, "Can you tell how excited I am about our snow day by the way I'm giving a peace sign out on the sidewalk?" instead of, say, "OMG, yes."

Those of you on Twitter can also make the Twitterverse a more welcoming place for the visually impaired by changing your settings to allow your photos to come with descriptions — a new feature the network announced just last week. That way, users with screen readers can hear your description of the photo.

Sure, this option is less game-changing than Facebook's new feature because Twitter users have to elect to change their settings and then make sure to add descriptions manually. But still, it's progress.

Facebook's new feature won't transform the user experience for everyone. But for those it will effect, this is big.

“That whole saying of a picture being worth a thousand words, I think it’s true," one of the users trying out Facebook's new feature said. "But unless you have somebody to describe it to you — even having three words — just helps flesh out all the details that I can’t see."

Now, a picture can be worth a thousand words for everyone. Job well done, Facebook.

You can watch users with visual impairments experience Facebook's new feature for the first time below:

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Should a man lose his home because the grass in his yard grew higher than 10 inches? The city of Dunedin, Florida seems to think so.

According to the Institute of Justice, which is representing Jim Ficken, he had a very good reason for not mowing his lawn – and tried to rectify the situation as best he could.

In 2014, Jim's mom became ill and he visited her often in South Carolina to help her out. When he was away, his grass grew too long and he was cited by a code office; he cut the grass and wasn't fined.

France has started forcing supermarkets to donate food instead of throwing it away.

But several years later, this one infraction would come back to haunt him after he left to take care of him's mom's affairs after she died. The arrangements he made to have his grass cut fell through (his friend who he asked to help him out passed away unexpectedly) and that set off a chain reaction that may result in him losing his home.

The 69-year-old retiree now faces a $29,833.50 fine plus interest. Watch the video to find out just what Jim is having to deal with.

Mow Your Lawn or Lose Your House! www.youtube.com

Cities

The world officially loves Michelle Obama.

The former first lady has overtaken the number one spot in a poll of the world's most admired women. Conducted by online research firm YouGov, the study uses international polling tools to survey people in countries around the world about who they most admire.

In the men's category, Bill Gates took the top spot, followed by Barack Obama and Jackie Chan.

In the women's category, Michelle Obama came first, followed by Oprah Winfrey and Angelina Jolie. Obama pushed Jolie out of the number one spot she claimed last year.

Unsurprising, really, because what's not to love about Michelle Obama? She is smart, kind, funny, accomplished, a great dancer, a devoted wife and mother, and an all-around, genuinely good person.

She has remained dignified and strong in the face of rabid masses of so-called Americans who spent eight years and beyond insisting that she's a man disguised as a woman. She's endured non-stop racist memes and terrifying threats to her family. She has received far more than her fair share of cruelty, and always takes the high road. She's the one who coined, "When they go low, we go high," after all.

She came from humble beginnings and remains down to earth despite becoming a familiar face around the world. She's not much older than me, but I still want to be like Michelle Obama when I grow up.

Her memoir, Becoming, may end up being the best-selling memoir of all time, having already sold 10 million copies—a clear sign that people can't get enough Michelle, because there's no such thing as too much Michelle.

Don't like Michelle Obama? Don't care. Those of us who love her will fly our MO flags high and without apology, paying no mind to folks with cold, dead hearts who don't know a gem of a human being when they see one. There is nothing any hater can say or do to make us admire this undeniably admirable woman any less.

When it seems like the world has lost its mind—which is how it feels most days these days—I'm just going to keep coming back to this study as evidence that hope for humanity is not lost.

Here. Enjoy some real-life Michelle on Jimmy Kimmel. (GAH. WHY IS SHE SO CUTE AND AWESOME. I can't even handle it.)

Michelle & Barack Obama are Boring Now www.youtube.com

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via EarthFix / Flickr

What will future generations never believe that we tolerated in 2019?

Dolphin and orca captivity, for sure. They'll probably shake their heads at how people died because they couldn't afford healthcare. And, they'll be completely mystified at the amount of food some people waste while others go starving.

According to Biological Diversity, "An estimated 40 percent of the food produced in the United States is wasted every year, costing households, businesses and farms about $218 billion annually."

There are so many things wrong with this.

First of all it's a waste of money for the households who throw out good food. Second, it's a waste of all of the resources that went into growing the food, including the animals who gave their lives for the meal. Third, there's something very wrong with throwing out food when one in eight Americans struggle with hunger.

Supermarkets are just as guilty of this unnecessary waste as consumers. About 10% of all food waste are supermarket products thrown out before they've reached their expiration date.

Three years ago, France took big steps to combat food waste by making a law that bans grocery stores from throwing away edible food.According to the new ordinance, stores can be fined for up to $4,500 for each infraction.

Previously, the French threw out 7.1 million tons of food. Sixty-seven percent of which was tossed by consumers, 15% by restaurants, and 11% by grocery stores.

This has created a network of over 5,000 charities that accept the food from supermarkets and donate them to charity. The law also struck down agreements between supermarkets and manufacturers that prohibited the stores from donating food to charities.

"There was one food manufacturer that was not authorized to donate the sandwiches it made for a particular supermarket brand. But now, we get 30,000 sandwiches a month from them — sandwiches that used to be thrown away," Jacques Bailet, head of the French network of food banks known as Banques Alimentaires, told NPR.

It's expected that similar laws may spread through Europe, but people are a lot less confident at it happening in the United States. The USDA believes that the biggest barrier to such a program would be cost to the charities and or supermarkets.

"The logistics of getting safe, wholesome, edible food from anywhere to people that can use it is really difficult," the organization said according to Gizmodo. "If you're having to set up a really expensive system to recover marginal amounts of food, that's not good for anybody."

Plus, the idea may seem a little too "socialist" for the average American's appetite.

"The French version is quite socialist, but I would say in a great way because you're providing a way where they [supermarkets] have to do the beneficial things not only for the environment, but from an ethical standpoint of getting healthy food to those who need it and minimizing some of the harmful greenhouse gas emissions that come when food ends up in a landfill," Jonathan Bloom, the author of American Wasteland, told NPR.

However, just because something may be socialist doesn't mean it's wrong. The greater wrong is the insane waste of money, damage to the environment, and devastation caused by hunger that can easily be avoided.

Planet

The world is dark and full of terrors, but every once in a while it graces us with something to warm our icy-cold hearts. And that is what we have today, with a single dad who went viral on Twitter after his daughter posted the photos he sent her when trying to pick out and outfit for his date. You love to see it.




After seeing these heartwarming pics, people on Twitter started suggesting this adorable man date their moms. It was essentially a mom and date matchmaking frenzy.

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