Someone in my Facebook feed recently uploaded a ... surprising picture with the caption, "I drove past this on the way home."

In the comments, a friend wrote, "Woah!" Another person, "lol."


There are so many ways to react to a photo! Image by Theus Falcão/Flickr.

Want to know what it was a picture of? If you're like most of Facebook's 1.5 billion users, I could just send you the link so you could see for yourself. But if you're blind or visually impaired, like 285 million people worldwide, well, tough luck.

People who can't see are often stuck reading contextual clues, asking for clarification, or just flat missing out altogether on these shared Facebook experiences.

But there's some good news.

Facebook's accessibility team is working on new artificial intelligence that would scan, analyze, and describe photos to users who need it.

The Internet can be a challenging place for people who are blind or visually impaired, but it's actually come a really long way.

Amanda Martins, a student in New York who's been blind since just before her first birthday, told Upworthy, "I can do most things on the Internet."

She credits screen readers like Apple's VoiceOver that can read text aloud to her. And accessibility best practices have really evolved to help web designers and content creators when it comes to writing descriptive captions for their images, which can also be read by these programs.

But the uncharted world of user-generated content on social media is a totally different story.

Screen readers are kind of like Braille for the Internet. Photo by rolanddme/Flickr.

We share practically our entire lives on Facebook. Whether it's baby pictures, wedding photos, or the always popular "alcoholic beverage held up against a sunsetting sky." But if you can't see, you can't interact with these moments, and rarely do the captions we write for our photos accurately describe them (though Amanda said she's super appreciative when they do).

That leaves those who are blind or visually impaired missing out on the connectivity that's supposed to be at the heart of Facebook.

Facebook's new "object recognition," while it can't describe whole images, will be able to identify and describe some of their key elements to a user.

Matt King, a Facebook engineer who is also blind, walked TechCrunch through how it might work:

King eventually scrolled to a friend's post that featured text and a photo. His friend, Anne, wrote, “Ready for picture day of first grade" accompanied with a photo. Thanks to the object recognition technology Facebook is prototyping, King heard: “This image may contain, colon, one or more people. Child." Without it, all King would've known was that Anne wrote, “Ready for picture day of first grade," and that she posted a photo — but nothing about what was in the photo. For another photo, the tool told him: “This image may contain colon nature, outdoor, cloud, foliage, grass, tree."

OK, it's not exactly Hemingway, but it's better than nothing.

Talking about this intriguing development, Amanda said, "No technology is ever going to enable me to 'see' pictures. And that's fine. I just want to be able to understand what a huge percentage of my news feed is. Even if all this technology can do is tell me that someone's uncaptioned photo is 'outside, child, bus,' I'll be able to intuit that it's a photo of a kid getting on a bus for school."

Facebook's tool might describe this as "outside, children, bus." Photo by woodleywonderworks/Flickr.

King put it like this: "This might not be 100 percent yet, but even if it's just halfway there, the level of engagement that's possible, the amount of enjoyment I can get — that's like going from zero percent to at least 50 percent of what you might get. That's a huge jump."

Facebook's accessibility team has a tough job, but they've done some great work so far.

The team, led by Jeff Wieland, is designed to "improve Facebook for people with disabilities, and ensure that our products cooperate with assistive technology."

They do a lot of their work inside an "Empathy Lab," an environment that allows engineers to emulate what it might be like to use Facebook with different impairments. That's led them to make some pretty cool improvements to the platform, like better integration with VoiceOver and built-in support for people posting about depression or self-harm.

They're not perfect, though. Amanda says she's constantly encountering new Facebook features that don't work with VoiceOver, though she also says Facebook is usually pretty good about getting those issues fixed.

According to TechCrunch, Facebook hopes to release object identification by the end of the year on either their mobile or web platform.

Oh, and the picture my Facebook acquaintance put up? It was of some police trying to keep a cow from crossing the highway. But it could have just as easily been something much more memorable, like a baby's first steps or a friend proudly standing in front of her newly purchased home.

As for the fact that soon no one will have to miss out on things like that because they can't see? There's only one thing left to say:

Photo by Sean MacEntee/Flickr.

True

From the time she was a little girl, Abby Recker loved helping people. Her parents kept her stocked up with first-aid supplies so she could spend hours playing with her dolls, making up stories of ballet injuries and carefully wrapping “broken” arms and legs.

Recker fondly describes her hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, as a simple place where people are kind to one another. There’s even a term for it—“Iowa nice”—describing an overall sense of agreeableness and emotional trust shown by people who are otherwise strangers.

Abby | Heroes Behind the Masks presented by CeraVe www.youtube.com

Driven by passion and the encouragement of her parents, Recker attended nursing school, graduating just one year before the unthinkable happened: a global pandemic. One year into her career as an emergency and labor and delivery nurse, everything she thought she knew about the medical field got turned upside down. That period of time was tough on everyone, and Nurse Recker was no exception.

Keep Reading Show less
via Pexels

The Emperor of the Seas.

Imagine retiring early and spending the rest of your life on a cruise ship visiting exotic locations, meeting interesting people and eating delectable food. It sounds fantastic, but surely it’s a billionaire’s fantasy, right?

Not according to Angelyn Burk, 53, and her husband Richard. They’re living their best life hopping from ship to ship for around $44 a night each. The Burks have called cruise ships their home since May 2021 and have no plans to go back to their lives as landlubbers. Angelyn took her first cruise in 1992 and it changed her goals in life forever.

“Our original plan was to stay in different countries for a month at a time and eventually retire to cruise ships as we got older,” Angelyn told 7 News. But a few years back, Angelyn crunched the numbers and realized they could start much sooner than expected.

Keep Reading Show less
True

It takes a special type of person to become a nurse. The job requires a combination of energy, empathy, clear mind, oftentimes a strong stomach, and a cheerful attitude. And while people typically think of nursing in a clinical setting, some nurses are driven to work with the people that feel forgotten by society.

Keep Reading Show less

We're dancing along too.

Art can be a powerful unifier. With just the right lyric, image or word, great art can soften those hard lines that divide us, helping us to remember the immense value of human connection and compassion.

This is certainly the case with “Pasoori,” a Pakistani pop song that has not only become an international hit, it’s managed to bring the long divided peoples of India and Pakistan together in the name of love. Or at least in the name of good music.
Keep Reading Show less

Dr. Alicia Jeffrey-Thomas teaches you how to pee.

A pelvic floor doctor from Boston, Massachusetts, has caused a stir by explaining that something we all thought was good for our health can cause real problems. In a video that has more than 5.8 million views on TikTok, Dr. Alicia Jeffrey-Thomas says we shouldn’t go pee “just in case.”

How could this be? The moment we all learned to control our bladders we were also taught to pee before going on a car trip, sitting down to watch a movie or playing sports.

The doctor posted the video as a response to TikTok user Sidneyraz, who made a video urging people to go to the bathroom whenever they get the chance. Sidneyraz is known for posting videos about things he didn’t learn until his 30s. "If you think to yourself, 'I don't have to go,' go." SidneyRaz says in the video. It sounds like common sense but evidently, he was totally wrong, just like the rest of humanity.

Keep Reading Show less