Meta / Facebook
Amid all the drama surrounding Facebook, its whistleblower and its rebranding this year, it’s easy to overlook the company’s accessibility-related updates. In early 2021, the company updated its Automatic Alt Text (AAT) system to recognize over 1,200 objects and concepts in photos on Instagram and Facebook. According to Meta, this was a 10x increase since AAT’s debut in 2016. It also introduced additional features for Facebook on iOS that provided more detailed descriptions such as the positions of objects in the image and their relative sizes.
Unfortunately, as it released these updates, Facebook may have corrupted some accessibility features along the way. Rachfal said that when the company switched off its face recognition system this year, it led to less informative descriptions for users who are blind or visually impaired. Rachfal said the change was “made out of privacy concerns” and believes these decisions were made without considering accessibility and the community of people with disabilities. “Nor have they been given the same weight and attention as privacy concerns,” Rachfal added.
Facebook in November. In it, Vice President of Artificial Intelligence Jerome Pesenti wrote: “We need to weigh the positive cases of the use of face recognition in relation to the growing concern of society, especially since regulators have yet to give clear rules.”
In the post, Pesenti acknowledges the key role that face recognition plays in AAT to help blind and partially sighted users identify their friends in pictures. But while some face recognition tools, such as identity verification, will remain, functions such as alerting users to photos that potentially include them or automatically tagging their friends are largely disappearing. This is for visually impaired users.
“We know that the approach we have chosen involves some difficult compromises,” Pesenti wrote, adding that we will “continue to engage in that conversation and work with civil society groups and regulators leading this discussion.”
Elsewhere in the Meta product family, the company has added the Accessibility tab to the Oculus settings menu to make it easier to find ancillary features. It also brought Color Correction and Raise View tools to offer more readable palettes and provide a standing perspective for seated users. Meta said he is still working on Raise View, working with the Oculus community to improve this feature and will permanently add it to the Accessibility menu when ready.
Meta has also collaborated with ZP Better Together, a company that produces technology for deaf and hard of hearing users, at. From December, people who are deaf or hard of hearing can also log on to the ZP website to get the free portals that will come with ZP applications.
Facebook this year and, in particular, it has done so with live subtitles included from the very beginning. It also included a visual sign indicating who is speaking and offering subtitles for other audio products such as podcasts on iOS and Android.
Let’s not forget the renaming of the company to Meta this year and its new focus on the metaverse. According to Head of Accessibility Department Mike Shebanek, “We are already working to revive the metaverse and are excited to explore the revolutionary opportunities it presents to make the digital world even more accessible and inclusive for people with disabilities.”
We will have to wait to see if and how this will be achieved, but in the meantime, Meta must continue to engage with the accessibility community to ensure that its metaverse expansion is inclusive from the outset.
Twitter only founded its two accessibility teams last year, following the embarrassing launch of voice tweets that excluded deaf and hard of hearing users due to a lack of subtitles. Since then, however, the company has shown significant improvement. In 2021, Twitter introduced subtitles for voice tweets, added subtitles and accessibility tags to Spaces, and brought automatic subtitles for videos. The latter is “available globally in most languages”, according to the company and supported on Android, iOS and the web.
While this may seem like a small set of updates compared to other companies in this review, Twitter also has a smaller product portfolio. Still, she managed to make significant changes. Rachfal praised Twitter as “the first social media platform to conspicuously encourage users to include alternative text with images”, although he noted that filling in the fields is still not mandatory.
Other significant developments in technology this year
Alternative text and subtitles remain inconvenient accessibility features for the industry. These are labor-intensive processes that companies tend to delegate to AI, which can result in skewed, inaccurate results. This was especially evident at this year’s virtual E3 gaming convention, where the show sometimes seemed incomprehensible to those who relied on subtitles to understand the announcements.
There are also large parts of the online world that are in dire need of accessibility upgrades. According to a February 2021 study, for example, a whopping 97.4 percent of websites had errors that did not meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (). The most common mistakes included a lack of replacement text, low-contrast text, missing input tags, and more.
It’s not just websites that need to be worked on: other media formats also need to be more inclusively designed. The National Association of the Deaf (NAD), for example, with Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) this year against three major podcast providers: SiriusXM, Stitcher and Pandora.
According to the NAD, because the three defendants “do not make available transcripts or subtitles for any of the podcasts offered on their platforms, more than 48 million deaf and hard of hearing Americans are denied full and equal enjoyment of the content they offer to their hearing.” users. ” Meanwhile, Spotify will begin offering automatically generated transcripts for podcasts and Amazon Music in November.
Then there are entire industries that could benefit from accessibility improvements. Rachfal notes that health care is a constantly problematic area for the blind or visually impaired. “This is still the whole sector we hear about too often from our members,” he said. Given that we are currently in the mud of the third wave of COVID-19, it is unforgivable to continue to exclude people with disabilities when it comes to things like scheduling vaccinations or checkups.
In November this year, the Ministry of Justice reached a settlement with Rite Aid to make the COVID-19 testing and vaccination websites available. Rite Aid’s vaccine registration portal was not compatible with some screen readers and was not available to “those who have difficulty using a mouse.” The calendar on its website, for example, “did not show screen reader users any available meeting time,” while people who relied on keyboard-based navigation could not use the tab key to fill out the consent form needed to schedule an appointment.
The ACB has also worked with CVS to offer available recipe information at all locations in the country. This includes an RX speech function that would read prescription labels via the CVS Pharmacy app.
While there have been many offenses in the past year, we have also seen many promising advances in ensuring technology inclusion. The FCC, for example, to make emergency alerts more useful and informative for deaf or hard of hearing people.
Meanwhile, HBO Max has launched 1,500 hours of audio-described content starting in March 2021 and has pledged to include descriptions of all newly produced original content, as well as add more to its latest catalog. Also, in cooperation with the Coalition for Inclusive Fitness, Planet Fitness will buy and install affordable exercise equipment in its stores across the country.
In this update overview, I just scratched the surface. However, what is most encouraging is the growing willingness of companies to work with disability rights groups and advocates in the earliest stages of product design. Lizzie Sorkin, director of engagement for NAD, said that “we see more and more companies approaching us in the initial stages for input, not late in the process.” Rachfal also noted “a growing commitment to accessible media and content” that “stemmed from ACB’s advocacy work and the Audio description project through collaborative discussions with industry.”
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