Commentary: Getting the Full Picture on Social Media When You Can’t See

The modern concept of social media is relatively young and constantly evolving. Websites like Friendster and MySpace began emerging in the early 2000s. Today, websites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn are among the most popular social media platforms. The vast majority of content found in these sites is picture and video based. This can present problems for blind social media enthusiasts like myself, who constantly miss out and cannot get the full picture – literally!

Matt King is Facebook’s first blind engineer, and he hopes to give other blind individuals the ability to “see” the pictures on their news feed. He is currently working with Facebook’s accessibility team on an artificial intelligence based tool that will describe the photos people share, and they hope to release it by the end of the year.

As someone who is blind, I often don’t even bother to read – or listen – to the comments people leave about the photos my friends and family share. The reality is that even if I do take a few minutes to read through the comments or captions, I am still missing out on the content. Although my talking computer and cell phone can read text just fine, they cannot decipher what’s in the pictures for me. It’s not that my family and friends purposely exclude me, but the fact is that most of us don’t think to add in a descriptive caption of each picture. I myself am guilty of doing this. Why bother adding a description to my pictures? After all, about 90 percent of my friends on Facebook are sighted.

Now more than ever, pictures play an important role in social media. I guess we could say that a picture is really worth a thousand words in today’s technologically driven world. As an avid Facebook user, I see this all the time. If I’m lucky, my posts that only include text might get seven or eight likes. Meanwhile, the posts with pictures usually get at least 15 or 20 likes. Society seems to be more engaged with visual content, and those of us who can’t see should also be included as much as possible in this trend.

I applaud Facebook’s commitment to accessibility for people with disabilities. Technology has opened numerous possibilities for us, and staying connected with our loved ones and meeting new people has probably become one of the most valuable and cherished aspects. I hope that other social media sites will follow in Facebook’s footsteps, and that they too will strive to make all content accessible to disabled individuals. Better yet, I sincerely hope that one day technology will make it possible for me and other blind individuals to truly get the full picture of the photos we can’t see. Maybe then I will be able to confidently say that I am fully connected with my loved ones and the entire world.

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