February 22, 2017

Automatic Alt-text: Computer-generated Image Descriptions for Blind Users on a Social Network Service

CSCW

By: Jeffrey Wieland, Julie Schiller, Omid Farivar, Shaomei Wu

Abstract

We designed and deployed automatic alt-text (AAT), a system that applies computer vision technology to identify faces, objects, and themes from photos to generate photo alt-text for screen reader users on Facebook. We designed our system through iterations of prototyping and in-lab user studies. Our lab test participants had a positive reaction to our system and an enhanced experience with Facebook photos. We also evaluated our system through a two-week field study as part of the Facebook iOS app for 9K VoiceOver users. We randomly assigned them into control and test groups and collected two weeks of activity data and their survey feedback. The test group reported that photos on Facebook were easier to interpret and more engaging, and found Facebook more useful in general. Our system demonstrates that artificial intelligence can be used to enhance the experience for visually impaired users on social networking sites (SNSs), while also revealing the challenges with designing automated assistive technology in a SNS context.