Facebook just announced that it will use artificial intelligence to describe images to people who cannot see pictures on Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp. While you may think that this development is meant for a limited audience, it actually has wide ranging benefits for everyone. That’s typical for enhancements to accessibility, both online and in real life. Consider, for example, physical changes to our built environment due to the Americans with Disability Act. Ramps and curb cuts are beneficial to a multitude of people, not just those in wheelchairs. You know this if you've ever tried to wheel a heavy suitcase from a train station to your hotel.
Global Access and Drupal Initiatives
Accessibility functions the same way on the web. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0), developed by the Web Accessibility Initiative, call for captioned, clear and compatible images on websites. The US Government’s 508 Standards require all official web properties to provide a transcript of video content to enhance usability for those with physical, sensory, or cognitive disabilities. In some parts of the world, if a website is not compliant with accessibility standards, it may violate discrimination laws.
The Drupal community is dedicated to accessibility with a mission to make websites that anyone can use, regardless of ability, and an accessibility module that ensures that your site content is available to all. Drupal 8 core has incorporated more accessibility features than Drupal 7. You can also read this helpful article on building an accessibility toolbar with Drupal. You can add functionality to enhance website for people with dyslexia, need high contrast or larger size text.
Good for Bots, Good for Everyone
Compliance aside, the standards have an unexpected benefit for everyone. By transcribing content on video that would be otherwise unavailable to search engine crawlers, WCAG and 508 offer a welcome boost to a site’s SEO (search engine optimization). Transcriptions make it easier for your users to find the content they want. The script for your video is probably well written and useful material. Why not allow users to find the text of that script on Google?
If you're designing to accessibility standards, you’re likely designing to the highest bar of precision, indicating that your work maintains relevance and has greater longevity. Ensuring that your content reaches the widest possible audience is also a good ethical choice.
Triple Bottom Line
The new Facebook AI initiative renders images visible to humans and bots, turning them into words that can be crawled and indexed. Facebook, no stranger to negative feedback for changes to its platforms, has finally done something very right by enhancing accessibility for all users, including bots. If a picture was once worth a thousand words, its value is now measurable in dollars when it helps propel your site to the top of the search engine results page. Sensitivity to accessibility promotes social good, financial gain, and an SEO boost. Is there such a thing as a triple bottom line?