5 products and features that make the digital world more accessible

Alt text is a description that content creators can add to visuals, so that people who are blind or low-vision can get a description of what is in the digital image — whether it’s a photo on a website or a social media image shared with friends. The problem is a lot of images have low-quality captions and alt text – or often none at all – making visual information inaccessible to a lot of people. In fact, a Carnegie Mellon study in 2019 found that of 1.09 million tweets, only .01% contained alt text added by content creators, which meant that over 99% of those images were not easily accessible to people who have blindness. Now, AI is helping make images more accessible.

Lookout, which was launched in 2019 and designed with the blind and low-vision community, uses AI to help people accomplish everyday tasks, like sorting mail and putting away groceries. Today, a new feature within Lookout called “image question and answer” is launching for a select group of people from the blind and low vision communities. Now, whether or not images have no captions or alt text, Lookout can process the image and provide a description of it — then people can use their voice or type to ask questions and have a more detailed understanding of what’s in an image. This feature is powered by an advanced visual language model developed by Google DeepMind.

“This collaboration shows how our multimodal model can directly benefit people’s lives,” says Colin Murdoch, Google DeepMind chief business officer. “It opens up new avenues for many more applications, especially when it comes to using AI to make the world around us more accessible.”

Following months of internal testing with people with blindness and low-vision, we’re working with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) to invite a limited number of people to test out this feature with plans to make it available to even more people soon.

Wheelchair-accessible places for everyone on Google Maps

Since 2020, people have been able to opt-in to the Accessible Places feature in Maps to more easily identify when a place has a wheelchair-accessible entrance, indicated by the wheelchair icon. Now, we’re making the icon visible for everyone on Maps so you can “know before you go” if there’s a step-free entrance, which is helpful whether you’re using a wheelchair, pushing a stroller, or lugging a suitcase. If a business is known not to have an accessible entrance, you’ll see the same icon with a strikethrough, and you can find more information – like wheelchair-accessible seating, parking or restrooms – in the “About” tab so you can plan visits with confidence.

Thanks to contributions from business owners, Local Guides and the Maps community, we’re able to provide wheelchair accessibility information for more than 40 million businesses around the world. If you notice a place you’ve visited is missing accessibility information, you can easily contribute it by scrolling to the “About” tab and selecting “Edit features” on Android or “Update this place” on iOS.

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