Automatic Image Descriptions on iOS

Featured Image: 
Photo of a horse head wearing a dressage bridle with speech bubble, "horse, dressage".

With the growing advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AI), images are becoming more accessible to students with visual impairments and blindness. AI - paired with VoiceOver - is able to capture, identify and announce the essence of the image. Apple has embraced this technology and has incorporated automatically generated image descriptions when VoiceOver is on. Automatically generated image descriptions is not yet perfect; but currently a work in progress! When Apple first introduced this developing technology, users would sometimes have a good laugh when the image description described their gender and age incorrectly. However, for students with visual impairments or blindness, these image descriptions were transforming previously inaccessible mainstream images into accessible images!

Recently, many students have been discussing that the image descriptions were no longer being announced. In a recent update, the default for announcing images when running VoiceOver was turned off.  To turn on Image Descriptions, go to Settings > General > Accessibility > VoiceOver then scroll down to "Navigate Images > select With Descriptions.

When the VoiceOver focus is on the image, use a three-finger tap to activate the image description.

To add a label to your photo, use a two-finger double tap and hold, then type or dictate the desired label. Once labeled,  use a three-finger single tap and VoiceOver will announce the label.

Current Image Description Reliability

Image descriptions used to be more detailed and provided information such as 'A smiling 23 year old woman holding a brown puppy.'  However, recently, the image descriptions - on my iPad and iPhone - have been more limited, typically only detailing the number of faces, date that the photo was taken, if the photo is clear or blurry, and if the person is in the center of the photo. When I updated my phone to iOS 11.3.1, several descriptions were slightly better, but inconsistent. The first time I did a three-finger tap, on the horse picture, VoiceOver only provided "slightly blurry, bright, possible text, date, center of screen". After closing Photos and re-opening the Photo apps, a three-finger tap on the same picture provided, "one face, horse, dressage, slightly blurry. . . " (Note: The picture shows the horse and chest of a palomino horse wearing a dressage bridle and the text, "Kimberly K. Brauner, Photography".) Before updating to iOS 11.3.1, a head shot photo of a baby was announced as "one face, smiling baby. . . "; with the iOS 11.3.1 update, the same photo did NOT announce, "smiling baby".

photo of the head & chest of a palomino horse wearing a dressage bridle with the text, "Kimberly K. Brauner, Photography"

Some users have reported that image descriptions are working well on their devices. What are your recent experiences with image descriptions? Please be sure to include what iOS version you are using!

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