The term “health equity” is broadly used, yet somewhat abstract. The World Health Organization defines it as “the absence of avoidable or remediable differences among groups of people, whether those groups are defined socially, economically, demographically, or geographically.” One angle of health equity that we don’t often think about is that of accessibility for individuals facing the barriers imposed by disability. This year at TEDMED 2017, we will hear from Speakers focused on improving equity for people with disabilities and who are working to make the world a more accessible place for all.
Facebook accessibility specialist and engineer Matt King lost his vision completely in college. When he joined our accessibility team after more than 20 years in the accessibility field, one of the projects he was most excited to work on centered on using object recognition technology to automatically describe photos for people who are not able to see those photos. Today, with our launch of automatic alternative text, we're taking an important step towards achieving that goal.Automatic alternative text, or automatic alt text, is a new feature that generates a description of a photo through object recognition technology for someone who cannot see the photo. Before today, people who are visually impaired could only hear the name of the person who posted the photo as they scrolled past photos on Facebook. Now, if they're using a screen reader on iOS, they'll hear a richer description of the photo thanks to automatic alt text. For example, for a group photo on the beach, a person using a screen reader on iOS would now hear, “This image may contain: Three people, smiling, outdoors.” We are rolling this out in English over the next few weeks and will add more languages and platforms soon.Facebook's mission is to make the world more open and connected, and that means everyone, including the visually impaired community. Worldwide, more than 39 million people are blind, and over 246 million have a severe visual impairment. While this technology is still in its early stages, tapping its current capabilities to describe photos is a huge step toward providing our visually impaired community the same benefits and enjoyment that everyone else gets from photos. As Facebook becomes an increasingly visual experience, we hope our new automatic alt text technology will help the visually impaired community experience Facebook the same way others enjoy it.
Posted by Facebook Accessibility on Montag, 4. April 2016
Matt King is making technology and social networking more accessible and user-friendly for individuals with disabilities. As Facebook’s first blind Accessibility Engineer, Matt recognizes that as technology evolves, there is an opportunity to design it in a way that is inclusive and accessible for all users. A record-breaking tandem cyclist and three-time Paralympian, Matt is skilled at breaking through expectations and barriers. Driven by the belief that providing accessible platforms for creativity and social networking benefits everyone involved, Matt has channeled his determination toward creating equitable opportunities for people with disabilities to engage and make connections online. Matt challenges us to look at technology through a broader lens, make it more equitable, and work to redefine what is meant by “user experience” in Silicon Valley.
Much like Matt is making technology more accessible, American Sign Language (ASL) music interpreter Amber Galloway Gallego is providing the Deaf community with full access to the experience of music and live performance. Prior to launching her own production company, Amber had only witnessed lackluster ASL interpreters at concerts—performances that left her Deaf friends feeling bored and devoid of the same personal connection to music that Amber felt so strongly. After watching the expressive work of a Deaf dance company, she was inspired to bridge the access gap in the music industry. Her work is captivating, conveying emotions, tone, and guitar riffs through sign, interpreting for stage artists like the Red Hot Chili Peppers and appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live! with Wiz Khalifa.
Amber’s work to make music more accessible to the Deaf community shines a spotlight on another area of inequality: health care. Often, health care settings fail to provide qualified interpreters for their patients or providers lack cultural competence when communicating with their Deaf patients. Because of language and cultural barriers, Deaf patients experience higher risk of morbidities such as cardiac disease and obesity, often entering the health system at a more expensive point in their care.
Another population often afflicted by a lack of access to care and feelings of isolation is the elderly. Numerous studies have shown that chronic loneliness and social isolation can have negative health consequences; in fact, loneliness exceeds obesity as a predictor for premature death. The experience of loneliness is not limited to a particular part of the world. In the United States and the United Kingdom, 30% of adults over the age of 65 and 50% of those over 85 live alone. Sophie Andrews, CEO of The Silver Line helpline, is committed to forging social connections and bridging the communication gap for older people in the United Kingdom. The Silver Line is a 24/7 hotline that fields 10,000 calls each week, providing callers with information about local services, friendship to combat loneliness, and a place to report neglect or abuse. Fifty-three percent of callers to The Silver Line say they have literally no one else to speak with. Sophie and her organization provide an accessible platform for older people to engage in confidential conversations without judgement.
These Speakers are taking steps towards connecting our world by creating platforms of inclusion. They have made music, health care resources, personal connection, and technology easier to access for so many people, improving health outcomes and personal well-being. We invite you to join us this November to hear their stories and learn more about their work.