If you think that meme comes from Gen Z or Boomers, then you’re probably half wrong. Richard Dawkins was the hero who invented the word “meme” in 1976 to explain the ideas of replication, mutation, and evolution (memetics). Memes were opted as a more scientific approach to help understand better-complicated definitions.
Since then, memes have also evolved from time to time, changing the way one communicates and references trending culture online. However trendy it may be, the downfall falls on the growing numbers of people living globally with visual impairment, where a substantial blob of the internet is inaccessible.
Visually impaired people are using assistive technologies to turn content into speech – a system that works but often fails to convey slang and nuances, like the humor behind a meme. Thankfully, Carnegie Mellon University has developed a way to tackle this. The team involved in the research has developed a technology that converts memes into sound rather than text. Users browse a sound library and drag and drop components into a template. This method was created to transform memes into music and sound effects to express the message and sentimental values.
However, it will be challenging to implement the technology. Even if it was integrated into a meme generator website, that alt text would not be immediately replicated when the image was posted on social media. This means that they would have to take a practical approach to top social media such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc., to convince them to add a new feature.
Most photos (memes) do not have Alt-Text.
Although Twitter allows users to add Alt-text to photos, only a handful of them do so because it’s challenging to locate on applications and websites. According to Carnegie researchers, roughly one million tweets out of nine million had photos, but only 0.1% of those had Alt-text indicating the image’s content.
The researchers developed a method that uses pre-written templates to add the Alt-text required for a photo automatically. It utilizes optical character recognition to identify the content of an image, then uses the template to add Alt-text, allowing the visually impaired to interpret it using assistive technology. While the technology adds Alt-text to images automatically, it struggles to grasp some of the slang portrayed in memes. The researchers involved created a sound library that could better represent the sentiment expressed in the template’s memes. If the technology advances, it may one day make memes, even the most complex ones, accessible to the visually impaired.
Memes may not appear to be the most pressing problem, but a crucial aspect of accessibility is not deciding what warrants people’s attention for them. Many individuals use memes, and the visually impaired shouldn’t be left out and should be made available and easily accessible. We should consider what technology can do to prevent visually impaired people from being left out and feeling excluded. Still, we should also strive to be more inclusive as a society.