A picture says a thousand words, and there are times that images on social media require more than a thousand characters to create an adequate description for people that are blind or that have low vision. While I recommend keeping image descriptions as short as possible, I recognize there are times where users will want to have extended image descriptions so they can share more information about an image and the different details that are happening. Here are some free options for writing extended image descriptions on social media for content creators and accessibility allies.
WHAT IS ALT TEXT? WHAT IS AN IMAGE DESCRIPTION?
Alt text tells people what is in an image, such as text, colors, or basic essential details. If an image fails to load, alt text will display in its place. Search engines also index alt text information and consider it a factor when determining search engine ratings.
An image description gives more details than alt text and allows someone to learn more about what is in an image that goes beyond alt text. Alt text gives the user the most important information while image descriptions provide further detail. For example, alt text tells someone that there is a puddle on the floor, and an image description tells them that it is a circular puddle of orange juice in the middle of white carpet.
- How To Write Alt Text and Image Descriptions for the Visually Impaired
- How To Write Alt Text and Image Descriptions For Instagram
- How To Write Alt Text For Gifs
- A to Z of Assistive Technology For Low Vision
SHOULD I USE BOTH ALT TEXT AND IMAGE DESCRIPTIONS?
When posting an extended image description to accompany a photo or other content, I recommend including alt text for the image and indicating in the caption that an image description with more detail is available and shared in another section- do not post the link to the description in the alt text box. Make sure that the extended image description is easy to locate from the original post, as most users will not want to go searching for additional descriptive information.
- How To Write Alt Text And Image Descriptions For Photojournalism Images
- How To Write Image Descriptions For Buildings and Architecture
- Creating Audio Description For Primary Source Videos With YouDescribe
Why write an extended image description?
Users have many different reasons for writing an extended image description, including:
- Images that contain lots of details or important symbols
- Intricate artwork or costumes
- Screenshots of text copied from a notepad or online article
- Scenes from comics or graphic novels that require detailed descriptions or that contain lots of text
- Images where every single element is important to understand the meaning of an image, and descriptions are longer than the allotted character limit
- Images that are stitched together and posted as one image- users can set alt text for individual photos in a gallery view though
- How To Write Alt Text For Digital Comics
- How To Write Alt Text For Amateur Art
- How To Write Image Descriptions For Cosplay
- Writing Image Descriptions For Red Carpet Outfits
Write it out in a thread or comment
Whenever possible, I recommend writing out extended image descriptions in a linked thread or a comment below the original content. For example, if I was writing an extended image description on Twitter, I would create a separate thread that quoted the original post, go into detail about different visual elements over several tweets, and then copy/paste a link to the thread as a reply to the original content. If I was on another social media platform and space allowed, I would write out an image description in the comment box for the original post.
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- How To Add Alt Text On Social Media
- Using Twitter With Vision Impairment
Link to a plain text copy of an image description
Screen readers and other assistive technology users can read plain text files with relative ease, so linking to an extended image description written in plain text is a great way to make sure that descriptions can be easily read. There are several popular websites that allow users to post plain text that cannot be edited or deleted later, though one of the most widely used ones that I have seen is Pastebin. Most users will write out the extended description in Pastebin and then share the link on social media when relevant.
- Pastebin link
- How To Make ASCII/Emoji Memes Accessible For Visual Impairment
- How To Write Alt Text For Memes
Link to the original text, if it is a screenshot
For screenshots of articles or other online content, provide the original source link whenever possible so that users can access it on their own. For making websites easier to read, I recommend using a browser extension such as Immersive Reader or Pocket, or activating the Reading View in a web browser to simplify the display of text.
- Ways To Read Webpages Without A Traditional Screen Reader
- Microsoft Immersive Reader Review
- Pocket App Accessibility For Visual Impairment
- Five Ways To Simplify Reading With Technology
WHERE TO PUT AN EXTENDED IMAGE DESCRIPTION
Trying to figure out where to put an image description for the visually impaired? Some websites have a dedicated image description section that is next to the alt text field, so screen reader users can easily find the description. However, since many people who benefit from image descriptions do not use screen readers, it’s better to include the image description in the caption of the image so that it is easier to locate. This is recommended by many journalists and media outlets, including NPR and National Geographic.
On social media, I recommend adding the description to the caption of the post if space allows, though adding it in the comment section is also a common practice. If the image description is in the comment section, make note of this within the caption. I also recommend writing the phrase “Image Description:” or “ID:” in front of the description so that users know what it is, and if space allows, mentioning that there is additional image description available for an image in the alt text field.
- Using Free NPR Training Resources With Visual Impairment
- How To Make Your Instagram Feed Accessible For Visual Impairment
Image descriptions are an incredibly helpful tool for ensuring that audiences are able to understand what is happening in an image, and well-written extended descriptions can be incredibly helpful for people who may not otherwise be able to see what is happening. I hope that this post on options for writing extended image descriptions on social media is helpful for others!