I was quoted in the Wall Street Journal talking about how I would improve existing alt text features on Twitter and other social media. While the actual quote is only a sentence long, I have many other thoughts on improving alt text features on social media, and today I will be sharing my extended thoughts on how alt text features can evolve to further benefit Blind and low vision users on social media.
Report images for inaccurate or inappropriate alt text
Social media websites allow users to report posts for a variety of reasons including disinformation, inappropriate content, cyberbullying, and discrimination. Unfortunately, all of these things can also end up in alt text, even if the rest of the post doesn’t contain that type of content- as an example, someone used the alt text of an image to reveal a person’s address and other personal information, and I also knew someone who once shared an explicit picture on social media because the alt text was inaccurate and didn’t tell them what was actually in the photo.
One option for improving the alt text experience on social media is to give users the option to report images for inaccurate or inappropriate alt text and give creators the ability to update their content’s alt text, linking to existing resources that can help them create a more accurate description. This will require allyship from users that don’t have vision loss, but it would be great if users could receive information about how to write better alt text for their images and make use of different resources. Since many websites like Twitter give users the option to read alt text without the use of a screen reader, users will not need to enable additional accessibility tools to read the alt text of an image.
Add alt text to images posted without it
Adding alt text to posts on social media is still a relatively new feature, and many posts may be lacking alt text just because it wasn’t an option when the image was first posted. Some websites don’t allow users to edit or add alt text to images that had already been posted, and I would love to see an option to make pre-existing images accessible so that people can access all of the visual content on a social media account, not just the images posted within the last couple of years. This would also be helpful for people who forgot to add alt text to their post before publishing it.
- How To Write Alt Text and Image Descriptions For Instagram
- How To Write Alt Text and Image Descriptions for the Visually Impaired
Automatic alt text for text-only images
A lot of social media creators will post a screenshot of text written in the Notes app or a screenshot of an article. Something that would help creators to optimize adding alt text to these images is to enable automatic alt text that copies the text of the image and pastes it into the alt text field, while allowing the creator to proofread the alt text before they post it. This would work best for images on a simple background or a basic font, but it would be a great tool for helping to make text content more accessible on social media. In my post “How To Access Images Without Alt Text,” I talk about different tools for reading text from an image screenshot as well.
- How To Access Images Without Alt Text
- Options For Writing Extended Image Descriptions On Social Media
Allow users to flag an image for missing alt text
Blind and low vision users often have to comment on inaccessible social media posts to ask for alt text or image descriptions. Another great tool for improving alt text features on social media would be having the ability to flag images that do not have alt text and alert creators to the fact their content was posted without alt text, so that they can add alt text to the image and update it accordingly. This would be helpful for people who don’t want to comment that an image doesn’t have alt text and/or to request alt text, which can be an exhausting task as well as “out” someone as having a disability. Enabling the option to flag images for missing alt text is more anonymous and easier to do. It would be even better if users could get an alert when the image they flagged has alt text added!
Search for images that have alt text
If I’m browsing through a hashtag or searching for content on social media, I would love to enable the option to only show images with alt text in the results so that I would be able to browse content that is accessible for me. I can think of several uses for this, but the first one that came to mind was browsing accessible pet photos since I get very excited when people add alt text to the photos of their pets.
Tag profiles as accessibility-minded or similar term
To recognize and promote accounts that post content with alt text and image descriptions on a consistent basis, it would be awesome to have profiles automatically tagged as being accessibility-minded or a similar term so that users can find profiles that post accessible content. Users could also enable an option to only be recommended accessibility-minded accounts so that they can discover other accounts that share content with alt text and image descriptions.
- Misuse of Twitter’s Alt Text Feature Draws Criticism From Accessibility Advocates – Wall Street Journal