Twitter started supporting alt text for gifs a few years ago, and one of the first questions I received when the feature debuted was about how to write alt text for gifs and where to find alt text on Twitter. I personally love that alt text for gifs is supported since I have low vision and am sensitive to flashing lights, and was happy to learn that this feature is available not only for people using Twitter in their web browser, but for people using the mobile apps as well. Here are my tips for how to write alt text for gifs and how to add alt text to social media.
What is alt text?
Alt text tells people what is in an image, such as text or basic essential details. Many people with blindness, low vision, or other visual impairments use screen readers to access websites, applications, and documents. When the screen reader comes across an image, the alt text is read out loud to tell the person what the image is and what it looks like. While some websites will automatically generate alt text for images, Twitter requires users to write their own alt text that will be read out loud by the screen reader.
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What is a gif?
In this context, a Graphics Interchange Format (shortened to gif) is defined as “a lossless format for image files that supports both animated and static images.” Animated gifs are the most common on social media, and are frequently used to convey emotions, show reactions, feature scenes from videos, as well as other reasons.
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How to add alt text on social media
Adding alt text to a gif is no different than adding alt text on any other social media, though not all social media websites currently support alt text for gifs. As of publishing time, the only two social media sites I could find that support adding alt text for gifs are Twitter and Tumblr.
Here’s an excerpt from my post “How To Add Alt Text On Social Media” on how to add alt text on Twitter and Tumblr:
Twitter supports alt text up to 1,000 characters, though alt text cannot be added or edited once a picture or gif is posted.
TO ADD ALT TEXT TO TWITTER POSTS:
- Create a new tweet and attach an image or gif
- Click “add description” underneath the image
- Type alt text of your choice
- Click “done” when finished
Tumblr supports alt text up to 200 characters, and alt text cannot be added or edited once a picture or gif is posted.
TO ADD ALT TEXT TO NEW TUMBLR POSTS:
- Create a new post and attach an image
- Click on the three vertical dots in the lower right-hand corner of the post
- Tap the “alt text” option
- Add your own alt text and save it to the photo
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Another option for including alt text
Some people prefer to have image descriptions and alt text available for anyone to read, regardless of whether they use a screen reader. This can be done by adding brackets at the end of the tweet with the phrase “image description” or “ID:” and a short description of what is in the image. So if I posted a gif of someone dropping a bowl of soup, I would write [ID: a man drops a bowl of soup on the kitchen floor and looks surprised]
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Why writing alt text for gifs is unique
There are a couple of things that make writing alt text for gifs different than writing alt text for images or writing image descriptions for videos:
- Gifs typically showcase lots of movement or changing emotions
- Unlike videos, gifs are only a couple of seconds long and typically only have one big thing happening
- There is typically contextual information included in the caption or social media post that alludes to what is in the gif, such as an excited “yay!” accompanied by a gif of someone cheering, as opposed to images which are often posted alone
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Things to include when writing alt text for gifs
When writing alt text for gifs, include the following information:
- Any descriptions of people or animals in the image. If it’s a celebrity, it’s ok to just include their name-no additional physical description is necessary
- For gifs from a TV show, movie, or other media, include the character names and the name of the show, i.e “Rose and The Doctor from Doctor Who”
- The background/setting if relevant
- Any emotion or relevant movement, such as if someone is surprised or if the camera zooms in quickly
- Write out any relevant text that is on the screen. A stop sign in the background that has nothing to do with the gif doesn’t need to be mentioned, but captions do
- Additional visual effects, if relevant, such as the color scheme or if there are lots of flashing lights
Things not to include when writing alt text for gifs
When writing alt text for gifs, avoid including the following information:
- Over-describing appearances or what items look like. People with visual impairments have mental models of lots of different items/animals, so no need to describe what a giraffe is
- Using racist, derogatory, or inappropriate ways to describe people or objects in images. However, if there is any text that has this type of language, write it out verbatim and do not censor it
- Any non-relevant information about what someone looks like. Clothes are typically considered irrelevant information, unless they are a costume or part of the main scene
- Random information that has nothing to do with the gif, such as thoughts about a celebrity or what someone had for lunch
Adding content warnings for gifs
As I mentioned earlier in the post, I have photosensitivity and am very sensitive to flashing and strobe lights. As a result, I have auto-play for gifs disabled on Twitter, because I’m never sure when I will encounter something that will give me a migraine. If someone is posting a gif with lots of flashing lights, I recommend adding a trigger warning or “tw” for flashing lights, strobe lights, or photosensitivity so that people do not accidentally open a gif that could harm them.
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Summary of how to write alt text for gifs
- Alt text and image descriptions provide information about what is in an image for people who may not otherwise be able to see it
- Twitter supports user-generated alt text up to 1,000 characters in length, though alt text cannot be added or edited once a picture or gif is posted.
- Tumblr supports user-generated alt text up to 200 characters, and alt text cannot be added or edited once a picture or gif is posted.
- Image descriptions can be created by adding brackets at the end of the tweet with the phrase “image description” or “ID:” and writing a short description of what is in the image
- Helpful information to include when writing alt text for gifs can be the name of a celebrity or character, descriptions of people or animals, the background/setting, any emotion or relevant movement, transcriptions of captions, and any other visual effects such as animation effects
- Things not to include are overly detailed descriptions of what a person or object looks like, using racist or derogatory language that is not otherwise written in the gif, or personal thoughts on the gif
- If someone is posting a gif with lots of flashing lights, add a trigger warning or “tw” for flashing lights, strobe lights, or photosensitivity so that people do not accidentally open a gif that could harm them.
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