Twitter to become more accessible for visually impaired users
has announced a new feature which will help make their platform more accessible for visually impaired users. The feature will now let users add alternative text (alt text) to images in tweets, which is a description for the image.
Twitter says the new feature will be available for its iOS and Android app users.
In a blogpost announcing the new feature, Twitter points out that the same can be activated by going to the app’s accessibility settings. Users will have to enable the compose image descriptions option in the settings.
The blogpost reads, “The next time you add an image to a Tweet, each thumbnail in the composer will have an add description button. Tap it to add a description to the image. People who are visually impaired will have access to the description via their assistive technology (e.g., screen readers and braille displays). Descriptions can be up to 420 characters.”
Twitter says that in order to that ensure publishers and third-party clients also have the capability to add alt text to images, they have extended the same to the REST API and Twitter Cards.
If this feature is actually going to help, everyone has to get on board
Twitter’s new setting is a kind gesture, but I’m skeptical how much help it will truly prove to be.
Large news organizations, which have already shown a desire to make their websites more accessible to blind users, will hopefully adapt to the change and make image captioning a normal step in their social media efforts. (There’s a side benefit for them: Adding alt text to images makes them accessible to search engines, potentially giving them a boost in search engine rankings.)
But for me, the problem extends beyond big media organizations. I’m equally concerned with being able to enjoy the boatloads of photos my friends tweet, post, and otherwise disseminate each day – and I doubt they’ll bother to adopt image captioning as a normal habit.
Consider how roundabout the effort is just to enable the alt text feature: Users must go into Twitter’s accessibility settings on their smartphones and switch it on, meaning that people who aren’t already aware the feature exists will never encounter it at random in the app. Twitter has instructions on how to do this.
My guess is most people aren’t even aware this is a problem. Facebook’s accessibility page advises users to add good old-fashioned captions (read: not alt text) to make photos accessible, but most Facebook users are too concerned with loading their captions with snark or hashtags to use the space as a place to provide a proper image description.
Then again, it might be awkward to provide a literal account of precisely what is being depicted in a photo – which is why alt text is preferable, since it’s invisible to anyone who can see the photograph. Twitter now just needs to figure out how to persuade its users to make use of the feature.