Instagram Rolls Out Photo Descriptions for Visually Impaired Users



Instagram is making its first intentional steps toward making its largely visual platform, accessible to the visually impaired.


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Instagram is fast becoming the platform of choice for brands and marketers aiming to create a visually stunning presence. However, heavy use of this platform for outreach presented an access gap for a key group of consumers: the visually impaired.

As of last week, that gap is starting to narrow.

On their blog, the photo sharing platform announced its most intentional efforts toward, as they say, “creating a more accessible Instagram.” In last Wednesday’s announcement, they revealed two ways users can make their feeds more accessible for Instagrammers who use screen readers to navigate the app.

Image via Instagram

The first method mimics similar features that currently exist on Twitter and Instagram’s parent platform Facebook. The newly deployed “alt text” feature automatically generates a text box to describe an uploaded image. Individuals sharing these images would also need to compose and share a detailed description. In doing so, visually impaired users would have a “script” for their screen readers to share what is currently happening on-screen.

A second way for text to populate image descriptions is through their announced automatic alternative text option. Artificial intelligence technology will be deployed to identify familiar objects in the photo. While this could save the poster time, what you gain in time you lose in poetry. The generated “description” will likely more closely resemble a list of objects the AI could recognize. Those wanting to control precisely how the objects are described, will want to (at least initially) employ the first option to describe their posts.

Earlier this year, accessibility in media came under vocal fire, and apps have been moving to respond to these challenges. In January, visually impaired Twitter user Rob Long went viral for sharing the platform’s existing instructions on how to provide images for alt-text on the platform. The following month, actor and activist Nyle DiMarco drew attention to the false promise of “accessible” film screenings for the hearing impaired. As people spend more and more time on social media for a host of different reasons, addressing these concerns in these spaces is becoming crucial and nonnegotiable. Further, brands and organizations who can make their content accessible without too much work of the user, will endear their products to this often-neglected segment of consumers.

Instagram reports that this is the start of their efforts to make their platform more accessible for the visually impaired, but no additional concrete plans have been revealed. If Facebook’s moves are any indication, we should look forward to similar care for hearing impaired users- apps like Apple Clips are presently making it easy for Instagram users to caption their videos; the company’s next smart move would be to create an in-app mechanism for this process.

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