A core part of the web is inaccessible to a large chunk of visually impaired users. This is quite tragic especially at a time when most of the internet is dominated by visual content.
Millions of images, GIFs and screenshots are posted every day on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and our visually impaired folks miss out just because their screen-reading software is unable to ‘read’ images—something artificial intelligence is still not that good at yet. Such software is only helpful in so far as texts are concerned.
However, there is a way we can help them see these images.
Rob Long, a visually impaired Twitter user, recently posted about how the rest of us can reach people like him and help them interact with our pictures.
In March 2016, Twitter announced a feature that allows users to caption their photographs before they share them. Once the image is shared, the caption is what a visually impaired user’s screen reader will read each time it encounters a captioned photograph. However, a lot of users aren’t even aware that such a feature exists.
Users have to go into their Twitter account’s accessibility settings on their smartphones and switch it on. Rob has posted instruction on how users can do this:
I’m a blind twitter user. There are a lot of us out there. Increase your ability to reach us and help us interact with your pictures, it’s really simple and makes a huge difference to our twitter experiance allowing us to see your images our way. Thanks for the description ? pic.twitter.com/hCsjoFdmev
— Rob Long (@_Red_Long) January 3, 2018
Facebook also has this feature, but it uses automatic alternative (alt) text that uses object recognition technology to create a description of a photo, which cannot be edited. It is supported in various languages.
For this feature to work, every Twitter user has to get on board and enable it on their accounts. In fact big news organisations too should adopt features that help the visually impaired navigate better and make image captioning a mandatory effort.