Photography on social media

Today the world celebrates 177 years since the birth of photography. The volume of images we see each day and the way we share them has completely transformed since digital photography and social media have come into our lives.

Social media is growing as a platform for businesses to raise brand awareness and advertise their wares. It is well documented that images and video increase engagement on social media, and both can be made accessible to blind users through the use of alternative text on your website. However, businesses have so far had very limited control over the way their content is displayed on social media platforms, and therefore next to no control over accessibility on social media. This can be frustrating for companies dedicated to creating an accessible web presence, but things look set to change.

Social media accessibility features

At the start of the year, both Facebook and Twitter made announcements that will improve accessibility of images on these social media platforms:

Facebook introduced object and activity recognition for images posted on their platform. The system uses artificial intelligence to automatically describe the content of images to blind people. This feature is still very new and little has been reported back on its effectiveness for users. More here:

BBC News: Facebook lets blind people ‘see’ its photos

Twitter also introduced an accessibility feature that helps describe images to blind people. Users now have the option to add text to the images they share on Twitter. Rather than describing images automatically, Twitter users type in the description when they post an image, in the same way as you would write alternative text for images on a website to describe the content to a user. First released on iOS and Android via the Twitter mobile app, the feature has since been rolled out on desktop, too. It isn’t switched on as standard, however, so you need to activate the feature in settings. More here:

Twitter blog: Accessible images for everyone

Making images accessible for people on Twitter

screen shot of alt text on a tweet.

Watch the décor…

Not all images on the Web need to have alternative text. Sometimes an image is decorative – a space-filler – to break up the text or supplement the content. Whilst aesthetically pleasing, these images don’t add anything of value to the text, so attempting to describe it may be unnecessary, and even slow down blind people’s reading or detract from the meaning of your content.

Help make a difference

Social media is an important means of communication for people with disabilities. Images are powerful, so make sure as many people as possible benefit from what you share. If they are worth sharing on social media, they are worth describing.

Update December 2018

Instagram have just introduced changes to Alternative text on images, you can find out more from their help centre

LinkedIn also allows for alternative text to be added to images, this option comes up automatically when you upload an image.

Screenshot of the alternative text option that is with LinkedIn