Instagram, the photo-heavy social app, just got a little more accessible for users with visual impairments.
On Wednesday, the company announced two new features designed to help users with visual loss navigate Instagram. Now, when uploading an image, users will now be able to enter their own description (referred to as alternative or alt text). While the alt text will not be visible to users browsing their feed, it can be read aloud with specialized screen reader software used by people with visual impairments. So, when scrolling through the app, users with screen readers will now be able to hear an audio description of what’s on the screen.
Unlike hashtag-packed photo captions, which appear under the images on your feed, alt text is meant to be more descriptive and factual. While “#TBT to girls’ trip to NYC! #squadgoals” might work fine for a photo caption, the alt text should be more practical. To add alt text to your images, you’ll need to navigate to the advanced settings. There, you can write a more useful description, such as “group of female friends at Empire State Building.”
If there is no user-generated description, Instagram will automatically create one using object recognition technology. Basically, the technology uses artificial intelligence to identify and label the objects in a photo. It’s yet unclear how advanced Instagram’s object recognition technology really is, but it will likely get better over time as the A.I. “learns” to identify and differentiate between more objects.
While Instagram may be a bit behind the curve on implementing these features (Twitter and Facebook have both been using image descriptor text for years), it’s interesting to see Instagram, a highly visual platform, take steps to accommodate users with visual impairments.