In today’s day and age of social media being rife with pictures, memes, and GIF’s, the blind community has had an outpouring of requests for alternative text. For those who don’t know, alternative text is a description of what is taking place in the photo/meme/GIF of choice. Some of the sighted community has taken our requests to heart, letting us all join in on the laughter and memories captured on camera. Unfortunately, what I have also seen is parts of the blind community asking, but not reciprocating. As a gentle reminder to my fellow blindies… we can do better.
If you are confused by what I may mean, I have seen a number of people be bothered and upset when a sighted friend or equal has not provided image descriptions for their latest Instagram posts. While I understand the frustration, I want the community to remember that forcing Stacey to detail every detail of her latest Lush haul isn’t your God given right. It is a courtesy that people are extending and while we have the right to be upset when it doesn’t get received well, that doesn’t make them a terrible person. Maybe they’ll come around and change their mind, realizing that it isn’t quite as hard or time consuming as it seems, or they simply just don’t know how to do it correctly. All I know is that there are the same people asking for photo descriptions who, when it’s their turn to post a picture of their Lush haul, don’t provide a photo description to their blind followers. There exists a double standard that, as a blind person myself, I despair and abhor that it exists. We cannot metaphorically crucify the sighted world for not being courteous when we cannot in turn return that same courtesy to our blind friends and family members.
It’s time the blind community work together with the sighted community beyond technology, video/audio games, and making literature accessible. We need to learn to communicate in ways that are not immediately defensive and condescending. I know a few who would be offended that people don’t put image captions, but I also know people who will ask for descriptions. The response you get when you approach some one with kindness instead of hostility is immediate, I promise you. Save your offended feelings for when laws are broken and discrimination happens, not for when a friend or celebrity unwittingly leaves out an entire community by not knowing how to get there. Hell, my mom sometimes forgets to give me image descriptions when sending me photos. All it takes is a gentle reminder or a question to what the photo is, and she remembers that her daughter just happens to be blind. I don’t think less of her for it, nor should the blind community waste their time thinking the worst of every person when ignorance just exists from lack of knowledge.
The following is a short, yet simple guide to accessing the alternate text options on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. I encourage everyone to take a look, read, and share this information with your sighted peers. Let’s spread inclusivity through knowledge.
Open your camera inside the Instagram app and select the photo(s) that you wish to post. Then navigate past the filters to the caption and sharing screen. If you scroll down past the caption box and sharing options, you will see a button labeled ‘advanced settings. Click that button and scroll down to the choice labeled ‘alt text’. Instagram is amazing in that it briefly explains what this option does. Click on that option and write in what your image contains in the provided field. (E.G. In this photo, a young male golden retriever sits calmly in front of the camera with his tongue hanging out. He is wearing a red collar.)
Once you are done writing your photo description, click the ‘done’ button and it will return you to your caption/sharing screen. You are now free to post your photo to your feed and be assured that it will then display the description of the photo to your blind followers.
Unfortunately for Twitter, the platform has placed the alt text and general accessibility options in a place that is very out of the way for most to find. Luckily, I will explain just how to get there!
Navigate to your settings and privacy settings from your Twitter app. You will see links to your account, privacy, general, and content preferences, among other options. Scroll down to the ‘general’ heading, under which you will see options for display and sound, data usage, accessibility, and about Twitter. Click on the nifty accessibility link, which will bring you to options for VoiceOver, vision, motion, and web browser headings. Move to the ‘Vision’ heading, where toggles for increased color contrast, compose image descriptions, and a nifty learn more link will appear. Toggle the second option, (compose image descriptions), to ‘on’, being careful to note the brief but informative piece under the option that explains its purpose. Once done, close your settings and return to your normal Twitter feed. If that toggle is switched to ‘on’, you won’t have to worry about navigating there each time you want to post a funny meme of a celebrity.
To post a photo with an image description on Twitter, compose a Tweet, being mindful to select the photo you so choose to share with the Interwebs. Once you add the photo to your tweet, if the toggle has been switched on, you will see an option to ‘add a description to this photo’. Once selected, you will be put in a box where you have 420 characters to explain your image. If you are still confused, Twitter’s got you covered. Feel free to click the ‘What is alt text?’ link and read to your heart’s content!
Unfortunately for Facebook users, the platform has not made adding image descriptions a smooth process. As far as I am aware, the only efficient way to add alternative text is to post your photos as normal, taking care to then go to your photo of choice and clicking the ‘edit/more’ button. Once there, you can choose to edit the image caption, which will remove the default description and replacing them with your far more descriptive and colorful descriptions.
I do hope someone has found these instructions helpful in making their photos more inclusive. If anyone has any idea on how to improve the instructions for Facebook, I will gladly edit this post with clearer instructions. Until then, please stay safe and remember to be kind and inclusive. For my blind peers, remember that not all ignorance is from lack of willingness to understand.