Making Strides in Media Accessibility for the Visually Impaired

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In our increasingly digital world, there are multiple ways people can consume content – text, pictures, GIFs, videos, emoji and more – all working to create unique information sharing experiences. However, in an age where visual media is a primary medium to communicate, people with visual impairments are often left “out of the loop”.

Twitter saw the importance of addressing this accessibility gap and recently launched support for alternative text to accompany images across its Android and iOS apps, allowing those who are visually impaired to access an image description via assistive technology, such as screen readers and braille technology.

Using the feature is easy – after selecting the “compose image descriptions” option in Twitter’s accessibility settings, the thumbnail of any image you tweet will contain an “add description” button. Once tapped, you can add an image description of up to 420 characters.

Twitter’s new alternative text feature can help communicators educate and inspire a wider audience by expanding the reach of their visual messaging – and in the case of the federal government, help them meet their accessibility requirements.

For almost 20 years, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 has required government agencies to make their shared electronic information accessible to people of all abilities. While federal government websites are designed to be accessible, agencies are increasingly using social media to communicate directly with their audience and share important health information. Tweeting visuals like this Health Resources and Services Administration infographic, which illustrates the impact of the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program on youth and young adults, is a swift way for agencies to communicate digestible information – but only to those who have the ability to see the image. Thanks to Twitter’s alternative text tool, governments can now supplement their visuals with comprehensive descriptions so users of all visual abilities are not only informed, but also empowered to participate in conversations in real time.

Microsoft and Facebook have also demonstrated their commitment to accessibility by recently launching tools similar to Twitter’s. Developments of tools like these are important strides for accessibility and inclusivity in our increasingly digital world. I think Facebook’s Accessibility team put it best, “When people are connected, they can achieve extraordinary things as individuals and as a community — and when everyone is connected, we all benefit.”