The internet is changing,from a medium almost based entirely on text, it’s now becoming increasingly picture lead.

But what does that mean for blind and visually impaired people?

For the majority it means we are left behind, kept out of the loop not being able to interact with our peers the way we want to because we lack the vision to see pictures our friends and family are uploading to Social Meia platforms.
Modern assistive technologies can only work so far… Screen readers can only do basic functions, unless coded otherwise. A screen reader is software used by blind and visually impaired people to navigate around their phones/ tablets/ laptops. On Apple products this is already part of the computer systems software, called VoiceOver.

However this is all set to change; in the last month both Twitter and FaceBook have set up new features enabling blind and visually impaired people to feel included with the use of Alt Text (Alternative Text,) and A.I. (Artificial Intelligence)

Alt Text is a coding function used by HTML attributes. Users of assistive technology called screen readers can read the Alt Text aloud, enabling blind and visually impaired people to understand the context of the picture. It is embedded within the picture so people with sight do not see the descriptions. However this does not come automatically with any picture uploaded to the internet. The person uploading the picture must configure the Alt Text; giving a brief description of what the picture contains.

For example this picture here is a picture of the beach. I have added the Alt Text: Sun shining on a beautiful Spanish beach.

Sun shining on a beautiful Spanish beach

I have given people that use screen readers a visual explanation of what the image contains.

If I were not to edit my images before I uploaded them to my blog, the picture may say something like Image46754524-spa213456 (ok so I just made that up, but it’s not far off what a person who uses a screen reader might hear.

This is the feature that Twitter has installed in it’s latest version. You can enable this by going to
Me > Settings> Accessibility > Compose Image Descriptions
*Adds the ability to describe images for the visually impaired*

Once this function is enabled, anyone who adds a picture on Twitter then has the option of adding a description. This can be a maximum of 420 characters. Again, this will be embedded within the photo, so people using screen readers can access it.

Here is a Tweet I sent out yesterday.

My description of the picture says: White figure on dark blue background using a white cane.
This is the test that will read to those using a screen reader.

I feel this is a fantastic way to encourage the public to be more aware of blind and visually impaired people using Twitter, especially if they have blind or visually impaired followers. It will make people like myself feel included, and trust me if people are anything like me, they will be jumping for joy at that inclusivity! 🙂

My thoughts:

Personally although I love the feature, people who do not pay attention to social media updates, or have friends with visual impairments may not know of this feature, and would therefore not have it switched on.
This in itself is a major drawback; although there are advocates such as myself for inclusivity and accessibility, it’s not widely known by the general public.

I believe if these sorts of updates were shown on the news and local papers, the public would be far more likely to pay attention, and try their best to support disabled people in whatever way they could.

So this is my polite request:
If you are adding images to your Tweets, please enable the *Compose Image Descriptions* and add a short line explaining the picture. It won’t interfere with your Tweet or character length, but would certainly make my day 🙂

Artificial Intelligence is a branch of Computer Science concerned with making computers behave like humans. Facebook servers have now been coded to describe uploaded images to the site.

Matt King,is a blind engineer who helped develop this feature.
“Our Artificial Intelligence has advanced to the point where it’s practical for us to try to get computers to describe pictures in a meaningful way.”

So far it is in it’s very early stages, but for people like myself it’s moving in the right direction. The system currently describes up to 80familiar objects and activities.
These include: transport, environment, food, appearance and sports.

Here is a recent image posted to FaceBook

The A.I. describes this image as

My Thoughts:

I am truly pleased that Facebook is trying it’s best to become inclusive of visual impairment on it’s site. It’s also fantastic that there is a blind man at the forefront pushing this along, no doubt he has put a lot of hard work and effort into getting the work successfully.

I am going to be slightly pessimistic here though: for the most part, the A.I. almost sounds like it doesn’t know what it’s explaining… When VoiceOver is engaged, it says: “could contain” and “may contain”
Facebook has also exclaimed that this system can discriminate over 80 objects, yet the most i’ve managed to get from is vehicle, food or outdoors or “no automatic Alt text available”.
So not the best really for how much FaceBook is raving about this new feature.


After lots of searching, and then eventual help from Gary I found this

It says: “Image may contain tree, sky, outdoor, nature.”
Houses, tree and green field

Without this sort of technology I would not have known what this picture included at all unless I asked Gary. I am grateful that this technology exists and that major Social Media platforms are trying their best to incorporate inclusion for all disabled people!

*Final Thoughts*

I am beyond pleased that I live in a day and age where I have access to all the technology I do, and use, on a daily basis to get around independently.
From talking scales, to GPS apps, to colour detectors.
I am extremely fortunate to be blind in 2016 and not 60 years ago, nevermind living in 1016! Technology has advanced so quickly in the last 10 years and if that has taught me anything, it’s to appreciate what access and technology we have, and in another 10 years who knows where the future will take us? What technology for the blind will be like?

Thank you FaceBook and Twitter… And please don’t forget to give your photo’s a quick description! 🙂

What are your thoughts on these new features? How quickly do you think technology will advance in the next 10 years?

Much Love, Sassy x

20 comments on “Is Social Media Finally Becoming Inclusive?”

  1. Thanks for sharing your perspective on this! I’m guilty of forgetting to add alt text to my images sometimes, and I really need to get better about it. I’m having trouble finding the accessibility settings on Twitter, though – arrrggg. #bigpinklink

  2. Thank you for making me aware of this! I will certainly add descriptions (to the best that i can) and will turn on the Twitter descriptions. I don’t understand why they cannot just make it a mandatory feature instead of having to turn it on. If I hadn’t read this post I would never of known.
    I shall make sure I let people know. x

  3. Oh Sassy this is such a great thought provoking post and I am guilty of uploading images without thinking about visually impairment – such an important feature that should be turned on always instead of having to be turned on – will go check the feature out and thank you so much for bringing it to my attention – I will certainly be more thoughtful in future xx

  4. Wow, this is really thought-provoking. Stupidly I hadn’t thought of the difficulties that blind or partially-sighted people could have when using social media…even though I regularly think of them at work when designing street/footpath layouts (I’m a civil engineer).
    I do feel quite bad that the whole basis of my blog is my doodles, which by their very nature are visual. I don’t think I could effectively capture what I draw in words…any tips?
    Thanks for this post, I will be sharing.

  5. Great post Sassy! Thanks for making us aware of this new feature. I did not know about it and I shall be taking care to name pictures in future. I am glad that facebook and twitter are trying to make their social media accessible to all. With technology developing lets hope it continues to move in this right direction so that everyone feels included on social media 🙂

  6. This is a great bit of technology, twitter and facebook should really advertise this more. I am going to try and get this feature set up on my twitter feed. Thanks for sharing such an important software update that could help so many people! x

  7. Well done Sassy – I ignorantly would not have given it much thought. Until something affects someone personally often it is ignored. But I will take heed because it is important that everyone has the chance to engage as fully as possible. I will share also in the hope others might be a bit more aware. I had no idea just changing Alt text could do so much x

  8. Another brilliant and informative post Sassy! I apologise for my ignorance, this had not even crossed my mind, and I’ve just gone straight into my settings and enabled it! But like somebody else has commented, why is this not automatically enabled? It shouldn’t be something that you have reconfigure your settings for, it should already be there! However, like you say, at least these are positive steps for giving visually impaired people as much inclusivity as possible, and to be visually impaired now, with all the extra help available, must be pretty empowering! By the way, the picture for my post this week is of a 1940’s poster girl, which I have emblazoned ‘Tena Lady’ across-it’s supposed to be funny, when you’ve read the post, I hope you will laugh!

  9. So sorry as I know I have been guilty of sharing images and GIFs without thinking. I will do the Alt text thing from now on hun. You are doing such an amazing job raising awareness for visual impaired people. I will share this no worries ⭐

  10. I always try to add a descriptive Alt text into my blog post images but didn’t realise you could do it on social media. I’ve tried to find the Twitter setting though and can’t see it – once I can work out how to turn this feature on I’ll try and remember to add Alt Text to Twitter although I’m not sure if it works with scheduled tweets.

  11. Wow this is groundbreaking stuff and I had no idea that I could enable this feature (which I have now done – thanks to you and your post!) I very naively hadn’t given much thought to accessibility across social media platforms (How ignorant was I?) Until you contacted me and explained that Bloglovin was easier for you to access and so with this in mind I signed up immediately. I really praise the fantastic work that you do through your blog to raise awareness of the issues that blind and partially sighted people face on a daily basis, and it’s great to know about little things that we can all do to make a difference. Thanks for sharing with #passthesauce lovely xx

  12. This is so interesting. Sounds like there are some amazing advancements being made, even if they do still need some work. I’m awful with the alt text – only just started using images at all – & have been told it’s important for SEO, etc, but never knew about this angle on it. Thanks for providing some information & awareness on this, as I expect many people like me did not know this existed and the benefits of giving image descriptions. #passthesauce

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  14. This is a brilliant feature. Thanks for sharing information about this. I did not know about this and I would definitely be looking into this. Great post, Sassy! I always come away from your blog, knowing a bit more.

  15. Thankyou for making me aware of these updates, I’ll definitely have to change my settings to make my own accounts more inclusive! #bigpinklink

  16. I can’t make the images work on my phone on Twitter (where I do most my uploading). I have started using Alt text on my blog site. I hope to get more people doing this too. It really is important! Thanks for sharing such a great post 😀

  17. Very informative post, thank you very much. Every day’s a school day. I don’t have Twitter but how do I do this using FB? Any help is greatly reiceved.

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