Instagram has announced that it will introduce new improvements, making the app more accessible for people with visual impairments.
Yes, the app is all about imagery and video content – but now Instagram is making big steps to better support visually impaired users.
Screen readers will now be able to describe photos through audio. This can be done either by reading custom descriptions added by the users, or by automatic artificial intelligence (AI).
Meanwhile, Facebook has been using AI to describe photos for blind users for quite some time now. Though the latest announcement from Instagram has already been hailed as another significant social media milestone.
The news comes following some criticism of how difficult it is for visually impaired users to make the most of the app. As The Verge reports, using the app is currently “not the most seamless experience”, but it is hoped the new features will sort this out.
We’re proud to improve Instagram for people with visual impairments. Starting today, we are automatically adding alternative text to photos on Feed, Explore and Profile so people who use screen readers can hear what’s in the photo. pic.twitter.com/IRsiw8F23V
— Instagram (@instagram) November 28, 2018
What exactly has Instagram said?
A statement, released on Wednesday November 28, set out the plans.
“We are introducing two new improvements to make it easier for people with visual impairments to use Instagram,” said a spokesperson for the social media giant.
“With more than 285 million people in the world who have visual impairments, we know there are many people who could benefit from a more accessible Instagram.
“First, we’re introducing automatic alternative text so you can hear descriptions of photos through your screen reader when you use Feed, Explore and Profile.”
They added: “This feature uses object recognition technology to generate a description of photos for screen readers so you can hear a list of items that photos may contain as you browse the app.
“Next, we’re introducing custom alternative text so you can add a richer description of your photos when you upload a photo. People using screen readers will be able to hear this description.”
So, how will this work?
Custom descriptions, also known as ‘alt text’, are already used a lot, all over the web, and have great results. It means that users can now put together their own photo descriptions. They will then be read aloud and heard by people using screen readers as they use the app.
However, if there is no description, object recognition technology will then allow Instagram to automatically work out what’s in a photo. It will then read an automated description when someone scrolls by.
It is understood that the alt text descriptions won’t be visible, so users will have to go into a photo’s ‘advanced settings’ to include one.
Following Wednesday’s announcement, the news has been embraced by thousands. From visually impaired Instagram users to charities and tech publications – all have reacted positively.
— Tracy Wright (@TWright_LA) November 29, 2018
Brilliant news from Instagram who are improving the accessibility by adding automatic and custom ALT text https://t.co/hvMhMIjNaV
— Ross Mullen (@MrRossMullen) November 28, 2018
— iSight Cornwall (@iSightCornwall) November 29, 2018
The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) welcomed the news. It commented: “Absolutely fantastic news from Instagram. They are adding automatic alternative text to photos from today, and you can add your custom text too.
“Great to see such commitment to making their platform accessible to blind and partially sighted people.”
Meanwhile on Twitter, one user added: “So glad Instagram are finally catching up with accessibility! I’d love for people to start adding alt text to their photos.”
Of course, others used an array of congratulatory GIFs to voice their pleasure too – in true Twitter style.
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