Instagram is one of the most popular platforms for sharing images and videos with the world. Since every post needs and image or video, it’s a very visual platform. In some ways, this can make Instagram a hard-to-use platform for people with vision impairment. Instagram has announced some changes that will make the platform more accessible for all audiences via alternative text for photos and gives creators advanced ways to customize their content.  

Instagram has announced two major changes to the platform that are primarily designed to increased accessibility for users who are relying on screen readers. Screen readers are software applications that attempt to convey what people with normal eyesight see on a display to their users via non-visual means, such as text-to-speech features. Both Android and iOS have built-in screen readers on their latest versions, so there is a value in setting up content in a ways that’s friendly for these apps.

The biggest change for Instagram is the introduction alternative text for photos. In this case, the alt text is something that fully describes what the image is. In SEO, the alt-text is normally used to include keywords for the article and something about the image to help search engines classify it. On Instagram, it’s less about SEO and more about providing descriptions of the images on Instagram for the visually impaired. For example, a photo of a puppy could include alternative text that describes what the dog looks like and what he is doing in the photo.  

Creating alternative text description for every photo a user uploads to Instagram would be time consuming, So Instagram has made it easier by offering automatic alternative text. This feature uses object recognition technology to generate a description of photos for screen readers people can hear a list of items that photos may contain as they browse the app. This is probably being done automatically for the benefit of text-to-speech app users who want to hear descriptions of photos as they use their Instagram Feed, Explore tab and Profile.

As with anything based on object recognition technology, the Instagram automatic alternative text system has the potential to provide inaccurate results if the system gets confused by an object. Also, the automatically generated descriptions will not be as compelling as one written by someone who knows what is happening in the photo, as the computer can only guess. For that reason, Instagram is also introducing custom alternative text so users can add a richer description of the photos they upload.

It’s important to keep in mind that people using screen readers will be able to hear this description. This means the alternative text should be written in a grammatically proper format and that the description has the level of quality one would expect from ad content. It’s not a place to put inside jokes your audience wouldn’t get or to use language that you wouldn’t use in other kinds of content.

Your alternative text should paint a vivid picture for the person who hears it and it should be able to stand on its own. Just as marketers choose the best photos to represent their brand on Instagram, their alternative text for each photo is what will represent their brand for the visually impaired.

Instagram users can also go back and add alt-text to all of their previous photos. The process is relatively easy, but for brands with a large number of photos, going back through hundreds of posts to add good alternative text could be too time consuming. All photos in the future will at least have the automatically generated alternative text descriptions.

Taking the time to write good descriptions can also help a page or brand stand out to visually impaired audiences who use Instagram. If they know that a certain brand is putting out high-quality content that’s formatted in a way that helps makes it more enjoyable, they will come back to that Instagram page.

For more recent news about social media marketing, read this article on Instagram’s crackdown on inauthentic engagement.