Do blind people use Instagram?

Instagram logo and blind photographer with guide dog

Visual impairment is not black and white, there are many levels between fully functional vision and being completely blind. Hearing impairment, and mobility impairment also have many varying levels, but in the case of mobility impairment, those differences are more clearly visible – or at least you might think they are. Someone traveling in a wheelchair might or might not be able to support their own weight, just like someone traveling with a cane might or might not have some level of functional vision. This applies to hearing impaired as well, just because someone’s primary method of communication is sign language does not mean they are completely hearing impaired. So, if you see me on my phone browsing social media, I might actually be looking at photos, but in a different way than you do.  

It might surprise you to learn that many blind people regularly use Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, but depending on how the content creator posts their information, some of these services are easier to use than others.

What is alt text?

Alt text is a short phrase that is used to identify images, typically on web pages. Screen readers use the alt text tag to give visually impaired viewers information about the image being displayed.  Most social media platforms have options for content creators to use alt text to add accessibility to posted content. Facebook (and soon Instagram) are automatically adding alt text to memes and other images rather successfully. This doesn’t mean that you should rely on Facebook or Instagram to generate the alt text for you, because we all want control of our posted content.

The alt text tag comes historically from HTML web language, you can see it in action on many websites, Hovering over a web image will often display a description, which comes from the alt text entered for that image. The alt text is also used by many content engines in place of an image which does not load. You might be asking how alt text can help content providers expand their audience, but you might need to change your mindset on what alt text is really intended for.

SEO vs. ALT Text

Anyone reading articles about getting started in Instagram, will quickly notice that most of the authors of these articles highly recommend using the image description and/or alt text description as another opportunity to add a bunch of tags for Search Engine Optimization (SEO). However, I will show you that if used properly, alt text and image descriptions can not only increase your ranking on SEO, but it can improve the experience of blind and visually impaired viewers of your content.

Visual Storytelling

Instagrammers are often referred as visual storytellers. Because of the limitations of the platform, you have a finite amount of space to describe your image in a way that the algorithm will bring you to the top of the heap in viewers feeds. Often content creators have to rely on tag clouds (comments with tags) and location tags to add additional information to the image in hopes of getting a better ranking on a very congested social media platform. This is where the improper use of alt text comes in to play for many creators, they will flood the alt text field with tags rather than add useful information for blind and visually impaired viewers as it is intended. As a storyteller, look at the alt text for Instagram posts as another opportunity to tell the story about your image. First, start thinking about what goes into writing a good image description.

Straightforward and clear

Screen readers often break up long text into smaller more manageable pieces. It is easier for those using screen readers if you provide a clear straightforward description of your image. With this in mind, look at the image above. You might be tempted to say something like “girls on the beach” as your description, but does that really tell the story? Don’t just think about whether it is males or females and how many of them and where they are, think about it in terms of the story.  “Six girls wearing rainbow swimsuits facing away from the camera with heir hands in the air sitting on a sandy beach with clear blue sky” is a description that would let you close your eyes and imagine the content of the image. If you were selling a product like swimsuits, you could add the brand name, or the specific colors of the products. This description could also be expanded to include the location of the shot if it were taken in Cozumel, Mexico for example. I opted to not include the location because there were no identifying landmarks or structures in the image, but if you were promoting a vacation property there is no reason you could not include that. Screen reader will read tags is you prefer to put them in #hashtag form, but it is a good idea to limit yourself to a couple. Search Engines will also process this additional information and hashtags when it crawls your posting. Once you have your description done, how do you add it to your new Instagram post?

Adding alt text to Instagram post

  1. Start by uploading (or taking) a photo to Instagram
  2. Add filters and edit the image, click Next
  3. Scroll down, and tap on “Advanced Settings” at the bottom of the screen
  4. Click on “Write Alt Text”
  5. Write your alternative text in the box provided and click Done (iOS) or Save (Android).
  6. To finish posting, click back. Finish your post with caption, tag accounts, etc. as you normally would.
  7. Tap “Share” once you are ready

Revisit old posts?

Is it worth revisiting old posts and adding alt text? Of course. Any post you would like additional SEO for, and to increase your audience for would benefit from properly implemented alt text descriptions.

Why add alt text

  • Makes your content more inclusive for people with visual impairments
  • Adds additional information for the Instagram algorithm
  • Expands your content’s discoverability way beyond Instagram

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I am running a contest on Instagram right now, anyone who follows me before June 1 will be entered into a drawing for a limited-edition photo print, so follow me now and I will follow you back! @nedskee I love to hear from my readers, if you have a question or comment on this article, feel free to drop me a message on my contact form here or on my social media links below.

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Ted | Blind Photographer (@nedskee) • Instagram photos and videos

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