Making your social media content accessible to the visually impaired

The importance of adding a visual component, whether a photo or graphic element to a social media post cannot be underestimated. A quick Google search will yield a myriad of articles with tips for creating compelling and engaging social media content. Here are just a few statistics with links to get you thinking:

LinkedIn posts with images have a 98% higher comment rate on average

Tweets that include visual content are three times more likely to get engagement

Facebook posts with photos get more likes and comments

This is all well and good, but did you know that you are missing out on an entire segment of your audience by not posting your images with image descriptions and alt text? Taking a few minutes when posting an image or graphic component can open your content up to a whole new audience.

Enabling image descriptions

Adding alt text to your photos on Facebook is easy, just go to your photos, and choose options from the links at the bottom of the photo, then choose alt text. Here you will see the alternate text Facebook has added to your image and an option to overwrite it. Add your description and save. On Twitter, when inserting an image into your post, choose edit, then alt from the top selections. On this screen you will be able to add a description to your image – easy! I have added some screenshots below to walk you through the process.   

Facebook Photos

Twitter Edit photo

What is the difference between alt text and image descriptions?

We all love to share our travel photography (myself included), and an image makes a social media post stand out from the crowd, but what if you can’t see the image? In web design terms, alt text is meant to be used as a descriptor and placeholder with vital details about the contents of an image. This text is displayed in the event of an image load failure and search engines like Google index the contents of this field and factor it in when considering search engine ratings and viability for your site. Alt text should include the most important information about an image and should be no more than 125 characters to ensure compatibility with most common screen reader software. Any text contained in the image should be written out, especially if the text is a script or similarly difficult to read font.

Image descriptions

An alt text description for an image should tell you there is a dog in the road, an image description should tell the viewer that there is a black lab with a stick in his mouth standing in the middle of an abandoned country road who is looking like he is ready to play. Both the alt text and the image description should be concise and give the reader/viewer information about the image without being overly poetic or including details not relevant to the image. Think about my description of the dog, in your mind you can see the dog on the country road, right? You can imagine what the stick looks like in his mouth and the addition of the information that this is a country road adds all the context to know that it is a rural looking environment without being overly descriptive. I don’t talk about the looming grey clouds in the distance or that the foliage is as green as the algae of an overgrown pond. If this was a landscape image and the clouds and the pond were primary components of the composition then yes, by all means include that information but in this case the dog is the primary subject matter and I was looking to get across the idea that he was on a lonely road and looking to play. Unlike alt text, image descriptions should be kept to 280 characters to maintain compatibility with most screen readers, but I try and keep mine to 240 for additional compatibility.

What to include

  1. Describe the objects in the image, people, animals, vehicles etc.
  2. Describe the emotions of the image, are they happy? Smiling? Sad? Lonely?
  3. Colors of the objects in the image, red car, black dog etc.
  4. Names of people, especially if thy recognizable.
  5. Style of image, Landscape, portrait, dark light, cheery gloomy etc.
  6. Describe the surroundings, country road, graffiti covered alley, crowded beach.

Do not include

  1. Emoji or punctuation, dot, dot, dot… Question mark etc.
  2. Don’t describe what the colors look like, don’t try and describe the color red.
  3. Generally accepted facts like cars have two headlights, people have two eyes and a nose etc.
  4. Don’t include descriptions of objects that are not part of the focus of the image, birds in the trees telephone lines etc.  

What if I do it wrong?

This is a lot to remember but learning to write useful image descriptions and alt text is a skill that can be incredibly beneficial to your readers. Don’t be afraid of doing it wrong, because in terms of image descriptions, something is better than nothing and you will get better at it the more you do it. I’d be happy to read an overly-wordy description than wonder what is in am image included in an article. Nobody is going to call the disabled police on you for bad image descriptions, they are just going to be happy you are taking the additional time to make your content more accessible.

Descriptions added by you will be so much better than the ones generated by platforms like Facebook. Look at the photo of my guide dog Fauna above as an example. Facebook described the photo as dog – but in the image she is a black lab wearing an n-95 mask, a huge difference in the way the image is perceived.  

Another way to share your content

I see image descriptions as an opportunity to be able to present my work in a different way. Social Media platforms like Twitter only allow you 240 characters to describe your image, and sometimes an image deserves a more robust description than a simple caption will provide.

How I create an image description

Don’t be overwhelmed by the thought of creating a description for n image, the next time you post an image take the time to look at your image for a bit. Determine what is important about that image, what draws your eyes to this image, Think about what the primary subject of the image is, Write that all down then turn away from your image and read your description, if it accurately describes what is in your image, then look at it again. See if there is something important in the image that you missed before posting the description. Think about my description of the dog above, does your description offer the reader enough information to make a mental picture of your content without being overly poetic? Then you are done – good job.

Do I have to go back and include descriptions for all my images?

Depending on how long your content platform has been going, this can be a daunting undertaking. Start with the most important images on your site, like navigation images, logos and content in your most important and most viewed articles. Start today, the next time you post something on social media turn on image descriptions and add them. Even if your old content never gets descriptions, at least your future content will start becoming more accessible to everyone.

In a nutshell:

  • Alt Text: 125 characters
  • Alt text: There is a dog in the middle of the road.
  • Image Description: 240/280 characters
  • Image Description: There is a happy looking black lab standing in the middle of a abandoned country road with a stick in his mouth looking like he is ready to play.
  • Image Description : Don’t include information that is not relevant to the viewer. The dark grey clouds and the bird sitting on the third branch might be interesting, but they aren’t the focus of the image. The dog, the environment and the context is what is important.
  • Image Description : Don’t make it overly poetic.

Why take the time to add this

  • Social media is a competitive field and whatever you can do to make your content stand out is a good thing.
  • Increasing the audience for your content.
  • Search engine visibility, and increased rankings for proper alt text implementation.
  • It’s a nice thing to do and makes the content on the internet more accessible.
  • It gives you another venue to present your work to viewers.

Added Benefits

If you are a travel photographer like I am, I have found when I take the time to write descriptions of my photos, I appreciate the work more as well. I also have found myself noticing problems with an image that I had not noticed when doing my initial edits. Writing about your images will also help you to become more detailed about describing your work to others in conversation. This simple exercise can really improve the way you talk about your work with others.  

If you exhibit your work like I do, it is necessary to come up with titles for each of the photos you show. The process of creating detailed descriptions of my work often makes it easier for me to decide on a clear and appropriate title for the photos.

Learning more

If you are interested in starting to use image descriptions in your posts but you are still a bit unsure, one of the best places to look is on the Guide Dogs for the Blind Facebook page. Every single post has an image description and it is a great place to learn about wording your descriptions succinctly and effectively. Heres a link and an example:

Did you find this article interesting or helpful? I’d love to hear your feedback and if you have any questions about implementing Image Descriptions or alt text into your work feel free to drop me a message on any of my sites or social media below.


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Twitter and Instagram: @nedskee

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