It’s not a secret that Instagram is a very visual medium. But while it’s easy to assume that people with visual or other impairments aren’t consistently using Instagram, that is not the case. That said, it is true they are not always able to enjoy it as fully as others since it’s not as common to come across accessible Instagram accounts. Now, I don’t think that’s because people aren’t interested in making their content accessible to everyone. Rather, people don’t know all of the ways they can improve their accessibility on Instagram (and other platforms).
That’s where I come in! As a visually impaired content creator and someone with a degree in digital media and web technology, I’ve put together a few ideas of steps you can take to create a more accessible Instagram account. These are suggestions that don’t require much additional time or effort, and only improves your ability to share your content with a wider range of people. If you want to see what some of these look like on an active Instagram account, be sure to follow me, @in.sight.full.life!
Embed Your Photos Using Instagram’s Alt-Text Feature
Let’s start off with the feature currently provided by the platform in their effort to increase the number of accessible Instagram accounts. In Fall 2018, Instagram updated their platform to allow users to embed their photo with alternative text to describe the photo for those using screen readers. This is a huge development, and while it’s not perfect, it’s an easy way to start improving your accessibility on Instagram. It’s not the easiest feature to find, though.
Manually Adding Alt-Text
On the same screen where you are writing your caption for your post, at the very bottom you’ll see Advanced Settings. Clicking on that gives you several additional options for your posts, including Write Alt Text. I did some testing, and it doesn’t appear that there is a character limit for the alt-text you provide for an image. That said, keep in mind it will be read after your username and before your caption, so be descriptive, but concise.
If you forget to add alt-text before you post your photo, don’t worry – you can still add it! If you click edit on an existing Instagram post, on the lower-right hand side of the image you will see the option to “Add Alt-Text.” And this goes for any photos currently on your account
In another huge step to increase the number of accessible Instagram accounts on the platform, they have also started automatically adding alternative text to images using computer-generated analysis for images where it hasn’t been supplied by the owner. For the record, I turned on the screen reader on my phone, and it was hit-or-miss – both in terms of providing descriptions, and how photos were described. And even when it does work, “Image may show two people standing up” doesn’t provide nearly the same visual impact as “Johnny and Julie smiling emphatically while holding Mickey-shaped balloons after enjoying a sunny, fun-filled day in the Magic Kingdom.” So there is still benefit to creating your own rather than relying on a computer program to describe your images for you.
Include Photo/Video Descriptions In Your Captions
Prior to the alt-text feature being announced, it was common for accessibility-minded Instagrammers to include a photo description within their caption. I would typically place a description after my photo caption, preceded by #accessibility.
If you are including alternative text in the field provided by Instagram, it is redundant to also include it in the caption, as the people with screen readers who rely on it will then have to hear it twice. That is the preferred method, since it allows blind users to hear the description before your caption, but this is a situation where it’s better for you to a description some place than no place. The one benefit including the description in your caption with the accessibility hashtag is that it alerts users looking for web accessible Instagram accounts to your page. That said, if you choose to only add a photo description using the available alt-text feature, consider including hashtags to your photos or profiles to indicate that you actively making sure your have an accessible Instagram account.
It’s also important to know that unlike photos, you cannot currently include alt-text when you upload videos to Instagram. So if you are uploading a video that is more than you talking directly to the camera, include a visual description in the caption. If the video includes someone speaking, you should also include captions to the video or a transcript in the description.
Include Captions in Your Stories
This is one of my favorite tips, especially if you frequently take to your Instagram Stories to speak directly with your audience. Before you share your video, use the text feature to summarize what you’re saying. It doesn’t have to be a word-for-word transcript, since space on the screen is an issue. But include enough information so that any person tapping through stories doesn’t have to rely on audio to know what you are saying.
And here’s some additional incentive to implement captions into your Instagram stories: I’ve found that when I caption my stories, particularly if I have several in a row, people are more likely to watch every single story. I know I am sometimes in situations where I have a few moments to look at Instagram, but am unable to have my volume on or am in a loud area where I cannot hear my phone well. I’d say this is true for a lot of your own users as well. So while I include this tip specifically with hearing impaired individuals in mind, it also has a much broader positive impact.
Don’t Use Decorative Fonts in Profile or Captions
Truth time: the practice of people using decorative or stylized fonts on social media has quickly become one of my biggest pet peeves. I understand the attraction to it: to fit the overall feel of your page, to help your content stand out while people are scrolling, to add emphasis one words or phrases.
Everything you write in those fonts? Completely, entirely, 100% INACCESSIBLE. When you use them on Instagram (or Twitter), one of two things will happen. The screen reader will be silent when “reading” those words and only share what you have written in the native font. Or, it will sound something like this:
You 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘯𝘬 it’s 𝒸𝓊𝓉ℯ to 𝘄𝗿𝗶𝘁𝗲 your tweets and usernames 𝖙𝖍𝖎𝖘 𝖜𝖆𝖞. But have you 𝙡𝙞𝙨𝙩𝙚𝙣𝙚𝙙 to what it 𝘴𝘰𝘶𝘯𝘥𝘴 𝘭𝘪𝘬𝘦 with assistive technologies like 𝓥𝓸𝓲𝓬𝓮𝓞𝓿𝓮𝓻? pic.twitter.com/CywCf1b3Lm
— Kent C. Dodds (@kentcdodds) January 9, 2019
After adding alternative text to your photos, if you only make one other modification to your social media usage to make it more accessible, please make it this one.
Use ‘CamelCase’ in Your Hashtags
Although the term CamelCase may not be familiar to you, it’s something you have seen before. iPhone and eBay are perfect examples. CamelCase is when a single word is made up of several different words, with a capital letter distinguishing the new word rather than a space. Using CamelCase in hashtags allows screen readers to interpret multi-word hashtags easier. And let’s be real, it can eliminate misunderstanding of hashtags for sighted users too.
Instagram doesn’t make this as easy to do as it should, as all of their auto-completed hashtag suggestions are in lowercase. If there are sets of hashtags you use frequently on certain types of images, consider creating documents on your phone with the hashtags in CamelCase format that you can copy and paste to your post or comments.
Put Hashtags in Your Comments instead of Post
I know this suggestion is going to be controversial given the debate over whether the Instagram algorithm favors posts with hashtags in the caption vs. the comments. And this is really more for the people who tend to get as close to the 30-hashtag maximum as possible. (I’ll admit, I absolutely fall into that category). This is in consideration of the length of time a person using a screen reader is spending on each individual post. By putting the bulk of hashtags in your first comment, Instagram still picks up on them, but aren’t picked up by the screen reader unless that user chooses to read the comments on your post.
Now it’s your turn!
Phew! We covered a lot there, y’all. Are there any additional steps you’re taking to create a more accessible Instagram account? Let me know in the comments! I’m going to be continually updating this post as I learn more about ways people are improving their own accessibility as well as when Instagram implements additional updates.