The company announced today that Twitter is expanding a feature that makes images on the platform more obtainable to people who use screen readers.
Alt text reminders were first revealed in July but were only available to a small group of users. All users globally will be capable of turning on reminders this week.
Alternative text, or alt text, is a written description of what’s in a picture that can be picked up by screen reader software used by internet users who are blind or visually impaired. Without alt text, the countless photos posted and retweeted daily on Twitter are inaccessible to people who can’t experience them visually.
The introduction of alt text reminders has been a long time arriving — disability activists and allies have lobbied Twitter for more tools around alt text. For example, they have requested sighted users to add alt text to images more unfailingly. Volunteer Twitter bot creators have even built DIY alt text reminders lately, inspired by demands for a more accessible platform.
Twitter is acquainted with an alt text reminder feature that users have wanted for a while, says Gerard Cohen, software engineering manager on Twitter’s accessibility experience team.
“If it depended on us, we would snap our fingers, and the world would be accessible — we understand that it’s been a long time coming,” Cohen says. “We’re very grateful for those bot makers, those who have done it.”
The alt text reminders will be opt-in, meaning users will need to go into their account settings to turn on the prompts, which will sync across devices — you’ll only need to turn them on once. Once reminders are on, users will get pings each time they add an image without alt text, prompting them to go back and add descriptions before posting the tweet.
Cohen says the limited rollout of reminders was celebrated, and people were happy to see Twitter creating a built-in system. But some users questioned how helpful reminders would be if they were opt-in instead of being on by default, saying only people who know about new accessibility updates would know to turn reminders on.
“We’re not intentionally trying to exclude anyone by making this opt-in. We know that this is a process for people,” Cohen says in response to the feedback. “This is just the first step. We’re going to persist in iterating and learning from this.”
Cohen says creating the reminder feature unrestricted for everyone was a priority, and the company will perform to educate people on how to use alt text properly. Other features like the capacity to edit a tweet and retroactively add alt text are highly solicited accessibility updates, which Cohen says his team is “exploring.”
On Twitter, image descriptions are visible to everyone and may be helpful for users who can see the picture but require help processing what it’s showing. For instance, when alt text is added to an image, users can tap the ALT badge on the bottom left edge of a picture to read the description furnished by the author.