On March 29, 2016, Twitter announced that description of images is now available when tweeting photos. This helps first and foremost the blind and visually impaired who cannot see images, but may also help people with certain cognitive disabilities who cannot interpret photos, but can make use of descriptions. Here’s how describing your tweeted images works!
Tweeting images with descriptions
Right now, this feature is available in Twitter-owned mobile clients for iOS and Android and a few third-party clients (see below). In the Twitter-owned clients, it has to be enabled first before it can be used. To enable it, first make sure you have the latest version of the Twitter app for your operating system.
Then, go into Settings (on the Account tab), and open the Accessibility screen. Enable the Image Descriptions option.
Note: If this option does not show up, force-quit the Twitter app and restart it. This has been known to fix the problem.
After enabling the option, you have to force-quit the app once more and restart it to actually make the option available to you to use.
Now if you attach a photo to a tweet, you can press a button next to it to add a description. VoiceOver users: Tap on the image, and use the VoiceOver action rotor by swiping up and down until you hear Add Description, then double-tap.
Describe your image. The description can be up to 420 characters in length. You can be descriptive. Or you can put a transcript of your text on the picture in here for everyone to enjoy, if you absolutely must tweet an image of text instead of linking to a source readable by everyone. Hit Save when done.
In the below tweet, click the link that has the date on it to see the full tweet in a tab in your browser, and find the image description with the graphic below the tweet text.
— holistica11y (@dylanbarrell) March 29, 2016
Now add your usual tweet text, which obviously doesn’t need to include the description of the image, and tweet.
Reading accessible image descriptions
Reading those descriptions is supported in both the native clients for iOS and Android as well as the Twitter web interface. But it is only available to screen reader users at the moment, or if you can make the alt text of a photo visible in your browser. Other ways to expose that information have already been requested by the community, and rightfully so! 🙂
To use the feature in reading mode, you have to enable the feature in Accessibility settings in the iOS and Android clients as described above, including the force-quitting if you don’t see it immediately. Note that, for iOS, you need client version 6.50 at least.
Now, if VoiceOver reads a tweet to you, and an image has alternative text, it will be read automatically. Also if you open a tweet’s details, and tap on or swipe to the image, the alternative text will be read to you just like any other image.
In third-party clients, you can use the “View Tweet on Twitter” function virtually every client has to get to the description of those images. In Chicken Nugget, for example, press the Applications key on a tweet and choose “View On Twitter” from the context menu. The image then appears below the tweet with the alternative text read by your screen reader as witha ny other graphic.
What about those third-party clients anyway?
The programming interface for this new feature has been published by Twitter already, but clients first need to integrate this new information into their clients and release updated versions before the functionality for both tweeting and reading alternative text becomes available. First clients are starting to appear that incorporate this new feature, and I will cover them below. I certainly hope that Chicken Nugget, EasyChirp, Tweetbot and whichever other clients will very soon include this new feature as well, to make the Twitter experience more accessible for their visually impaired users! I also hope that Instagram may include this when crossposting images to Twitter somehow, since this would make their images more accessible, too.
Tweetings is a powerful client for both iOS and Android, and the most recent versions (as of April 10th) include the new features for image descriptions. It needs to be enabled under Settings/Accessibility once. After that, image descriptions are spoien by VoiceOver with the image when you view a tweet’s details. To compose image descriptions, compose a tweet and add your images. Then, tap the image thumbnail, and from the menu, choose the new option “Add Image Description”. Note that in version 2.20.1 and later, when VoiceOver is active, Tweetings asks for the image description right away when adding a photo. Since VoiceOver cannot see those image thumbnails in the Compose view, better add those descriptions right away! The Attachments screen where images appear in an accessible fashion doesn’t include an action to compose an image description. I notified the Tweetings authors of this problem.
Twitterrific for iOS is a very popular client among visually impaired users because of its outstanding accessibility features. In version 5.14.3, the team added a lot of new accessibility features and updated existing ones to more modern standards. Twitterrific now supports both reading and composing image descriptions, and the best news is, without having to flip a setting! After the update, new images that come in with descriptions will have them read automatically after the “Attached Media” announcement. That announcement has been moved to before the tweet date, so it comes earlier and is now more relevant. Also, when you use VoiceOver rotor actions to open the media, the images now not only open in fullscreen view as before, but that description on the image or images is now read there as well.
For composing, after you’ve added an image, simply tap on it (double-tap for VoiceOver users). The expanded menu for the image now not only contains a Remove option, but a text field and a Done button to add an image description to the photo. After tweeting, it is available right away.
It is my sincere hope that many many sighted folks will make use of this feature in the Twitter and supporting third-party clients to post descriptions of the cool photos they’re taking. It would be ignorant to think that everything can be conveyed just by words. Photos are an integral part of our lives. But making those accessible to everyone with a proper description will only increase everyone’s reach and the fun we all share on this social media channel!