Last updated January 31, 2020 with info about alternative text for animated GIFs.
The Twitterverse was abuzz yesterday with the announcement of Twitter’s alternative text option for images.
The long-awaited option, which provides the ability to add alternative text to images, was greeted with loud approval from Twitter users looking for better web accessibility for the popular social media channel.
I know, I was one of them!
— Deborah Edwards-Onoro (@redcrew) March 29, 2016
— AFB (@AFB1921) March 29, 2016
— Melody Joy Kramer (@mkramer) March 29, 2016
What is Alternative Text?
Alternative text, also known as alt text, allows you to add text descriptions to non-textual content, like photos, diagrams, and illustrations. It provides more information about the function and content of images.
Which makes that content more accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired.
In addition, alt text is displayed on the web when images aren’t downloaded (think of your mobile email application, when you have images disabled). It also provides semantic meaning to search engines who can’t “see” images.
Alt text has been a standard for images on web pages for years, but had not been added to Twitter.
Why is Everyone Celebrating?
Until yesterday, there was no option in Twitter to describe images.
If someone added a photo to a tweet, but didn’t provide any explanation of what the image was about, people with visual impairments were out of luck.
And since Twitter is a very visual application, people with visual impairments were missing much of the content that was shared on Twitter.
With yesterday’s news, Twitter users who have been waiting for image alternative text were thrilled with the opportunity to try it out.
— Gen-axe-er (@dylanbarrell) March 29, 2016
Trying out the new alternative text option feature on my Twitter app. pic.twitter.com/SQmiLv4uWI
— Deborah Edwards-Onoro (@redcrew) March 29, 2016
Kingston life pic.twitter.com/5d5qjzbKWF
— Steve Faulkner (@stevefaulkner) March 29, 2016
And then came all kinds of questions:
- What do I need to do to enable alt text?
- I enabled it, but it’s not working? What’s going on?
- Does alt text work on Twitter apps?
- Will it work on both iOS and Android?
- Does alt text work with Twitter on the web?
What I Learned About Alt Text in Twitter
Thankfully, as is often the case on Twitter, lots of users jumped in to test the alt text option. Including me.
Here’s what I discovered:
- The option is available now for iOS and Android native Twitter apps
- As of May 26, 2016, alternative support is available for Twitter on the web.
- It only works on new tweets created on March 29, 2016 (for iOS and Android apps) and after. For tweets created on Twitter on the web, it’s available on new tweets created on May 26, 2016 and later.
- Users need to enable the option, the ability to add alt text is not on by default
- To enable alt text, visit the accessibility section in your settings to enable the “Compose image descriptions” option
- As of January 31, 2020, alternative text can be added to animated GIFs (web only). Support for Android and iOS is expected soon.
- Twitter has provided instructions for enabling and adding alt text for iOS, Android, Twitter for web, VoiceOver for iOS, Talkback for Android, JAWS, and NVDA
Here’s how to enable alternative text in Twitter for Android:
- Once you’ve enabled it, you may need to restart your Twitter mobile application manually. Some people reported having to restart their mobile device.
- Next time you add an image to Twitter, an Add Description button will display. Select the button to add a description to the image.
- You can add a description to all the images you attach to a tweet
- Alt text descriptions are limited to 420 characters
- Image descriptions cannot be added to animated GIFs or videos
- Alt text is only visible to people using assistive technology, like screen readers or Braille displays.
Which explains when I tested it on my Twitter mobile app, I couldn’t see the alt text. My friend Sarah Bourne pointed out I could confirm the alt text by viewing the source of the Twitter. My friend Al Puzzoli confirmed the alt text was read out loud on his screen reader application.
- Alt text support is provided for Twitter Cards and the REST API. Alt text is accessible to any Twitter app, request using
include_ext_alt_text. Publishers and developers can bring support for their applications with the new API endpoint.
- Your favorite Twitter client may not have incorporated the option into their application. Yet.
Developers of third-party clients need to update in order for their app to consume.
- Developers having questions about alt text or the API endpoint can visit the Twitter community developer forum.
Like many other Twitter users, I’m thrilled to have the option to add alternative text to images in Twitter.
It makes my favorite social media channel even better. A more accessible product means more people can enjoy Twitter. That’s a win-win for everyone!
I’m glad to see Twitter has added it to the web version quickly. With support for JAWS and NVDA, I’m sure Twitter third-party apps won’t be far behind with alternative text support.
What do you think of the news? Share your thoughts in the comments.