10 Things to Know About Twitter’s Alternative Text for Images

When Twitter announced alternative text for images in early 2016, the web accessibility community was abuzz with conversations.

The long-awaited option, providing the option 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!

What is Alternative Text?

Alternative text, also known as alt text, is a text description added to non-textual content.

Think of photos, diagrams, and illustrations. Alt text provides information about the function and content of images.

Which makes the content accessible to people who are blind, visually impaired, or use assistive technology.

In addition, alt text is displayed on the web when images aren’t downloaded. For example, your mobile email application, when you have images disabled.

Alt text also provides semantic meaning to search engines who can’t “see” images.

While alt text has been a standard for images on web pages for years, social media applications have been slow to support it.

Why Were People Celebrating?

Until early 2016, 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 who could not see the image had no idea what the image was.

Since Twitter is a very visual application, people with visual impairments were missing much of the content that was shared on Twitter.

When Twitter finally announced alt text support for images, users who had been asking about it for years, were thrilled to try it out.

Including me.

And then came all kinds of questions:

  • Do I need to do something to enable alt text?
  • Does alt text work on Twitter apps?
  • Does alt text work with Twitter on the web?
  • How many characters do I have for alt text?

What You Need to Know About Alt Text in Twitter

As is often the case on Twitter, lots of people jumped in to test the alt text option.

In 2016, we discovered some things worked, while other didn’t.

Over the years, more alt text support was added to Twitter.

As of May 2020, Twitter updated their alt text support to be more fully-featured.

Here are the latest features for Twitter’s alt text:

  1. As of May 27, 2020, alt text is enabled by default on the web as well as iOS and Android apps. You no longer have to turn on image descriptions in your settings.
  2. Alt text can be added to new tweets created on or after March 29, 2016 (for iOS and Android apps). For tweets created on Twitter on the web, it’s available on new tweets created on or after May 26, 2016.
  3. You can’t add alt text to previously published tweets
  4. Alt text can be added to animated GIFs on the web as well as mobile apps
  5. You can add up to 1000 characters of alt text to an image. Note: just because you can add that many characters doesn’t mean you should. Alt text is meant to be concise and descriptive.
  6. Twitter has instructions for enabling and adding alt text for iOS, Android, Twitter for web, VoiceOver for iOS, Talkback for Android, JAWS, and NVDA
  7. Your Twitter archive includes alt text that has been added to images within Tweets
  8. If you leave the alt text empty for an image, Twitter adds “Image” as the alt text
  9. For people who are sighted, you won’t be able to view alt text directly. You can view it in the browser Inspector. Or, you can add Adrian Roselli’s bookmarklet which displays tweet image alt text.
  10. Developers having questions about alt text or the API endpoint can visit the Twitter community developer forum.

Summary

Like other Twitter users, I’m glad Twitter has finally made alternative text the default on the web and their mobile apps.

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!

Originally published on March 30, 2016

Photo of author

About the Author

Deborah Edwards-Onoro helps small businesses, consultants, nonprofits, and higher ed with creative and distinctive websites. Deborah shares her expertise with web design, user experience, and accessibility on her blog, social media, and at meetup events. As organizer of Refresh Detroit, West Metro Detroit WordPress, and Metro Detroit WordPress, she encourages members to share their knowledge and experiences. In her free time, you'll find her birding, shooting photos, reading, or watching tennis.

5 thoughts on “10 Things to Know About Twitter’s Alternative Text for Images”

  1. Doesn’t do much for the twitter cards, which give a title tag ‘view on twitter’ which you need to do to see ‘purple krokuses in bloom’.

    One step at a time, I guess.

  2. Nope, just discovered it today on your post. I don’t usually ‘expect’ alt tags, since I’m not a sr user, and don’t have native ‘discoverability’ of alt tags in my browsers.

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