3 Simple Ways to Make Your Instagram Feed more Accessible
I consider myself an ally of the minorities. A proud feminist, I uphold all the values of the spirit of feminism.
I try to support LGBTQ people in any way I can (including forgetting my nostalgia and leaving J.K. Rowling behind, at least in public).
I’m trying to diversify my reading to include translated works, books by queer folks, books by BIPOC authors, and more.
But…just a few days back, I realised that I was neglecting (through ignorance, but that’s no excuse) a significant minority.
A minority not many people think of or talk about.
I wonder why.
I’m talking about our friends who are disabled (or is it “differently-abled? I read that the reason people are “disabled” is that society doesn’t account for their needs and that struck a chord with me). Our visually impaired and hearing-impaired friends who, thanks to not-so-recent accessibility settings on devices, can experience all the benefits of technology in their own way.
Features like alt text (more on that later) for images and closed captions for videos make things more accessible to our friends.
But I was shocked and extremely ashamed to note that I, like many, many others on social media, was completely disregarding their existence and comfort in my posts.
Case in point: Fancy fonts on Instagram.
These are actually not really fonts at all…you use an app or a website to convert them, right?
They’re actually pieces of code – called Unicode. So the beautiful gothic word “book” you see after conversion would actually be something like “U+1D517 U+1D515 U+1D526 U+1D530…”
That would be okay, except…
Some phones don’t recognize them as fonts at all! So all you’d see then would be several boxes with crosses in them (or question marks…or something).
What’s worse…no screen reader (the thing that reads out text on devices for blind people) recognises the Unicode script as text!
So when you type something in a fancy font, a screen reader would read it as the completely useless raw code!
Ever since I found out about this, I stopped using anything but ordinary fonts on my Instagram posts. To make my posts more “skimmable” and to catch my readers’ attention (that’s the reason we use fancy fonts, right?), I use emojis instead. I don’t know whether it works to the extent I’d like it to, but I don’t want to exclude my vision impaired audience or people with phones incompatible with the fonts just because it’s easier for people to see bold fonts.
Neither should you.
Another such feature is “alt text”.
Anywhere you post images (be it Instagram, Facebook or even your website/blog), there’s a feature which allows you to describe the image for vision-impaired people. Screen readers read out the text so that those people can experience the photograph.
It doesn’t take much time to add, but it helps a lot.
I understand why small business owners and not-yet-influencers don’t use alt text in our posts. We are just not aware of the fact that we’re alienating a whole bunch of people.
But…once I came to know about it, I started including alt text in all my photos – even the text-based ones.
The thing is, though…it seems that most people are ignorant of this fact.
I wanted to test out my alt text, so I enabled the default screen reader on my phone (it’s available in the settings…Google it!) and just scrolled through Instagram (with a lot of effort…screen readers are a mystery to me still).
I was amazed to note that hugely notable profiles, even ones that heavily advocate equality and empowerment for all minorities didn’t use alt text on their pictures!
It was a sobering experience for me. Because if even the people who advocate for minorities don’t make provisions for them, who will?
Anyway…here’s how to use the alt text feature on Instagram:
Before you post your picture, at the stage where you type out your caption, there’s a tiny button at the bottom of the screen – “advanced settings”. Click on that. It’ll take you to a page where you’ll see a “Write Alt Text” option. If you click on that, you can type out a description of your image (or the entire text, if it’s text-based).
Make it as detailed as you want because Instagram’s alt text doesn’t seem to have a character limit.
But be sure to use the feature. It takes hardly any time.
If you want to add alt text to previously posted photos, all you need to do is click “edit” on your post. You’ll see an “Edit alt text” option on the bottom right of the photo (to the right of the tags). Click there and you can type in your description!
One last thing is closed captions
Until now, I’ve been talking about visually impaired people. But hearing-impaired people exist too, you know!
For them, the issue arises when they have to watch a video with lots of talking. They can’t, of course, because listening to what’s being said is important!
Enter closed captions. Or, you know…subtitles…
They’re significantly more difficult to create (lots of technical stuff involved…don’t know what) and more time consuming than alt text. But it’s possible.
There are some free AI tools you can use to transcribe your video (it’ll be a bit like the crappy auto-generated YouTube subtitles, but I’m guessing you’re allowed to edit them) or you can pay services (a popular one is Rev) where humans create the captions for your videos.
As I said, significantly more difficult than alt text or simply not using fancy fonts, but important nevertheless.
And if you earn a lot from Instagram, you can definitely do this. If you don’t, well, you can at least write down the gist of what’s being said in a caption, maybe!
That’s all I can think of, for now! As for me, I don’t have any video materials (and for the near future, I don’t plan to use video at all…too much work!), but I’ve added alt text to all the images I posted after learning about it and I’ve stopped using fancy fonts.
Will you do the same?