Twitter is now more accessible for the visually impaired

Technically a tweet can now consist of over 500 characters

All of us at Gadgette are big on inclusivity in tech. We want to see gadgets, games, vehicles, and other tech available to as wide an audience as possible. Stringless guitars for people who can’t use traditional instruments; dating games that don’t force gender and pronouns on you; even shoes that tie themselves, which could help people with disabilities.

Twitter can be a tricky service for the visually impaired. On the one hand, it’s a text-based social network so it works well with accessibility devices and features such as braille readers or smartphone screen readers. At least that’s what we would have said several years ago. Today our timelines are filled with images, videos, and now everyone is replying with GIFs (we’re guilty as charged).

Yesterday Twitter announced new features for the official Twitter app on iOS and Android. If you’ve updated the app, you can go into the Accessibility menu in Settings and activate Image Descriptions. When you add an image to a tweet, there’s a small option in the bottom left corner to add a description of the image.

The image descriptions can be 420 characters in length. Some people might complain that this threatens the brevity that makes Twitter what it is, but it’s surely not the case. Tweets are still 140 characters and the image descriptions are available to assistive tech like braille displays. It doesn’t really change the amount of content in a tweet because a picture is worth a thousand words. We can get across a lot using media on Twitter to supplement our 140 characters but that content isn’t accessible to everyone. It’s great to see that Twitter are changing that and being inclusive.

Although the image descriptions won’t be available or useful to many people, all of us have the ability to turn on the feature and include the descriptions. If being inclusive is important to you, your media-heavy tweets can now be accessible to even more people on Twitter. Twitter have altered their APIs so other apps and services can tap into this great new feature too.

Dear Twitter, good work. Next on the list: please implement features to deal with harassment. Thanks.


Main image © AP Photos/Frank Eltman