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Instagram Now Uses Artificial Intelligence for Alt Text

Dec 18, 2018

Instagram just implemented major accessibility improvements that could transform how the platform is used by everyone, including people with visual disabilities.

No. 1: Instagram will automatically generate alt text captions using artificial intelligence (AI)

By using object recognition technology, a type of computer-vision AI, Instagram can now automatically generate descriptions of pictures. The text includes lists of items that may appear in the photo, trying to give all users a full-spectrum description and full experience. The auto-generated alt text could be read with a screen reader or other alternative output devices.

No. 2: Users can add custom alt text descriptions themselves

This option gives Instagram posters the chance to include a more detailed description than the AI-generated one. This allows for a bit more control over what’s posted with the photo and picked up by the screen reader.

How can you add your own captions — or edits pictures you’ve already posted? Read more on Instagram’s help center.

Why is this important for Instagram and its users?

Instagram is a visually-focused picture and video-sharing social networking platform. Images, or any non-text content, must have a text alternative in order to be available to assistive technology like screen readers. In fact, WCAG success criterion 1.1.1 (Non-text Content) is one of the most foundational elements of digital accessibility.

There are more than 246 million people with a severe visual impairment and 39 million who are blind worldwide; without this feature, there’s a huge part of the population that can’t use Instagram as fully.

Consider this: people share more than 2 billion photos across Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp — daily. This poses challenges for people with visual disabilities, who’ve reported feeling “frustrated” and “excluded” by photos and videos on social media.

Additionally, other social platforms are already somewhat ahead in this area. Facebook, for instance, has offered a similar tool for over two years. That makes adding alt text to Instagram essential from a business perspective, too.

Impact for Instagram

  • Usage and Reputation. Now that Instagram is more usable for the visually impaired community, it’s to be expected that usage may increase — and that Instagram’s reputation in the accessibility world may improve, too. Read: Digital Accessibility Benefits Your Brand.
  • Equal with Competitors. Instagram has now joined the ranks of Facebook and Twitter, who implemented similar tools years ago. This is crucial from an engagement perspective, empowering Instagram to involve the same communities as their sibling platforms.
  • The future. This choice also has important implications for future accessibility choices. Now that Instagram’s invested in this technology, it may continue building on it. Facebook, for instance, also offers closed captions. Could this be next for Instagram?

In other news…

Instagram’s been busy this year, implementing lots of changes and improvements to its platform.

  • Using AI to detect bullying. Instagram is also using AI to detect potentially bully-focused photos before sending to human moderators for review.
  • Cracking down on inauthentic content. No more fake likes, followers or comments. If you’ve got them, expect to receive a message and request to change your password.
  • IGTV. This summer, Instagram launched Instagram TV, a separate app for watching long-form, vertical videos.

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