Scrolling through your Instagram as of late, you might have seen your standard run-of-the-mill caption, followed by another sentence or two marked off by the letters “ID.” You probably noticed that these half-captions illustrate the contents in the photo, and from there, figured out that ID on Instagram means “image description.”
Essentially, those two little letters mean that the poster has manually added a footnote to the caption to help people using screen reading programs get a sense of what the photo is conveying. When a person who is visually impaired scrolls past an Instagram post that has an image description in the caption, they will hear the caption, followed by the personalized description. Sighted users will also read both the caption and the image description.
But you don’t actually have to write out the image description manually to make your photos accessible to people using screen readers. Automatically, AI creates a description of Instagram posts that is fed into a screen reading program. While these programs can be really helpful in providing a literal description of what’s shown in a photo, it doesn’t always get the point of the image. For example, the autogenerated alt text of an Instagram post announcing someone’s engagement might read, “Image may contain: two people, kneeling, outside, sunshine.” Hence, the value of a custom description.
There’s another way to add image descriptions to your Instagram posts on the back end, so you don’t have to add it to your caption or rely on AI. Back in November 2018, Instagram introduced Alt Text, which allows users to edit the image description to make it as descriptive as possible.
To use Instagram’s Alt Text function, draft a new post by taking a photo or selecting one from your camera roll. Tap “Next” to go to the caption and share page. After you fill out your caption, tag people, add a location, and toggle on your share settings, you can tap “Advanced Settings” and find “Accessibility” at the bottom of the page. Under it, you’ll see “Write Alt Text.” Tap to enter your custom image description that will be read to users who have screen reading enabled.
Image scanning software doesn’t do a perfect job of describing images. This is where you can help by being as direct and specific as is necessary to ensure that someone who is visually impaired can still enjoy your photos. Use this space to describe what’s in the picture and why it’s relevant. For example, while an AI program might just offer “dog walking in grass” you can offer “afternoon walk through field with my dog, flowers budding in the distance, it’s starting to look like spring.” The more descriptive you are, the more you bring your picture to life for someone who can’t see it.