Quick Thoughts

The Case for Alt-Text on Social Media

I never really realized how big of a deal alt-text was for folks who need it because... well, I never needed it. I have now joined "Team Alt-Text" all the way and recommend you do the same.

For those unaware, social media sites like Mastodon have a feature which allows you to post a photo but also add alternative text - descriptive text which conveys the meaning and context of a visual item. Most people don't do this but honestly, everyone should.

Alt-text is used by people who use screen readers to interact with social media (or any media online really). It allows for people to see an image but also be given a narration of what they're seeing which allows for greater comprehension of the material.

I'll be honest. I didn't understand how big of a deal this was until I got to Mastodon where alt-text is basically a social norm. I've even seen accounts (mine is part of this trend now too) who refuse to boost a post unless all images therein have alt-text included.

It's an easy thing to do. Just post a picture in Mastodon and before you send it, tap/click the image again and add a text description of what the picture is. It's a little strange at first but with some practice you'll be able to paint the picture in someone's mind with your words, which is exactly the point.

The only thing I wish Mastodon (and clients for it) did better is to be more "in your face" about alt-text. Currently, you add a photo in the Mastodon web interface (I use the advanced web interface) and you get a box that looks like this.

Mastodon compose post box with a picture added. The words "No description added" are at the bottom indicating alt-text has not yet been written

I feel this "No description added" message at the bottom could be much more prominent. In fact, I'd like to see something like a pop up over the image that would present the user a choice of adding alt-text or having to actively click a "skip" button. Even something that simple would bring more awareness to alt-text and likely make alt-text more prevalent throughout the platform.

In closing, add alt-text to your images as much as you can. You may not use them, but someone out there who is viewing your content does.