by Rab Bruce’s spider

the #VIVID campaign (Visual Images for the Visually Impaired Described) has struggled to gain momentum, but I’ve had some success at individual levels and many of the people I follow on Twitter now add descriptions to their pictures as a matter of course. Some occasionally forget, while others steadfastly refuse to participate, but the response from most people who learn about it has been superb. I and other visually impaired Tweeters are really grateful for these demonstrations of inclusiveness.

If you haven’t heard about Image Descriptions, you are probably wondering what they are and why they are so important.

The first thing you need to know is that many visually impaired people use smartphones or tablets to participate in social media. They do this using aps known as Screen Readers which read aloud the text on the screen when the screen is touched by a finger. Navigation is achieved through a variety of taps and swipes on the screen. Using a screen reader, any blind person can read Tweets with no difficulty. The problem arises when they come across a picture which, of course, is completely meaningless, and is reported to them as “Image". This is particularly frustrating when the tweet has no text to provide context.

Fortunately, Twitter have a facility which allows sighted users to add descriptions to the pictures they post. These descriptions are added behind the scenes but are detected by Screen Readers and read aloud, enabling the visually impaired Tweeter to understand what is being discussed. As someone who has no vision at all, I cannot stress enough what a difference this makes to our sense of involvement.

So, how do you add these descriptions? There’s a link to the official Twitter instructions at the end of this article, but here are the main points to bear in mind.

The setting will be in your Twitter User Menu under Settings, then Accessibility. Image descriptions can be found near the end of the list. Enable it, then save the settings if necessary.

After that, each time you select a picture to add to a Tweet, there will be an extra button marked something like, “Add Image Description" depending on what sort of device and software you are using. Click this, type a description of the picture, select “Apply", then post your Tweet as normal.

It’s as easy as that. The hardest part is remembering to add the description, since the system means it is easy to forget if you are in a hurry. Please take those few extra seconds to help out people who can’t see. You can regard it as one of your good deeds for the day.

There are some important points to keep in mind, though.

This function is not available if you use a Windows phone.

It doesn’t work if you access Twitter via the Twitter website on a phone or tablet. You need to use the standard Twitter app.

It doesn’t work if you access Twitter via a Third Party app such as Tweetdeck.

Other than that, you should be OK on any PC, phone or tablet, although the other quirk people have discovered is that if you use the shortcut Reply button to respond to a Tweet and then try to add a picture, it won’t let you add a description. You need to actually open the Tweet and select Reply from within the Tweet screen. The Image Description option will then magically appear.

As I say, it’s easy to do although it is not an ideal system, but it really does help anyone who is visually impaired and there are probably a lot more of us than you realise; it’s just that most VI people simply shrug and pass over Tweets with pictures rather than make a fuss about it, which is why you maybe don’t know about Image descriptions.

Finally, a few words on what to say when adding a description. Some people worry about this but, quite honestly, anything is better than nothing. If it’s a picture of someone well known, simply adding their name helps. If it’s a more complex picture, the more you can type, the better, but don’t get too hung up on it. For example, adding a description of, “Man sitting at a desk" is perfectly adequate. You could provide more detail and say, “Young man with fair hair, sitting at a desk and looking at a computer screen."

The best thing to do is imagine how you would like the picture described to you if you could not see it, but a short description is far, far better than nothing at all as long as it conveys some sense of what the picture shows.

Problems do arise when you post a screenshot of a Tweet. Because this is posted as a picture, the text in the Tweet you have photographed will not be read by a screen Reader. If you can, and if it is important to the point of your Tweet, it’s a great help if you can explain who the Tweet is from and what it says. At the very least, though, please say, “Screenshot of a tweet by …" so a visually impaired Tweeter knows something about it.

The same applies to images of long screeds of text.

Nobody is asking you to type all that out, but please explain what it is and what its significance is.

So there you go. Thanks for reading this far. Now please change those settings and start typing descriptions.

Here’s the link to the official Help pages on how to set it up for PC, Android and iOS devices: