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Twitter is testing changes to make image descriptions easier to access

A long-awaited accessibility upgrade

Screenshot of a Twitter image showing an image description. The box pops up over the image, and has a “dismiss” button at the bottom.
The features being tested make it obvious if alt text is available.
Image: Twitter

Twitter has announced that it’s testing new accessibility features to make alt text descriptions significantly more useful and prominent for everyone on the platform. With the change, images that have descriptions will be given a badge that says “alt,” and clicking on that badge will show the description. The change has been a long time coming, but that’s not necessarily a surprise — Twitter didn’t have a dedicated accessibility team until 2020.

According to Twitter, around 3 percent of users will get to try out the new features for a month, and it’ll roll out globally at the beginning of April. Until then, it seems like most people still won’t have access to alt text descriptions unless they’re using a screen reader or are willing to jump through a lot of hoops.

Screenshot of a tweet where the grey “Alt” badge doesn’t appear in the corner of an image.
On an account without the new features, it’s difficult to access alt text without a screen reader.
Screenshot of a tweet where the “Alt” badge does appear on an image, showing the box that lets you read the image description.
On an account with the features, it’s as easy as clicking a box.

As Twitter notes at the end of its thread, users have waited a while for this functionality. Image descriptions were introduced in 2016, but they haven’t been particularly prominent on the platform — it’s relatively easy to miss the button that lets you add one. That may be because of how Twitter handled accessibility features in the past. Up until late 2020, employees had to volunteer to work on them alongside their regular jobs, and there wasn’t a team dedicated to making Twitter easier to use for those who needed it most. Since the team’s creation, Twitter has added live captions to voice tweets and videos.

It’s possible that making it obvious when an image has alt text could make the feature more popular — if people can clearly see which pictures do and don’t have it, they may think to add it next time they post one. Twitter’s thread mentions that the accessibility team (which thankfully exists now) is also working on an “image description reminder,” which could help make alt text even more popular on the platform.