Threads needs user-generated alt text ASAP

Threads, Meta’s Twitter alternative, is here, carrying some Instagram features in tow but really lacking when it comes to others.

One of these is alternative text (alt text), a crucial tool for accessibility that tech platforms have been integrating for a while. So far, Threads includes “core accessibility features”(opens in a new tab) that Instagram already has — it was built by the same team. This means screen-reader support and AI-generated image descriptions are enabled on the new app. But Threads doesn’t allow users to add their own text to images, and AI doesn’t always do the trick.

Indiana University defines accessibility(opens in a new tab) as “the degree to which a product, device, service, environment, or facility is usable by as many people as possible”. In line with this, alt-text descriptions are meant to provide meaning and explanation to content, concisely explaining what each is offering.

For people who are blind or have low vision, this is paramount to using social media. Roughly one in four adults in the United States live with some sort of disability, according to the CDC(opens in a new tab), and 4.8 percent of the population has a vision disability.

When it comes to Instagram’s automatic image descriptions — which Threads currently has — the descriptors weren’t always accurate, which is why the app introduced a custom alt-text option(opens in a new tab) as an improvement back in 2018.

From Giphy recently providing alt text to Twitter’s improved alt text tools, tons of platforms have included and built upon features that increase accessibility for users. Threads should do the same ASAP, allowing users to add alt-text that is actually user-generated. As Mashable’s Chase DiBenedetto writes, the process of adding alt text “has the potential to help the millions of Americans(opens in a new tab) who use assistive technology to access the internet.”

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