Instagram announced Wednesday that it's rolling out new features that will make the app easy to use for people with visual impairments. The changes will allow screen readers to describe photos, either automatically using AI or reading custom descriptions by adding users.
These descriptions, known as "alt text," are widely used online and are now being built into Instagram. Users will be able to enter their own photo descriptions so that people can use screen readers – they will browse their feed, Explore page, or a profile.
If there is no description, Instagram will automatically identify what's in a photo using object recognition technology, then read its automated description of a photo aloud when someone scrolls by. The alt text descriptions will not be visible, and users will have to go into a photo's "advanced settings" to include one.
While this is a first for Instagram, Facebook has been using AI to describe photos to blind users for years. This video gives a pretty good sense of what it's been like for people with blindness and other visual impairments to use the app up till now. It's not the most seamless experience, and these new features will make it easier and more useful.
Here's what the new alt text option will look like on Instagram: