Post date: 
Thursday, 22 February 2018
Screen-grab of Twitter's home screen with status bar asking: "What's happening?"

Maya-Liam Haynes from RNIB’s Social Media team shares six tips for writing helpful image descriptions.

At the beginning of January, we called for Twitter to automate its Image Description feature. At the moment, it needs to be activated by each individual user – by going to "Settings" and then "Accessibility" and turning on "Image Description".

This got a lot of people talking! Lots of you got in touch with us, saying you didn’t know the Image Descriptions feature existed, or if you did, you weren’t quite sure how to use it most effectively. 

We spotted a fantastic guide from @RobotHugs on Twitter. They’re not blind or partially sighted, but a writer who works in accessible web design. We thought we’d share some of our favourite tips they gave…

  • Don't overthink it! Make your description as short as possible while describing what the photo is trying to convey.
  • You generally don't have to say “image of”. Screen readers already know that there’s an image and they announce this before reading the image description.
  • It's ok to mention colour if it's relevant to the image. Many screen reader users are partially sighted and use descriptions to clarify indistinct images (also people with sight loss do understand the concept of colour).
  • Helpful v unhelpful: It’s important that your description helps to convey the intended message of the image. For example, a tweet shared an upcoming weather forecast with the text: "It’s going to get better soon!" A helpful image description would be: "Forecast showing temperatures of -18 degrees Celsius today improving to -1 degrees by Tuesday". An unhelpful description would be: "Picture of weather forecast".
  • Trying to convey humour? Make sure this is also reflected in your image description so that all users can enjoy the joke. For example: "Dog looks suspiciously at the photo taker with the words: Where did the goat go?"
  • And finally… for social media in particular, personal descriptions are OK as it’s an expressive space (as long as they describe the intent of the image!). For example, I might post a selfie with the description: “A selfie of me where I think my purple hair looks really cute today!”

We’ve picked out our favourites, but you can read the rest of @RobotHugs’ guide on Twitter.

A very big thank you to @RobotHugs for letting us share their guide - what do you think of it? Do you have any of your own thoughts to add? We’d love to hear from you on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram!