How do I make posts more accessible to blind people on Mastodon and the Fediverse?

Blind and partially-sighted people on Mastodon and the Fediverse use special apps called “screen readers” that read text out loud, so they can tell what is on the screen.

There are many things that sighted people can do to make their posts more accessible to people using screen readers:

  • Add text descriptions (“Alt Texts”) describing the visuals to images and videos you’re posting. To do this, click on the “edit” or “caption” button (or write directly on top of the image on some apps) and then add a text description of what is visible. Read it to yourself afterwards, and see if you are able to imagine the important parts of the picture from what you have written. When you’ve finished, remember to click the “Apply” button if if necessary.
  • If you forget to add a description, you can go back and edit the post to add a description.
  • When posting hashtags, use CamelCase (where each word begins with a capital letter), for example #DogsOfMastodon instead of #dogsofmastodon. The capital letters allow screen reader apps to separate the words correctly and read the hashtag out loud properly. This also makes the tag easier for sighted people to read!
  • Don’t do that “sarcastic text” thing where you make fun of someone by having random letters as capitals, because random capitals prevent a screen reader from working properly.
  • If you’re sighted and you see the hashtag #Alt4Me underneath an image post, it means a disabled person wants someone to write a description of the image. Reply to the post with the tag #Alt4You and a description.
  • Also, if you’re a sighted person and you see a remarkable image that doesn’t have a descrption and no one has requested one yet, you can be be pro-active and reply with a description using the tag #Alt4You.
  • Don’t use long strings of emoji, as these sound really annoying when read out loud by screen readers. It’s okay to use emoji, it’s just the huge groups of emoji all bunched together that cause problems.
  • Don’t use deliberately obscure characters for your username, these can sound like gibberish when a screen reader reads them out (click here for an example ⧉). Standard characters work much, much better with screen readers.

How do I remember to add descriptions to my media posts?

There is an automatic reminder service called PleaseCaption which will remind you by DM if you forget to add an alt text description.

Should I be criticising people who haven’t added alt text?

It’s important to add descriptions to images so that they’re accessible, but it’s also important not to criticise those who are unable to add alt texts due to their own disability. If someone has written #Alt4Me alongside the image that means they cannot add descriptions themselves. Don’t criticise them or comment on the lack of description, just help them out by replying with an #Alt4You post which includes your own alt text for the image.

If there’s no #Alt4Me tag on the undescribed image, it’s still worth being polite as no one wants bad feelings generated around the topic of descriptions. You might want to just reply with a description and #Alt4You tag, and if they’re abled they will hopefully get the message that descriptions are preferred.

How do I fit the image descriptions into my post without breaking the character limit?

As long as you’re adding the description in the image’s own Alt Text section, it will not count towards your main post’s character limit. There is a much larger limit for descriptions, so you shouldn’t run out of room.

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