Not too long ago I started noticing text below photographs shared on Instagram and Facebook. The text was different from captions, wedged separate and within square brackets, like this: [Image Description: ...]. I noticed organizations, businesses, or individuals used that space to describe the photo that they were sharing, in great detail. Why? What is that? I wondered. Don't I already have enough to read?
Pulled straight from Stanford's Online Accessibility Program, here was the short answer to my question:
Image descriptions provide textual information about non-text content that appears on your website, allowing it to be presented auditorily, as visual text, or in any other form that is best for the user.
Who Do Image Descriptions Help?
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Oh, I thought. Why didn't I think of that?
Here's why: I'd never had to! I've got 20/20 vision, consistent access to quick internet, and an ability to interpret both text and images with ease. "Voice recognition software" never applied to me in my every day life, the way it might for someone who relies on it for digesting the daily feed.
I invited myself to the Image Description party, and have since aimed to include image descriptions when I post photos to social media. I don't know that it's the kind of party to which you can invite yourself, but I did.
So far, I'm discovering obstacles and hiccups in writing these descriptions, especially when they include people. The hiccups come in the form of my momentary discomfort: do I name race? gender? time of day I'd assume the photo was taken based on the lighting? The fact that none of the people in the image are in wheelchairs? HOW DETAILED DO I NEED TO BE HERE, PEOPLE?
Writing image descriptions is strengthening my observations skills, and in turn waking me up to some of the discomforts I carry about identities or abilities-- mostly, my discomforts about naming differences. Why the heck is that? No time for guilt here, I'll be done for now.