A tweet from Rishi Sunak’s official Twitter account has been criticised for abusing the platform’s alt-text function to promote political messages rather than aiding blind people.
The post, a four-picture photo grid that – like a boring Voltron – combines to depict a Tory cabinet meeting, used Twitter’s alt-text feature on each picture to relay the message “we’re growing the economy”. Cheers, Rish.
Screen reading software and alt-text fields are accessibility features for visually impaired people that enable them to understand what is going on in a picture.
Below the tweet, the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) posted a video of how a screen reader would read Sunak’s alt-captions, repeating the phrase “we’re growing the economy, image” four times. When read in this way, the phrase almost sounds like a secret threat to blind people.
On gov.uk there is a blog detailing how to write good alternative text, so it is a wonder why Rishi Sunak’s socials team decided to forgo their government’s own advice.
The blog post details that alt-text should describe an image in a concise, non-repetitive way. It should also include relevant elements of text and should include a minimal amount of exclamation and question marks which some screen readers won’t pick up on.
Sunak’s tweet features no such useful description.
The RNIB captioned the video, “There are 1000 characters available for #AltText, which can help make sure all the information you want to share is communicated.”
Additionally, on social media, it is encouraged that alt-text fields not be used to boost SEO (search engine optimisation) and that hashtags should be written in camelcase (for example, #toriesout becomes #ToriesOut) to help screen readers identify individual words.