How Accessible is Instagram?

Published January 31, 2022

As a platform that is primarily visual, just how accessible is Instagram’s content for the visually impaired? The answer to that question isn’t cut and dry. Because Instagram’s content is user-generated, the most basic answer to that question is that each Instagram account and post is only as accessible as the content creator makes it. With that in mind, as of the end of 2021, Instagram ranked as the third most used social media platform in the world, with 1.3 billion active monthly users behind only Facebook (2.9B) and WhatsApp (2B). According to data from the World Health Organization, about 15% of the world’s population has a disability, and this includes around 285 million people who have impaired vision, about 40 million of whom are blind. In the United States, about 7 million people have a vision impairment with a little over a million of those legally blind, according to the CDC. In many parts of the world but especially in North America, Instagram is nearly ubiquitous, increasingly becoming the dominant platform for sharing information and cultural experiences. Because it is by its nature mostly a visual medium, optimal accessibility is crucial in order for the 7 million visually impaired Americans (and 285 million individuals globally) to not be locked out of content that is increasingly a go-to source for culture and information.

Instagram’s accessibility efforts

Recognizing their deficiencies in accessibility, in 2018 Instagram added two new features to the platform intended to make content more accessible for the visually impaired, both related to alt-text. Alt-text is the text that describes an image, what is happening in it, and any other relevant info a person who cannot see the image may need to know. Alt-text descriptions are then read out loud by screen readers, the tech that visually impaired people use to access the internet. The first of the two accessibility initiatives Instagram added in 2018 was an automatic alt-text generator for the Feed, Explore, and Profile features of the site. This option uses object recognition technology to generate image descriptions. The second initiative introduced was an option for customizing alt-text so that creators can provide their own more precise descriptions for each post. Users experimenting with each option report that the automatic option is often inaccurate and not very descriptive, so ideally, creators would utilize the customizable option in order to maximize an accessible experience.

Besides these alt-text options, Instagram itself does little to cultivate a more accessible user experience. This, again, leaves much of the accessibility onus on individual creators. With that in mind, here are some general best practices for making Instagram accessible to those with visual impairments and other disabilities.

Add image descriptions

There are some instances in which users with visual impairments may be unable to use a screen reader. To account for this possibility, a creator can add image descriptions at the bottom of the post. Image descriptions are similar to alt-text, except they live in the post itself, generally in brackets.


Fun kids playing splash at beach

[Image alt: Three children running through shallow water at the beach]

Be concise

Be specific and concise in word choice, making sure important info is clear, breaking up any longer text into shorter paragraphs. This makes content easier for screen readers to process, but also this makes Instagram easier to use for people with ASD, learning disabilities, and anxiety disorders.

Keep emojis to a minimum

When screen readers read emojis, they read the title of each emoji aloud even if the emoji is a repeat, meaning if a post has 15 red hearts in a row, the screen reader will announce the heart 15 times. This can be a tedious deterrent for people accessing content via screen readers.

Put hashtags in the comments, not in the post

You guessed it: Thirty hashtags in the post proper will end up getting read aloud by a screen reader, which can be exhausting for those accessing content using that method. Another hashtag #Tip: Capitalize each word in the hashtag. This makes it easier for screen readers to differentiate individual words.

Provide closed captioning for video content

As Instagram content shifts toward more short videos (a la Tik Tok), it’s important to understand that closed captioning for videos is slightly different than simply adding subtitles. Closed captioning provides text to convey what speakers are saying plus it provides descriptions of other sounds happening in the video (which is different still from audio descriptions), whereas subtitles only convey spoken words. While subtitles will do in a pinch if closed captioning isn’t an option, for people with hearing impairments, CC is the most accessible option for video content.

Provide text descriptions of videos

Just as one would for still images on Instagram, it’s a best practice to add descriptions to video content as well, keeping in mind that subtitles embedded within the video will be accessible to those with hearing impairments but not to those using screen readers. Placing a short description in the text of a post is then the only real way to make the content accessible to those using screen readers.

Pay attention to color contrast

Users who are colorblind may have difficulty seeing text overlayed on an image if the two are close in color. For this reason, pay close attention to the color contrast between text and the image it’s added to. Another general best practice with adding text to images is to avoid flowery fonts and choose basic fonts that are easy to read.

One more thing!

When optimizing accessibility, it’s crucial to remember that content on Instagram Stories IS NOT ACCESSIBLE by screen readers. Despite its inaccessibility, the Stories feature grows more and more popular as the main method many creators use to interact with followers, likely because it’s a quick and easy way to update followers and because the content disappears and thus, presumably, the stakes in posting are lower. With that in mind, if the information is important, it’s best to post it on the main feed in addition to Stories, a move that has the added benefit of making the info available for anybody to access as they need it.


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