How accessible are photo and video sharing services if you have a visual impairment?

In this blog, I want to focus on the social media platforms that are specifically used for photo and video sharing: Snapchat, Instagram, and YouTube. These are very popular and widely used today, but how accessible are they for visually impaired users?

Before signing up to these services, I was sceptical about their accessibility for visually impaired users. However, with these services being widely used today, particularly by people of my age group, I wanted to experiment with using these social media platforms to see how accessible they were with screenreaders and what I, as a totally blind person, could get out of using them.

Snapchat

Snapchat is the least accessible social media platform being discussed in this blog. There is no accessibility information on their website, and there is only information concerning Snapchat’s accessibility on dedicated visual impairment websites such as AppleVis. Some parts of the app are accessible, while other parts are completely inaccessible.

I am able to search for and add users, and view Snapchat stories, which is what I personally use Snapchat for. Although I am able to view Snapchat stories, I am only able to access those with audio. The ones which contain speech are the ones I can get the most useful information out of, as I can listen to videos from friends and celebrities I enjoy. I am unable to access private Snapchat messages or send them.

Phone screen being held in someone's hand, with the yellow Snapchat opening screen on display.

There is no alternative means of accessing Snapchat such as a website so I have not, as of yet, found a solution to accessing the inaccessible features of Snapchat.

Instagram

Instagram is partially accessible to visually impaired users; like Snapchat, there is no information on their website about accessibility and there is only information concerning Instagram’s accessibility on dedicated visual impairment websites such as AppleVis. I use Instagram on my iPhone but I use both the Instagram app and the Instagram website (via Safari).

Using the app

With the app, I am able to search for and follow users, browse users’ profiles and upload content. While the search feature is completely accessible, there are some major accessibility issues with browsing and uploading content. Since September 2017, VoiceOver now reads captions on images and videos. These can be accessed when viewing the main feed; captions can be accessed once the user has scrolled past the ‘like’, ‘comment’, ‘send’ and ‘save’ buttons for a particular post. When viewing an individual’s profile, VoiceOver reads captions if you double tap on a photo to open it and, like on the news feed, scroll past the ‘like’, ‘comment’, ‘send’ and ‘save’ buttons.

VoiceOver does not read captions when initially scrolling through posts on a profile. While viewing captions is accessible, it is not as efficient as using the website because on the website, you can view captions when scrolling through a profile; you do not have to open the post to view its caption.

"Being able to read captions, hashtags and comments means that I can gauge what the photos are of, even if I cannot see them."

iPhone being held in someone's hand, with someone's Instagram on display.

Uploading photos

When uploading photos, while the uploading interface is accessible, there is an accessibility bug when inserting captions: VoiceOver does not recognise that the edit box for inserting captions is an edit box, so while I can access the on-screen keyboard to type my caption, I cannot review or edit what I am typing meaning that I cannot double check my caption before uploading my photo or video.

Using Instagram from a browser

Using the Instagram website, I can browse users’ content and unlike on the app, browse comments on peoples’ uploads. One major benefit of using Instagram’s website is that VoiceOver reads captions and hashtags that users post alongside their photos and videos. Being able to read captions, hashtags and comments means that I can gauge what the photos are of, even if I cannot see them.

Using the app and website combined, I am able to get what I want to out of Instagram, in particular, I can browse the content posted by my friends and favourite celebrities that they do not post to their other social media profiles.

YouTube

YouTube is very accessible for visually impaired users. Google, YouTube’s developer, is very committed to making the service accessible; there is a dedicated Google support page detailing how you can use YouTube with a screenreader.

I have used the YouTube website with JAWS and the YouTube iOS app with VoiceOver and they are both completely accessible. On either the app or browser, I am able to search for and watch videos, browse recommendations, and play/pause and navigate through a video.

If I had to pick a preference, I would say that the iOS app is slightly more accessible than the website in that it is more streamlined and compact so navigating areas of YouTube is quicker and easier and there is less ‘clutter’.

A screenshot of a Henshaws 'Daily Living' YouTube video, with closed captioning visible underneath.

Overall I get a lot out of using YouTube: music, vlogs and TV show clips are just some of the types of content I access via YouTube.

Henshaws also has its own YouTube channel containing videos about apps, products and general tips for living independently with sight loss; it is definitely worth checking out!

Overall thoughts

Although photo and video based social media platforms may not seem accessible to a visually impaired user, I have been able to gain a lot from these types of social media platform. While not everything is accessible, there are portions of each app that are accessible, and even if an app doesn’t discuss accessibility on their official website, it does not mean to say that their services are completely inaccessible.

I hope that this blog post has given you confidence in the more photo and video focussed social media sites; just because your vision is impaired, it does not mean you should shy away completely from trying them.

Want to get online? Henshaws digital enablement team are here to find the solution that works for you, no matter what your sight level, age, or technical ability is. Henshaws also run monthly Tech Talk groups for the discussion of all things tech for the visually impaired. For further information, give Henshaws a call on 0300 222 5555.

To find out more about online accessibility, check out our video games blogs 1 & 2, as well as our Facebook and Twitter blog.

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Alice
Alice is the Digital Communications Officer and is responsible for producing blogs and EBooks for Henshaws Knowledge Village.
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