A huge part of social media platforms is the ability to share images and videos. But I’ve yet to see one that takes people with visual impairments into account by enabling users to add alt tags and descriptions to multimedia assets.
Let’s look at Twitter for a moment. People more and more are using using images and the words within them to supplement their tweets.
My cat is sad because he announced to people he was “seizing the day” but everyone just pointed at him and laughed. pic.twitter.com/bBX9bV8asv
The alt tag for all Twitter images is “Embedded image permalink”. Hardly descriptive or useful when every image has the same alt text. In the Tweet above, we see a cat but also words and meanings in the objects around him: a sign with YOLNT (you only live nine times); a book by Jonathan Frazen titled Freedom; and a bottle of Gordon’s gin. People who can’t see this image miss out on much of the intended meaning of the tweet.
In some instances, the entire purpose of the tweet is contained in the image. Look at this example from The Oatmeal where he has attached an image containing an entire comic. (Even providing a link to his website wouldn’t help because he does not provide alt text for his comics.)
My username was pre-populated because I have used the site on my phone before. I thought my password was also pre-populated, because the placeholder text Twitter uses in the password field is a series of dots, which look just like an obfuscated password.
Thinking my password was already entered into the password field, I tapped the “Sign in” button. The page refreshed and I wasn’t signed in, but I didn’t see why, so I tapped “Sign in” again, thinking the site had a glitch.
What actually happened was that I had not entered my password, and the error message on the page was located at the top in a light gray text, hardly noticeable, and resulting in frustration while I tried to figure out what was wrong.
Two easy fixes Twitter should make
Remove the dots as placeholder text from the “Password” field. They are not necessary and cause confusion. Placeholder text in form fields are harmful because it makes it hard for users to know what information they have already entered.
Move the error message next to the field where the error occurred and make it obvious. By placing it at the top of the form, away from the “Password” field, and making it a light gray, it isn’t obvious for users.
In working on a quick mock-up of these improvements, I realized that Twitter developers likely added the placeholder text so that users would know where to type. Without the placeholder text, it’s not obvious. That said, adding placeholder text isn’t the best solution.
Though Twitter has made some changes, such as removing the dots as placeholder text in the password field, it continues to use placeholder text and the error message still displays above the form in hard to see gray text.