Thoughts on user-generated content & responsibility of tech companies

Something that I’ve been thinking deeply about recently is the role of tech companies in building accessibility awareness amongst its users. Several content-sharing sites now allow users to set alt text to their shared images. However, not much is done beyond that to actually encourage use of this feature.

For example, with the largest image sharing app, Instagram, where millions of images are share each day, the feature to set alt text on the image is hidden in Advanced options. When I conducted a quick poll on my personal Instagram account, 60% of respondents responded “No” to the statement “I know what image alt text is and how to set it on Twitter/Instagram.” I imagine there’s actually a larger percetange of “No” than those who responded.

If users don’t know that a feature to make their content more accessible exists nor have an understanding of what accessibility is to begin with, then how should they be expected to use these features? If accessibility features were exposed to users in a more visible way (like not being hidden in Advanced options), and there is more effort from the companies to educate and encourage users to use these features, then when a user decides not to use it, it’s a conscious choice they are making rather than from a lack of awareness.

Given that the majority of users of these content-sharing sites don’t come from a background in tech or web dev or acccessibilty, it seems like the responsibility of fostering accessibility awareness and encouraging accessible content-sharing falls on the shoulders of tech companies and the choices they make in product design.

What would it look like for a content-sharing site to put accessibilty at forefront?

Tangentially, I really enjoyed this article on alt text that NYT came out with this month: The Hidden Image Descriptions Making the Internet Accessible.