Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, is being criticised online for misusing alt text on Twitter.
On Wednesday, Mr Sunak posted a four-picture photo grid showing cabinet members having a meeting. When the images are clicked, each expands to reveal a list of things the government says it has done. “We are working day-in and day-out to grow the economy,” Mr Sunak wrote in the caption of the post. The alt text field, which is supposed to describe what’s in the images for blind users, simply read: “We’re growing the economy”.
Take a look at the post below:
We are working day-in and day-out to grow the economy. pic.twitter.com/wYgxplNEZm
— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) May 17, 2023
For those unaware, alt text is a way in which one can make images more accessible to those who are blind or visually impaired. It is generally used for describing the key details and information contained in a photo or graphic.
According to Twitter’s own Help Center article, the goal of writing image descriptions is to be clear and concise, while giving more context to the tweet. “It’s important to capture action, movement, relationships, noteworthiness, visual details, and anything unique”. Notably, the accessibility feature also works with screen readers.
But when photos in the tweet from Mr Sunak’s account are clicked, even though each expands to reveal a list of things the government says it has done, the same information is not included in the alt text. Therefore, Mr Sunak received backlash for not fully describing the images.
Charities representing blind people such as the Royal National Institute for Blind (RNIB) criticised the government’s approach to the accessibility feature: RNIB responded to Mr Sunak’s post by tweeting a video demonstration of what the images would sound like to blind people using a screen reader.
Hello, Prime Minister – this is how your tweet sounds to blind and partially sighted people who use screen readers. There are 1000 characters available for #AltText, which can help make sure all the information you want to share is communicated. https://t.co/nCsTE8gKxYpic.twitter.com/LNkCbOJtrD
— RNIB (@RNIB) May 18, 2023
Other Twitter users, including author Adam Kay, described Mr Sunak’s misuse of the feature as “the worst alt text I’ve ever seen”. “Shame on whoever is running the @RishiSunak account. Absolute insult to visually impaired people the way you’ve abused the alt text field,” wrote another user.
Meanwhile, according to The BBC, Downing Street in a statement said, “We use a broad range of methods and channels to communicate with the public and aim to ensure that they are as accessible as possible. That includes using alternative text on our social channels”.