Rob Long is a 30-year-old blind veteran who lost both his eyes during combat in Afghanistan. Long, now a Brazilian jiujitsu competitor, went viral with a tweet that helps people understand how blind users navigate the social media world. The tweet introduced the concept of image captioning capabilities, which reads blind users like himself descriptions of photos posted to social media platforms.
Long describes himself as an avid social media user, using platforms like Twitter and Facebook regularly, just like most of his peers. In fact, he told BuzzFeed (https://www.buzzfeed.com/tanyachen/what-its-like-navigating-social-media-as-a-blind-person?utm_term=.cb6RPGjVa#.qs0aq4YLn) that technology has "raised my standard of living” in recent years, due to the emergence of image captioning tools. Long described how to use these tools in viral tweet read by millions in early January 2018.
I’m a blind twitter user. There are a lot of us out there. Increase your ability to reach us and help us interact with your pictures, it’s really simple and makes a huge difference to our twitter experience allowing us to see your images our way. Thanks for the description pic.twitter.com/hCsjoFdmev— Rob Long (@_Red_Long) January 3, 2018
This is how captioning works and why it’s important. Would really appreciate people spreading the word and creating a more accessible twitter for blind users. Thanks pic.twitter.com/LMntCuEOqy— Rob Long (@_Red_Long) January 3, 2018
The tweet was read by over 24 million people and retweeted 146,000 times to date. It introduced image captioning to many social media users who weren’t aware it existed, which he said “helps normalize social media use” for blind users. All users have to do is enable the "compose image description" feature in Settings > Accessibility, then they’re given the option to write descriptions for any images they tweet. Blind users are then able to get a description of the image transcribed aloud to them when they scroll through their Twitter feed. Twitter describes the feature under Learn More: “When you Tweet photos using the Twitter app for iOS or Android, or on twitter.com, you have the option to compose a description of the images so the content is accessible to people who are visually impaired.”
Long continued to tell BuzzFeed, "At the moment I scroll through Twitter and Facebook and I don't feel blind. I know I don't get exactly what everyone else is getting but I don't feel like I'm missing out or I don't understand the context of a post."
While Twitter is the easiest social media platform for blind users to interact with because of its use of image captioning, Facebook is a close second. Long explained that Facebook uses AI bots to interpret photos for him, although the technology hasn’t been perfected yet. One platform Long says doesn’t have any image captioning capabilities or AI bots to interpret photos is the visual-heavy Instagram.
While image captioning has given Long a new sense of independence in today’s social media-dependent world, his introduction of the tool to many new people allows us to do our part to help the low vision community interact on social media platforms