Designing for Everyone: A Reflection on the Usability and Accessibility of Instagram

The power of social media is still inaccessible for some people with disabilities.

Hi, I’m Tess Arthur. I’m a social media marketer and I’m on a journey to learn more about UX Design. I’m enrolled in the DesignLab UX Academy boot camp (Weingart cohort). I’ll be posting on Medium as I follow the course, and look forward to sharing my journey and hearing more of your thoughts!

Photo of iPhone with Instagram and other social media apps.

If you’ve ever seen me using my phone, you have probably seen me checking Instagram. Instagram is an app that allows you to edit and upload photos and videos, give and receive comments and likes, and syndicate these uploads to other social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

Usability

Instagram is designed with a very clean and minimal UI, which helps users identify the key elements to interact with and keeps the focus on the content.

The buttons on the app are mapped out in a way so that the most used features are closest to the home button on your phone, with the “add photo” button being in the center, closest to your thumb when holding an iPhone.

Screenshot of Instagram feed, showing navigation options.

There’s not a huge learning curve when joining instagram. The app does provide short call-to-action prompts to new users to help them learn the key features of the app. The app keeps you signed in, provides consistent design (for example, all blue call-to-action buttons), and provides clear and descriptive error messages.

Accessibility

Since Facebook owns Instagram, they have an entire team dedicated to working on the accessibility of the app. Both VoiceOver (for iPhone) and TalkBalk (for Android) work well with Instagram.

See the below video for an example of how to post on Instagram using VoiceOver on the iPhone.

Example of how to post on Instagram using VoiceOver on the iPhone.

However, Instagram does present accessibility issues to visually and hearing impaired users. When posting to Instagram, users have the option to add a caption, which could act as an alternative text. Unfortunately, adding this text can only be done by the person uploading the content and usually does not describe the content. It would be great if Instagram added a built-in prompt to add a quick description of the image, with a quick description or example of best-practice alt text.

In addition to adding this alt-text option, providing the ability to add closed captioning and audio descriptions on videos would greatly help hearing impaired and blind users. This should also be accompanied by a description of whether the closed captioning was generated automatically or if it was produced by a human — helping to eliminate confusion if the speech-to-text software fails.

Overall, Instagram is doing a great job catering to its users’ needs — but there’s always room to improve even more.

Anything else that you think Instagram can do to improve accessibility and usability? Drop a comment below!