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Instagram adds new Stories features and accessibility tools

Tim Maytom

Instagram has announced two new improvements aimed at making it easier for people with visual impairments to use the platform, as well as a new feature for the Instagram Stories section that provides users with a new way to manage how they share photos and video.

To aid accessibility, Instagram is introducing automatic alternative text so users can hear descriptions of photos through screen reader technology when using Feed, Explore and Profile. The feature uses object recognition technology to generate a description of photos for screen readers so they can hear a list of items that photos may contain as they browse the app.

In addition, users will be able to provide a custom alternative text, enabling them to add a richer description of photos when they are uploaded. This will also be accessible to people using screen readers.

The addition of these accessibility tools has been welcomed by users and organisations dedicated to supporting people with visual impairments, although some have questions why it has taken Instagram so long to add this feature, especially given that parent firm Facebook has had similar features in place (with artificial intelligence-generated alternative text that can be manually edited) since April 2016.

Elsewhere, Instagram has added a feature to Stories enabling users to create a 'close friends' list which they can then choose as an option when deciding who to share Stories with. The feature is aimed at providing users with more flexibility when it comes to sharing more personal moments, especially as Instagram's user base and community continues to grow.

To add people to their list, users simply go to their own profile and tap on 'Close Friends' in the side menu. The list is private and no one can request to be added to it, ensuring that users can feel comfortable adjusting it at any time. When users share photos and videos to Stories, they will be able to choose to just share content to those on their Close Friends list. The feature will be rolling out globally today on both iOS and Android.