Monday, 25 February 2019

An Introduction to Using Alt Text/Image Descriptions

Open book on fleece blanket with white gypsophila stem

If you hadn't already noticed accessibility is really important to me. As a writer and someone that posts a lot of content across social media platforms, I want everything I do to be accessible for everyone. I didn't know much about image descriptions until a few years ago but since then I use them religiously so anyone with a visual impairment can access the content I create.

I interviewed Chloe who describes herself as 'partially-sighted due to having Cerebal Palsy' and Holly who refers to herself as blind. Both of them agreed to answer some questions regarding alt text and how to use it across your platforms.


What is alt text?
Alt text stands for alternative text; it is a written description of an image and is read out by screen-readers. By adding alt text to your images, it allows a visually impaired person determine what the image shows.


How is alt text read?

It is read by a screen-reader, voiceover or another piece of assistive technology that reads everything on the screen. Whichever device you use would state that it was an image and then read out the description you have entered.


What is the difference between alt text and title text?

There isn't much of a difference, alt text describes the photo and title text is the short name for a photo.


How do you input alt text on a platform?

Every platform is slightly different.
WordPress: You can add alt text when you upload an image to WordPress straight away, just add your description in the alt text box. Alternatively you can add it by navigating to your media library, pressing edit under an image and adding alt text in the alt text box.
Blogger: Upload an image to a post, click on the image, click Properties, and an alt text box appears.
Facebook: Facebook uses an artificial intelligence (AI) to describe photos to blind and visually impaired people. These descriptions are not always accurate but you can always use your caption to describe the image.
Instagram: Users used to have to add their image descriptions to the caption and some still do, however a recent feature has been added to Instagram to input alt text. When uploading an image, scroll to Advanced Settings then Write alt text, describe your image and it is added. Instagram also use the same AI as Facebook but it is not always accurate.

Screenshot of how to use alt text for instagram

Twitter: To use alt text on Twitter you must first turn on the function. Settings > Accessibility > Compose image descriptions. After that every time you upload an image to Twitter a box appears for you to add a description. Descriptions must be 420 characters or less. You can also use this feature on Buffer if you schedule tweets with images. Just click the image and add the description. 

Screenshots on how to use alt text for Twitter

How much information should be included in the description?

Be concise but not too short; key details are always appreciated. For example someone is wearing a floral dress in autumnal colours, yet the type of flowers and every colour is unnecessary. If there is text on the image that is vital for the understanding, type that out. One or two sentence descriptions are enough.


If you can't find where to put an image description what should be done?

Either include the description in the body of the text, or in the caption. A lot of people write ID in captions and then describe the image or write, 'this photo shows' 


What do image descriptions mean to you?

Chloe: 'They show you care. More than that, they allow you to produce content which is accessible and of the highest standard. You would be amazed at the amount of people who use alt text to help them understand images and it is always a bit rubbish when you get an image that has no description attached. They are important because they allow equal opportunities when enjoying content. There is no way of doing it wrong, give it a go and that is what we appreciate. Even if it isn’t enough detail, it would be better than no alt.'

Holly: 'As a blind person and a screen-reader user, image descriptions are vital for me to know what a photo shows. If an image doesn’t have some sort of description, then I have no idea what it is.
If images have photo descriptions then I am more likely to interact with that post, especially on social media.I have no useful vision so I rely on image descriptions otherwise I have no idea what a photo shows, unless I ask a sighted person, but I want to be able to access them independently like everyone else. 
People often think that image descriptions help SEO, whilst this may be true when adding alt text to blog posts and pages on a website, they also make your site so much more inclusive and show that you have taken the time to add descriptions and think of people with a visual impairment or other disabilities. At the end of the day, inclusivity is key'

It's so quick and easy to add descriptions once you know what you're doing, it literally takes a couple of seconds. You don't have to describe absolutely everything, you just need to use the function so your content is accessible for everyone. I hope if you don't already, you start using alt text. It is vital that everyone have access to whatever content they want regardless of their disability.

Please go and check out Chloe and Holly, they do incredible work and have taught me so much. I am incredibly grateful they agreed to help me with this post!

If you have any questions or want to know more about describing your images please leave them in the comments or head over to Twitter.

3 comments:

  1. I always input alt text on my wordpress blog, but I had no idea that there was a way to do it on Instagram. Wish they'd publicise that better, but thank you so much for bringing attention to the feature.

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  2. Sarah, l saw your article in The Mighty regarding being in a power WC even though you can walk. I am in a power chair also. I understand what you mean. I can walk short distances. I can’t use crutches but try to use a rolling walker at home to use my legs some but it’s hard. My legs don’t take me far, l have had some bad falls and passed out a lot.
    One thing l have learned is that a WC isn’t always just for walking difficulties. I have multiple problems that led to my use of this chair. If you are interested in connecting with someone whose in a similar place than you may be, let me know. Thanks for sharing. I’m not quite as open as you are about it.

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  3. I had no idea Alt-text was a thing thank you so much for sharing how to add them to multiple platforms. I didn't think to do this before. I'm always looking for ways to be more accessible and this sounds easy as well!

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