You Can Alt Text Too

While techies understand alt text as the HTML attribute used in HTML and XHTML to provide a vehicle to render an element that cannot be rendered, alt text is becoming much more mainstream. In the language of digital accessibility, alt text or alternative text is one of the first key terms that needs to be defined and understood and is one of the easiest things to address, no matter if you are a newbie to creating digital content or a seasoned veteran of the digital community. In fact, even non-technical people can begin to apply alt text to increase the accessibility of their documents and online posts with less sweat than it takes to covertly push that elevator button when the stairs to the second floor seem more like scaling a mountain, than a great way to reach your daily step goal.

Alternative Text [alt text] describes non-text content, including images, images with words in them, graphs, infographics, and charts using text. It provides an alternative to consuming visual information.

Daily users of Microsoft products such as Word and PowerPoint are now receiving prompts to add alt text when an image is added to a document or presentation. This prompt is Microsoft’s way of saying, “Hey! Make sure everyone can access the valuable information you are presenting visually.” You can accomplish this task with about the same amount of clicks it takes to make text bold.

For those who have social media accounts, many of the more popular platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn include the ability to add alt text to images included in your latest post about your Australian Cattle Dog’s ongoing epic battle with a stuffed narwhal, that Food Network recipe you rocked like a Master Chef, or the quote about perseverance artistically displayed over a plant breaking through asphalt that totally changed your perspective. Adding alt text is as easy as selecting a flirty filter or cropping out evidence of the basket of laundry you meant to fold but somehow haven’t touched for a week.

Even though adding alt text is supposed to be easy, why should you bother?

So, let’s say you did opt for that quick ride in the elevator vs. taking those steps. The doors open and you step inside to see one of your team members dashing for the door. Do you push the door open or the door close button?

For people who are not able to consume visual content, leaving out alt text is equivalent to pushing the door close button on your coworker, friend, or family member. Using alt text actively increases inclusion and a sense of teamwork, while leaving alt text off creates a space that some people can’t access – effectively hiding it behind closed doors. Instead of bringing everyone together and ensuring everyone has the same information, it creates a knowledge divide. As an exercise, next time you view a presentation or scroll through your social media feed or visit your favorite retailer’s website, take a mental screenshot. Now draw a bold X over every image, including text that is rendered as an image, graph, infographic, or chart. What is left? How much of that text references those visual elements that you can no longer consume? Add a bold X each time text does not make sense without the visual element as a reference?

Now, ask yourself, how would it change your experience if you didn’t have access to those visual elements? How would you feel if you worked on a team where you only had access to what is left over?

Alt-text is an equalizer – it ensures everyone has equal access to information, even if it is represented visually. For individuals who are blind, having alt text is critical to being able to understand what is being presented in a digital space.

You’ve sold me – I’m ready to add alt text. Now what?

Getting started is only a click away. When adding alt text in Microsoft documents, such as Word and PowerPoint, select the image, go to the picture format tab (or right-click on the image) to select alt text. Instructions will appear with a box where you can enter your description of the image. Add your description and select the next image in your document that needs alt text. Continue adding until all images have alt text. When done select ‘x’ to exit the window.

Adding Alt Text in Microsoft Programs

In social media platforms, after uploading an image, selecting to edit the image will typically connect you to where you can add alt text. Not all social media platforms currently allow the option to add alt text. Feel free to report this as a bug to their technical team.

Adding Alt Text to Social Media Posts

General alt text tips.

First, determine if your image is decorative or needs a description. If an image is decorative, select decorative in the menu. You don’t need to do anything else. If the image is not decorative, provide a brief description of the visual content.

To determine if an image is decorative or needs alt text, consider if the image adds value or information needed and if the image has text in it that cannot be consumed elsewhere. If the answer is yes to either of these questions, then it is not decorative. However, if you just like daisies because they are pretty and put them in a presentation to make the slide look pretty, they can be marked decorative.

Second, determine what should be relayed in the alt text. For logos, ensure the company’s name is provided. In images where there is text, ensure the text is provided. For visual-only elements, provide a description of what people need to know.

Third, ensure what you put into alt text is concise and of good quality. Generally, it is recommended that you limit alt to text to 125 characters. Ensure that there are no typos or grammatical errors. Content provided through alt text should be of the same level of quality as everywhere else in the document or post. Be wary of automatically generated alt text – this tends to be less helpful than what you are able to create.

Finally, there is no need to tell people in alt text that it is an image. Avoid saying things like “image of,” “photo of,” or “logo of.” Now that doesn’t mean you should say “picture of.” When these are added it just causes people who rely on alt text to be told that it is an image twice. They know it is an image – it’s what’s in the image they can’t view without the alt text. So, when you say “Image of Image of Joyce Bender” it can subtract from the experience.

Adding alt text is a simple step we can all take to be more inclusive of people with disabilities and generate an atmosphere of teamwork and collaboration. As more is understood about this feature, forward-leaning companies are making it easier and easier for the everyday user to include alt text and make digital content accessible. Soon, adding alt text will be as commonplace as images themselves.

If you are interested in learning more about what your company can do to make your digital space accessible for people with disabilities, contact us to find out what our HighTest team can do for you.