Accessibility 101: Alt Text
WHAT IS ALT TEXT?
Alt Text, also called “ARIA labels”, “alt descriptions” and “alt tags” is written text that is as an alternative to an image. This alternative can be triggered if an image fails to load on a website or email. That said, alt text is mainly used to provide a text alternative to images for visually impaired readers using a screen reader on their device.
Without alt text, many screen readers will read the actual file name of the media! For example, if your file name is PN1098456.jpg the screen reader will read P N 1 0 9 8… well, you get the point. While this probably seemed inconsequential when it was uploaded to your content management system, this is not engaging media content for a visually impaired user!
Recently, social media platforms and websites like LinkedIn and Instagram have started offering opportunities to add alt text. For presentations, PowerPoint offers alt text fields for your slideshow images.
GOT ANY HOT TIPS ON WRITING ALT TEXT?
Before adopting alt text, it’s good to keep in mind a few best practices:
- Do not start your alt text with “image of” or “picture of” as the screen reader already identifies this as an image.
- Be clear and descriptive within 125 characters. Maintain standard sentance structure, but be concise in your description. Many screen readers will cut off after 125 characters.
- SEO is not the priority. Because of some SEO practices, people will fill alt text with keywords and fluff (#bad). These descriptions are meant to describe the image itself and even more so, the image itself in the context of the full experience.
- Be specific with your description. If the image depicted is former President John F. Kennedy shaking hands with a young former President Bill Clinton in the White House, don’t write “Politician shaking hands with young politician at event.” Including names, locations, and any other specific detail provides significant context to a reader.
- Create context. The image may lack specifics (maybe it’s a stock photo) but there’s probably more context available than you suspect. Is one of the figures a teacher? Business person? What context are you gleaning from their clothes and interaction… those type of details can make the media asset relevant and engaging to a person using a screen reader.
Here’s a common example seen around the internet explaining best practices for a picture of a rooster crowing:
ALT TEXT IN THE CULTURECONNECT CMS
To add alt text to your media assets in the CultureConnect content management system, navigate to the Media Gallery. Select the media that you want to edit, scroll down to Alt tag / ARIA tag and type in your text. Keep in mind there is a 125 character limit. This alt text will go wherever the asset is placed in your applications!