Making content accessible: Image descriptions and more

Content is a great way to market yourself or your business: content comes in many forms, including websites, social media, emails, documents and presentations.

Part of producing good content is making it accessible.

This blog will focus on making images accessible, but we share some other tips too.

When creating content, a big part of it can be images.

Images can enhance your message: they may be used to showcase a product, demonstrate a process, or identify a person so that people can put a name to a face.
However, more often than not, these images are not accessible to visually impaired people, and this can mean visually impaired people missing out on important information.
A big part of making images accessible is adding a written description to the image, giving an overview of what the image includes. These written descriptions are known as alternative text (more commonly known as alt text; the term alt text will be used throughout the rest of this blog).
In this blog, we will cover: what alt text is, how to add it, the dos and don’ts, other ways to make images accessible, other ways to make content accessible, and useful resources to learn more.

What is alt text?

Put it simply, alt text is the text you use to describe an image. Alt text should include a summary of the key visual details.
More often than not, alt text can be placed in a field that appears once you upload or insert your image, which is specifically for alt text, so it is separate from the text that makes up the text of your actual content. Later on in this blog, we will provide links to guides to how to add alt text on some of the most popular content creation platforms.

Why add alt text?

The primary purpose of alt text is to make images accessible to visually impaired people, so that they can access the content of your image. Alt text is also helpful to anybody else who may find it difficult to process visual content.
On websites. Alt text can also be helpful if you have a slow Internet connection and the image doesn’t load, because the alt text will indicate what is in the missing image.
Finally, adding alt text can mean ranking higher in Internet searches.

What are the dos of alt text?

  • Describe the image – First and foremost, the purpose of alt text is to describe the image. Alt text should cover the key details so that somebody who cannot access the image can understand what it features.
  • Be concise – While it is important to give key details, it’s also equally important to be concise. Being concise is the key to good alt text if you want to keep the reader interested and avoid the reader missing out on relevant information.
  • Consider the context – Think about what is actually relevant when adding your alt text: not every detail in the image will be relevant. Think about the image’s purpose as that will determine the details to include in your alt text. Ask yourself: what do you want people to notice when they look at the image? If you were describing it to somebody over the phone, what would you say?
  • Use inclusive language – This applies everywhere, not to just alt text, but if describing people, be sensitive to how they identify, if that is relevant. If a person has asked to be described in a certain way, respect them. For example, if the image is of a blind person using a mobile phone, they may have a specific way they prefer to be identified, for example blind, or totally blind. They may not want you to mention their disability at all, instead other factors may convey this information, for example the person may be holding a long cane.
  • Do your research – How you add alt text to an image depends on the platform you are using – each platform has a slightly different process for adding alt text, and the label of the alt text box may vary from platform to platform, for example alternative text or image description. Do your research so that you know exactly how to add alt text on every platform you use. You could also create a resource and make it available to anybody else you work with so that everybody knows the processes for adding alt text.

The image below is of Andy, one of our art makers, at our pottery workshop. This is to demonstrate an example of good alt text.

Artmaker Andy participating in our pottery workshop at the Arts And Crafts Centre. He is presenting to camera a star-shaped pottery bowl that he is working on.
Artmaker Andy participating in our pottery workshop at the Arts And Crafts Centre. He is presenting to camera a star-shaped pottery bowl that he is working on.

What are the don’ts of alt text?

  • Don’t be too detailed – As mentioned above, being concise is key, therefore don’t give too much detail. If the alt text contains too much detail, somebody may not even read the entirety of the alt text, therefore potentially missing out on crucial information. For example, if you are describing an image of people doing an activity, you don’t need to describe every detail of the appearance of each person. Instead, describe the activity they are doing, and other information that is relevant, for example they may be wearing the same clothing in order to do that activity, for example an apron for an arts and crafts activity.
  • Don’t be vague – While it is important to not give too much detail, it is equally important to not give too little detail. To give some examples, if there is text within the image, state what the text says. If there are various items in the image, state what those items are. If the description would be too long to be the alt text, think about placing the description elsewhere. For example, if it’s an infographic with lots of text and data, have that information in an alternative format, such as a table or downloadable document.
  • Don’t state that an image is an image – In the majority of instances, you don’t need to state in your alt text that you are describing an image because screen readers are able to identify that an element is an image so this will already be known to the person accessing your content. You only need to state if it is an image if you aren’t putting your alt text in an alt text box and instead including it as part of your post; best practice is to introduce your alt text with a phrase like ‘image shows’ or ‘photo of’, to give some examples. It may be useful in certain circumstances to indicate the type of an image, for example an image may be a screenshot or an infographic.
  • Don’t use alt text for non-descriptive information – The alt text box is the place for image descriptions; it is not a place for other information like image credits or other messages such as memes or hidden jokes.
  • Don’t panic – Adding alt text may feel daunting if it is something that is new to you, as you may worry about adding too little, or too much, detail. However, don’t let this put you off – it is better to try for it not to be perfect initially, than to not add it all because you aren’t sure if it will be right.

How do I add alt text?

How you add alt text to an image will depend on the platform you are using to create your content.
Below are links to help articles explaining how you add alt text on some of the most popular content creation platforms.

Add alt text on Facebook

Add Alt Text On Twitter

Add Alt Text on Instagram

Add Alt Text on LinkedIn

Add Alt Text using Microsoft Office applications

Add Alt Text to Mailchimp Emails

There are many more content creation platforms that enable you to add alt text to your images. If you need to add alt text using a platform not listed above, you can find the information you need on the platform’s support pages. The information should be contained within articles with titles that feature keywords including ‘alt text’, ‘image description(s)’ and/or ‘accessible images’. Titles of articles about adding alt text vary from platform to platform.

What else can I do to make images accessible?

Adding alt text to your images is a big part of making them accessible. However, there are other things you can do:

  • Avoid images of text – Images of text, or flattened copy, should be avoided where possible. While you can put the text within the image as alt text, flattened copy cannot be altered to suit those with low vision i.e. you can’t change aspects including font size. While you can use OCR to scan flattened copy, the final result may not be 100% accurate, so if you are going to need to use flattened copy in an image, make sure that text is also available in true text form i.e. on a website or in a downloadable document.
  • Consider colour contrast – Colour contrast is important throughout your content, including when inserting images. Having good colour contrast makes content easier to access for low vision users, but it also helps everybody. Colour contrast is important to consider, for example when creating your own custom graphics.
  • Don’t use too many images – Using too many images can disrupt the flow of your content. While images can add detail to your content, it is important to consider how necessary each image is. If an image isn’t adding context to your content, ask yourself: is this image really necessary, or should I add it and mark it as decorative, meaning that it is only there for decorative purposes, and doesn’t add to the content?
  • Make sure the lay-out is accessible – When you have created your content (including inserting all your images), make sure that the overall lay-out is accessible. Sometimes, images can make parts of the text hard to read, and screen readers may skip over some of the text entirely. Consider where you place your images in relation to the text within your content.
  • Test and obtain feedback – One of the most invaluable ways to make images more accessible is to test your documents and ask for, and be open to, feedback from readers. Test your content using different assistive technology software, including paid-for software as you can download free demos. Only by accessing your document using assistive technology will you truly understand its accessibility. Similarly, ask people with lived experience to test your content, and be open to any feedback you receive even if it isn’t feedback you directly asked for. For example, if the alt text of your images is too vague and you receive feedback about this, be open to suggestions as to how you could improve it.

What else can I do to make content accessible?

While the accessibility of images is a major element, there is even more you can do to make accessible content. Below are just a few tips:

  • Use properly formatted headings – If creating long-form content that can be divided into sections, do this using headings, and make sure the headings are in a proper style so that screen readers and other assistive technology will recognise that they are headings. This will help people navigate your content more efficiently, and find particular sections if they don’t want/need to read the entirety of your content.
  • Put clickable elements in context – Clickable elements, including links, buttons and form fields, are elements which can be activated, for example to navigate you elsewhere or input information into a form. Some screen reader users may use the Tab key to navigate through clickable elements, or may use a keystroke to bring up a list of a particular element, for example a list of links or a list of form fields. It is important to label these elements clearly so that if somebody were navigating in this way, they would know exactly what would happen if they were to activate the clickable element. For example, using labels like ‘click here’ does not give a clear indication of where a person will end up if they activate that link.
  • Use camel case in hashtags – Hashtags are a big part of social media, and may be found in other content types too. The most common hashtag presentation is to use all lower case letters, however this is not accessible. In order to make your hashtags accessible, it is important to capitalise the first letter of each word. This means that screen readers will properly pronounce each word, and also it makes it easier to decipher the starts and ends of words when interpreting the hashtags visually.
  • Don’t overuse emojis – While emojis can be a fun and engaging way to enhance your content, screen readers give descriptions of each emoji so using too many will mean that a screen reader would take a very long time to read your post, therefore it may lose its meaning and a reader would become disinterested. One or two per post is recommended.
  • Don’t use fancy fonts – It can be very tempting to use fancy fonts as a way to draw your attention to your content. However, these fonts can be very difficult to read and even some screen readers aren’t able to interpret these fonts. If you aren’t sure, use a screen reader to read your text, and ensure it is reading each word clearly. Most importantly, ask people of differing vision levels to read your content and give feedback.

Useful resources

Below are links to some useful resources so that you can find out more about content accessibility:

Accessible Social

Accessible Social contains lots of information about making social media content accessible to people with all disabilities. As acknowledged on Accessible Social’s home page, a lot of the information can also be applied to other content types.

Scope for Business

Scope For Business is part of the offering provided by the charity Scope.

As part of this offering, there are articles on accessibility, including content accessibility.

@A11YAwareness

This is a Twitter account which is a bot that drip feeds accessibility tips and useful links.

The account focuses on all aspects of accessibility for many different content types.

Some final thoughts

We hope that this blog has given you some tips for making content accessible.

If you are new to accessibility, it may seem daunting at first, but it is important to consider and prioritise.

Producing accessible content gives you access to more consumers, demonstrates a more inclusive ethos, and ultimately gives a good impression that you are truly putting effort into what you create.

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