What is Alt text?

Alt text (alternative text) is text that’s added to an image to describe the image’s content. This ensures that users with visual impairments receive the same value from the image as a sighted user.

Why is it important?

Students with visual impairments are at a disadvantage compared to sighted students when information is provided solely via image formats. To make teaching content fair and equitable, all students should have access to the same information, despite any barriers they may face.

Most users with visual impairments use a screen reader to navigate the digital world. Screen reader software reads aloud everything on screen, and to ‘read’ a page or document, screen readers need to be given information behind the scenes. In the instance of images, this information is provided through the addition of alt text.

It’s The Law

It is legally mandated that public sector bodies like universities ensure their digital presence meets international accessibility standards (WCAG 2.1 AA). Organisations that do not meet these accessibility standards are failing to make reasonable adjustments. As such, these organisations are in breach of the Equality Act 2010 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, possibly leading to investigations, unlawful act notices and court action.

When Should I Use Alt Text?

If an image is used to add to text-based content or is otherwise necessary to the understanding of the subject being covered then alt text should be provided. This includes the use of graphs, tables, and infographics.

Where images have been used simply to add visual interest, they don’t need to have alt text assigned, but they do need to be marked as decorative so that they’re skipped over by a screen reader.

What Should Be Included in Alt Text?

Alt text should contain descriptive information so that the value gained from using the image is made clear and accessible to the user.

You should never start an alt text description with “Image of’ or similar as the screen reader will announce that it is an image automatically.

Use of Alt Text in Humanities

Most of the tools used to create and share teaching resources have in-built mechanisms which make adding alt text to images a simple process. Using the example of Blackboard, a sample of courses taught during the 22/23 academic year were analysed and it was found that 95% of images had no accompanying alt text.

Our aim with this project is to raise this percentage significantly. In doing so, we will not only ensure we are following current legislation but will also ensure that no student is unfairly disadvantaged in their desire to learn.

How to Write Alt Text

Learn how to make alt text useful and meaningful.

How to Add Alt Text

Learn how to add alt text in the various tools.