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Shuvanjan Karmaker: Hello, everyone. Thank you for joining us for today's Tech Forum
session. I'm Shuvanjan Karmaker, Product Coordinator at BookNet Canada. Welcome to
Details of Description Part Two: Describing Images in Practice.
Before we get started, BookNet Canada acknowledges that its operations are remote, and our
colleagues contribute their work from the traditional territories of the Mississaugas of the
Credit, the Anishinaabe, the Haudenosaunee, the Wyandot, the Mi'kmaq, the Ojibwa of Fort
William First Nation, the Three Fires Confederacy of First Nations, which includes the
Ojibwa, the Odawa, and the Potawatomie, and the Métis, the original nations and people of
the lands we now call Beeton, Brampton, Guelph, Halifax, Thunder Bay, Toronto, Vaughan,
and Windsor. We encourage you to visit the native-land.ca website to learn more about the
peoples whose lands you are joining from today. Moreover, BookNet Canada endorses the
calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and supports an
ongoing shift from gatekeeping to space-making in the book industry.
The book industry has long been an industry of gatekeeping. Anyone who works at any stage
of the book supply chain carries a responsibility to serve readers by publishing, promoting,
and supplying works that represent the wide extent of human experiences and identities and
its complicated intersections. We at BookNet are committed to working with our partners in
the industry as we move towards a framework that supports space-making, which ensures
that marginalised creators and professionals all have the opportunity to contribute, work, and
lead.
In the spirit of that acknowledgement, I confirm BookNet's and my own responsibility to
mend the sacred hoop with Canada's Indigenous peoples, to be an ally to all Black,
Indigenous and people of colour and to unite and work alongside one another.
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And now, let me introduce our speaker. Leah Brochu is an accessibility advisor and
document analyst with the public library services branch at the Government of Alberta and a
passionate advocate for accessibility and inclusive design. Previously, Leah worked for the
National Network of Equitable Library Service, first as a production assistant, then as a
project assistant, and finally as the accessible publishing and resource coordinator. With a
background in library and information science and classical studies, Leah combines her love
of books with technology and works to ensure that everyone can read what they want when
they want in the way they need.
Leah, thank you for joining us and over to you.
Leah Brochu: Thank you, Shuvanjan, and everyone at BookNet, and the interpreters, and
the captioners. Thanks, everyone, for working on this and thanks, everyone, who is attending
today. Yeah, I'm going to dive right in. I'm Leah. Maybe we've met, maybe we haven't, but I
think my bio covered it and I've got a lot to cover, so let's dive in. So, today I'm doing Details
of Description Part 2, kind of a follow-up to the last presentation where I talked about
involving collaborators and working with the team. And today it's going to be a little bit
more practical going back to the guidelines, which I didn't really cover in that presentation
just talking about real image descriptions.
So, I'm going to try to dive in. Come on. Yeah. So, today we're going to talk about the
guidelines. We'll talk about some techniques. We'll talk a little bit about collaborating, but
you can really look at the first presentation for that and then I've got a slide with a few
resources on it. So, starting off with the guidelines, maybe you're familiar with them, maybe
not, but hopefully in the way I talk about it, you'll learn something new. We've got, I think,
nine here, and we're going to go through each of them starting with decorative images don't
need to be described. So, the first thing you always want to do before you write that image
description is decide whether or not it needs a description. Is it decorative or non-decorative?
So, you want to ask yourself when you first face an image, is it important? Is it meaningful to
the narrative or the content? What's the likelihood of it being discussed by readers? I'm going
to turn my video off because it doesn't need to be on. And if left undescribed, would it have a
negative impact on the reader's experience?
So, as promised, this is the in-practice seminar, so let's look at some examples that I've got
here. This first one, so I took a picture of a page from a book. It's Chapter 9 from the
"Odyssey" titled In the One-Eyed Giant's Cave. And in the top right corner, there's a little
graphic of two dolphins, and that's on the start of every single chapter. So, when you come
across an image like this, go to those questions. So, number one, is it important or
meaningful to the narrative or the content? No. If this was a chapter about dolphins, maybe.
There is dolphins in the Odyssey, but this is the same image on every single chapter, so it's
not important. What's the likelihood of it being discussed by readers? Almost nil. Not totally
nil but pretty close. It's not very exciting. And the last one, if left undescribed, would it have
a negative impact on the reader's experience? Likely not.
So, this is one you could technically mark it as decorative. If you felt different, if you wanted
to mark it up, to give it a description and call it non-decorative, you could do a graphic of
two dolphins jumping. That's not going to be a problem for anyone. And at the same time,
marking it as decorative will also not be a problem. So, it's always a little bit grey area
sometimes.
But my next image here, I have a page from a book called "Worms Eat My Garbage." It's a
composting book. And this is a list of food waste fed to worms. So, on this list, there's
apples, bananas, cake, pears, etc. And then on either side of that list, there's images of the
food. There's apples, bananas, cake, pears, the same things. So, is that important to the
content? Nope. What's the likelihood of it being discussed by readers? Again, pretty much
nil. If left undescribed, would it have a negative impact on the reader's experience? Nope. It
would probably be annoying for a screen reader user to hear apple, apple, pear, pear, banana,
banana. So, that one is something that you probably are going to consider decorative when
you look at it. And finally, I've got one more picture from "Worms Eat My Garbage." It's a
page early on in the book, What to Call Your Setup. The text on this page is illegible, but it's
just about your setup. And then on the second page, there's quite a large drawing of a cute
little worm wrapped around an apple core. So, is this important to the narrative or the
content? You know what? It seems like at a glance, maybe it's decorative. But at the same
time, it is kind of meaningful to the content because it lends to the vibe of the book, this
happy little worm. Throughout, it's cutesy. So, if you're not describing this happy little worm,
the person reading it with a screen reader is not getting the same book as a person who's
getting to flip through and look at all these cute images. So, yeah, if left undescribed, it
would have, kind of, a negative impact on the reader's experience. Everyone needs to know
about the smiling worm, even though you could maybe consider that decorative. So, I hope
that lends a little clarity to the difference between decorative and non-decorative.
One thing that I thought of, so at the government where I work now, you know, we have a
visual identity and a lot of the documents, the template we have has a little blue bar in the top
left. That's decorative because it is just a small blue rectangle. And one way I thought of it is,
you know what, if that's given a description, small blue rectangle, that's going to be a little bit
more confusing than useful to the screen reader user. Like, it's like, why is there a small blue
rectangle? It doesn't lend anything. You know, if we had it as maybe like small blue
rectangle that's on many documents and lends itself to the visual identity of the government
of Alberta, something like that, but you wouldn't do that. It would just be a little bit
confusing.
The next guideline we love is context is key. So, you always want to take context into
consideration. The context of an image is going to give you clues around what to focus on
because you don't need to describe every single detail in most cases. You know, a picture
might be worth a thousand words, but you don't want a thousand words in the alt text. And
the context will help you, kind of, avoid unnecessarily repeating details that you find in the
context. So, I've got an image here. This is from "The Roman Soldier's (Unofficial) Manual."
So, it looks like... I mean, it kind of looks like some food in some containers. I really didn't
have a good gauge on it when I first came across it. But, you know, then I examined the
context and we've got a caption on the following page. They're just helpful. But without that
context, I might have said something like a drawing of a few clay containers, a pot with a
handle, some vegetables, and a large round object with a post. And that wouldn't be helpful
to the reader.
But when we have this caption, "Mess rations for one squad. On campaign the unit has a
small grinder for corn," oh, that's what that is, "but in a hurry the corn can be boiled and
eaten directly. Fresh vegetables are welcome, and any country boy in the squad knows how
to set snares for a bit of wile hare to go with the meal..." So, with that information, with that
context, you know, I was able to come up with a better description, something like a drawing
of mess rations, including a clay jar of corn, a round grinder, a pot with a handle, two other
clay jars, and some vegetables. So, that's just one quick example.
Looking at the context is going to really inform so much, which kind of leads into the next
guideline, which is consider the audience, which is basically deeply a part of the context, but
we like to pull it out and have it be its own guideline. So, the audience is part of the context.
Images might need to be described differently depending on whether they're written for a
child or for an adult or maybe for a PhD student. And 99% of the time, you're going to be
able to use the language, the tone and the voice of a book to help you inform the tone and
voice of your description, because that's going to be how the author is talking to the audience
is kind of how you want to talk to the audience through these image descriptions if you're
writing them in-house, if you're not the author. Maybe there's authors here today. And then
you don't need to know this. Of course, you'll already be writing for the audience in the
image descriptions as well as in the text. Sometimes when you're thinking about audience,
you might have a hard time with post-secondary or maybe even secondary level, like,
textbooks. So, you might need to kind of draw on subject matter specialists. And again, that's
just being considerate of the audience and the information in the book.
This next guideline is about writing clearly structured descriptions. I'm going to go a little bit
into depth here because organising them is pretty important. Broadly the way to think about
it is work from the general to the specific. So, consider that context, the reason for the picture
being there, and this will inform the structure. So, think about the kind of the big picture and
then you want to hone in on any key details. This necessarily... Like, I'm going to talk about
being objective in a bit, but writing a structured description or writing description, it's always
going to be subjective. What stands out to you in an image won't necessarily be what stands
out to me. And of course, the context in the book itself will be a huge factor. But
nevertheless, it's important to have that general structure starting with the big picture and
working your way down.
So, I have an image on this slide. That's the flowers of Elagabalus. He's a Roman emperor
who is said to have had flowers drop from the ceiling, so many that his guests maybe
drowned in flowers. Nobody in this image is drowning in flowers. They are covered in
flowers. They are blanketed in flowers. Nobody's drowning. It's a very pretty image of lots
and lots of pink flower petals and Roman diners. So, one way you might, kind of, structure
the description could be seven people recline around a table on a marble stage among broad
marble columns. Behind them, there's a statue of an adult, a child, and a dog. The room is in
the open air and past them hills and mountains are visible. The reclining diners look out
toward the floor in front of them, which has people lying on cushions looking this way and
that as thousands of pink petals blanket them. But
But this isn't ideal. I didn't start with the big picture. I started with the details. And as you
maybe felt when I read that, it somewhat takes away from the impact of the photo as I didn't
describe, kind of, the crux first and foremost. So, a better structured description might be a
group of Romans dine at a banquet, some at a table on a raised platform and some on the
floor before them. The diners on the floor are being blanketed in thousands of pink petals
that float down from above. So, from here, you can get more detailed if you need to
depending on the context, you know, like the diners on the platform look down on the guests
who are barely visible among the petals. The room is open to the air, and there's hills and
mountains, that kind of thing. But you want to, you know, kind of start with there's diners
and they're getting covered in flower petals. You don't want to start with the full setting. So,
that's structuring a description working from big to small.
Next is to be or to try to be concise. So, let's talk about this a little bit. So, one of the benefits
of paying attention to the context is that it will help you be concise. Like, in the image we
were just discussing, I could have gone on and on and, you know, maybe if this was an art
book with a section on this painting or a museum guide, that would have been appropriate.
But in general, we want alt text to be short and sweet or shortish and sweetish. A note on
being concise before we get too far, a technical note I want to add is there's not too many
places out there with character with short character limits despite reading here and there that
they exist. Like, I've heard that, you know, Facebook and Instagram have, like, 125 character
limits, but I haven't experienced this and I tested it. You know, I typed far more than 125
characters into the alt text for Facebook and Instagram, and it just kept letting me type. So, I
wouldn't, you know, shoot for a thousand, but you can be more than 125. So, I know that
kind of trips some people up to get it that short, and in alt text in an EPUB and in most of the
alt text in, you know, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, I'm not coming across that. I think
Twitter has a thousand-character limit. I think that's the one I have seen, which is much more
than 125. So, yeah, we're not... No, sorry, wrong point. So, I just wanted to mention that.
So, that all said, you know, you don't want to be going on and on describing every detail in a
particular image, you know, unless it's a museum guide or something. Not only is this
difficult for the person who's writing the description, it can also be distracting for the reader
or, you know, at worst it can lead to cognitive overload, which is when a task demands more
processing capacity than the capacity our cognitive system has. When that happens, we
experience cognitive overload. So, to avoid crafting descriptions that might excessively
contribute to cognitive load, which can lead to cognitive overload, I just wanted to share a
few tips for preventing cognitive overload, which really neatly tie into image description
work. So, number one, explain core concepts first, right? Big picture before small picture.
Eliminate unnecessary information. Don't go into too much detail. Draw attention to the most
important elements. You know, that one speaks for itself. And use simple and
straightforward language. And again, that part speaks for itself.
So, a rule of thumb is that alt text should not be more than a few sentences. If you need it to
be longer, then you'll want to use a long description. And I'm going to come back to long
descriptions in the technique section. But in short, if you need multiple paragraphs or lists, or
you want to use headings for structure, you'll want to use long description. Alt text is read as
a single string of text, and it's not easy to navigate, you know, with a screen reader, with
assistive technology. So, it should just be a few sentences. When you need structure, that's
when you turn to long description. And in general, the point of this slide is to be concise.
Was I concise on this slide? No. Don't follow my lead.
Okay, the next guideline that's important to share is about using the present simple tense. So,
you want to use present tense and action verbs, active verbs. It's pretty straightforward. Using
the present tense and action verbs will help you be concise and clear. So, let's take a look at
two approaches to describe this image here, which is a panel from a Spider-Man comic. So,
in the present, and I actually taught myself a little bit about grammar when I was working on
this, what I have seen a lot is the present continuous tense. For some reason, it just kind of
seems natural when you're writing, but then when you read it back, it doesn't seem great for
an image description. So, the present continuous tense description of this panel from the
comic is "a few minutes later" Peter Parker is looking up at a wrestling ring where a bald,
muscular man in briefs is holding a slightly smaller, but still muscular, man in the air over
his head. Peter is stroking his chin and thinking "Hmmm... this will be a good chance to test
my power again!" A large sign by the ring reads "$100 to the man who can stay in the ring
three minutes with Crusher Hogan!" A crowd of people is excitedly watching the wrestlers."
So, maybe you did, maybe you didn't get the feeling that this was a little clunky, you know,
grammatically. So, let's hear the present simple approach. Let's smooth that over. I'm just
going to read this one as well. "A few minutes later" Peter Parker comes upon a wrestling
match where a bald, muscular man in briefs holds a slightly smaller, but still muscular, man
in the air over his head. Peter strokes his chin and thinks "Hmmm... this will be a good
chance to test my power again!" A large sign offers "$100 to the man who can stay in the
ring three minutes with Crusher Hogan!" A crowd excitedly watches the wrestlers. So, I
mean, for me, that reads as much smoother, so we're probably on the same page there.
I was going to say next objective. No, next guideline is to be objective. So, I'm sure you've
heard this again and again. Be objective. Don't let your personal opinion colour the
description of the image. Don't editorialise. But I'm going to add a layer to that today. You
also don't want to be so obtuse that you distract from the image's intent. So, for an example,
in this image, we have a little comic here. Well, let's hear the objective description first that I
got ChatGPT to help me with a little bit because I thought, "I bet ChatGPT is pretty
objective," and they were overly so. So, it wrote, "This image is a comic panel. It shows a
playground slide with a spider web constructed at the bottom. Two spiders on the side of the
slide are looking at the web. The caption at the bottom of the image reads, 'If we pull this off,
we'll eat like kings.' The scene humorously suggests that the spiders plan to catch something
big enough in their web to provide a feast."
So, when you describe it so objectively, so much so that you just say humorously suggests,
really kind of taking away from the reader's ability to get the punchline on their own. So, you
would want to be a little bit more human about it. So, I wrote, in a black and white cartoon
drawing, two spiders sit... I have a typo there. Sorry. But, yeah, two spiders sit near the
bottom of a playground slide where they've constructed a large spider web. One says to the
other, "If we pull this off, we'll eat like kings." So, that's letting the punchline do the work
instead of adding some objectivity at the end.
I have a second example here, objectivity elsewhere. This is a picture from a book, "The
Book of Hallowe'en" from Public Domain. So, I have got two descriptions here. I'll read
these ones out. So, this one is, I think, a little bit overly objective. So, this image is a black
and white photograph titled "In Halloween Time." It shows a rural scene with several stacks
of harvested crops, likely corn stalks, arranged in tepee-like formations in a field. In the
background, there is a wooden building, possibly a barn, and several leafless trees,
suggesting an autumn setting. The scene evokes a rustic seasonal atmosphere typical of
Halloween time in the countryside.
So, I found some issues with this. The description is going to be a lot smoother. I think it's
okay to say that that building in the background is a barn. It is definitely a barn. And the
leafless trees and the harvested things, it's not just suggesting an autumn setting. Like, it is
fall, and it's from "The Book of Hallowe'en," so we know it's Halloween. We know it's
October. So, I did a little editing, a little writing on my own, and I really cut that description
around in half and said, "A sepia-toned photo titled 'In Halloween Time.' Bunches of
harvested corn stalks are arranged into tepee-like shapes set in a field in front of a barn. The
drying vegetation and leafless trees in the background make for an eerie scene." So, saying
it's an eerie scene is not really objective, but it's not problematic. That's what they're going
for, so I think it's okay to kind of smooth out the description by just throwing something like
that in there, like saying it's an eerie scene. It's okay.
The next guideline is about censorship. You probably have also heard, censorship, don't do it.
You of course don't have to go into graphic detail, but if you're describing images from the
Kama Sutra, you'd want to be detailed in order to ensure that the reader gets all the necessary
information. Or on the less fun side of things, if you have a first aid handbook or something,
there's likely going to be images and a discussion of wounds and subcutaneous fat. These
need accurate descriptions so all readers have the same information. While something might
be described in the text, the image reiterates the discussion, aiding learning. So, this iterative
process is useful to everyone, even those who aren't accessing the images visually. So, you
got to describe it. And if you can't, you got to ask someone else because all readers deserve
the same experience.
I didn't pull a real example here, but I thought I'd pull up kind of a historical equivalent. So,
in 1910, the opera Salome came to London and in it, Salome, the main character, she... Well,
John the Baptist's head, his cut-off head has a big role. I think she maybe smooches it at
some point. But in 1910 London, the censor wouldn't allow the head to be present. And just
like censoring image descriptions, this would lead to an incomplete understanding of the text
of the work. So, just pictured here, I have an image from a newspaper, like a political comic,
where the text reads, "Salome without the Baptist's head." And in the picture, Salome is
holding an empty platter, which is the vessel she generally carries the head on. And just for
demonstration and interest, I've also included an image of a photo of actress Gertrude
Hoffmann dressed as Salome in scarves and chains. And she has a disembodied head with a
big long beard and lots of hair, John the Baptist at her feet, and she reaches toward him.
The next guideline we have is about text in images. So, text within images needs to be
written out. Again, all readers need the same experience. All readers must be able to receive
the same information. This is part of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. So, if the
image has legible text that you expect sighted readers to read, it needs to be available to
assistive technology as well. I think, in my work at NELS, the most common thing that we
saw this missing from was images of letters or forms that were included in books. But if it's
an image of a letter, definitely you're expecting the reader to read it. So, it has to be included
in the alt text, especially if it's a handwritten letter. Don't make a person who uses assistive
technology trying to OCR that because it generally doesn't go well. So, we've got to give the
text to them.
So, I wanted to talk about it a little bit in-depth for a minute here, talking about whether or
not the text is legible and how much to include. In these next few slides, I'll be using this
image here, which just a quick description for accessibility. It's a vintage full-page ad for
Camel cigarettes. It features a doctor answering the phone from bed saying, "I'll be right
over." An extensive text throughout the page talks about how doctors who care about you
also choose Camel cigarettes. So, I thought this would be an interesting one to see how
ChatGPT dealt with it. And I'll share this description here and then we'll talk about it. So,
ChatGPT said, "This image is a vintage advertisement for Camel cigarettes. The ad features a
doctor in pajamas sitting up in bed talking on a phone with a look of concern on his face.
Next to him on the nightstand are a lamp, an ashtray with a cigarette, a clock and other items.
The text at the top left says, 'I'll be right over.' Below that it reads 24 hours a day your doctor
is 'on duty guarding health, protecting and prolonging life.' This is followed by a passage
emphasising the dedication of doctors to their patients. The main slogan in the middle of the
ad states, 'More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarettes.' The text further claims that
according to a recent nationwide survey, more doctors choose Camel cigarettes over other
brands. At the bottom right, there's an image of a pack of Camel cigarettes with a smaller
inset of a woman holding a cigarette. The ad includes text promoting the smoothness and
taste of Camel cigarettes, appealing to both doctors and the general public."
So, this is not bad. It doesn't include all of the text on the page, which to be fair, like in this
version that people attending this session right now are seeing not legible, so it kind of makes
sense. But it was legible in the version that I gave to ChatGPT. So, they kind of picked and
choose, and it read it and developed its own description. But I think, you know, before I
continue talking about text and images, I just want to flag something. Maybe you caught it,
maybe you didn't. Like, ChatGPT makes mistakes. And I'm going to come back to this in a
bit. But this is, you know, next to the doctor on the nightstand, there's a lamp and an ashtray
with a cigarette, a clock and other items. So, what ChatGPT did there, I think, I guess, was
see this pencil and thought, "Oh, given the context of the ad, that's going to be a cigarette,"
but it's not a cigarette. It's a pencil. That's not an ashtray. It's a pad of paper. So, if you're
looking to ChatGPT, definitely be careful because it's going to make stuff up, and I've seen
that more than once. And we'll see that again in a little bit.
But nevertheless, especially for something like this, a complex ad, it can be kind of useful.
So, that's the ChatGPT version with some mistakes. Interesting but not including all the
information. So, here I pulled a human example, a human written example, me, I'm the
human. And I did include all of the text on the document. I'm not going to read the whole
thing. You know, if you get the slides, you want to read that, it's fine. It's just talks about
doctors and how they're great and what do they smoke. And there's also something about the
T-zone test will tell you if Camels are good for you. T is for taste and T for throat. So, if they
taste good and they are smooth on your throat, then you want Camel cigarettes. I'm a pretty
good salesperson for Camel cigarettes today. But this is what you would want, this full text,
you know, in a linked long description if you had this much text in an image. So, I just
wanted to demonstrate that. If the text was illegible, then you could shorten it up. I've got an
example here that kind of... It's close to the ChatGPT's version because it just has the big text
and the images discussed, but it has a little bit more than the ChatGPT said because we can
read more like Camels, costlier tobaccos. and that kind of thing. And they hadn't included
that.
And that is my work on guidelines. So, yeah, and I kind of ChatGPT'd it up a little bit at the
end there, but text and images needs to be included as long as it's legible is the big guideline
takeaway there. Okay, so now I'm going to play with these guidelines a little bit. And I've got
some techniques and approaches here. So, I invented these two titles of approaches that I'm
going to talk about right now. So, this first one, when writing alt text, we've got the quick-
glance approach. Simply, in this approach, you simply give the image and the context the
briefest of glances after deciding whether or not it's decorative and then start jotting down an
image description based on what stood out to you. Then, you would do a closer look at the
image in the context and do your best to make sure you had written a concise and accurate
description. And this approach might help you write descriptions a little more quickly,
because you're not focusing, you know, so closely on the image giving yourself time to take
in the potentially numerous distracting details before writing your description.
So, as an example, I've got this image here. The caption is English ivy in a bottle. It's like a
glass bottle terrarium. So, you know, in the quick-glance approach, I just took a quick glance
at that, looked away, and wrote a quick description. A large spherical terrarium with English
ivy inside. And then I went back to the image to see, is there anything else, you know, really
important there? And I thought, you know what, maybe we'll add it's in a dark room and a
lamp shines onto it. Just FYI, there's a lamp in the image. I took a picture of this page with
my phone. It's glossy paper. So, there's actually a shine of light over where the lamp would
be. But underneath that glare, there is a lamp. I'm not just making it up. So, that's one
approach to description. And this is, you know, good for not too complicated images. Just
take a quick glance, write something up, and then double-check with the image.
The next approach I've titled the keep-on staring approach. So, this approach is what I think a
lot of us do. I've done it, and I can't really recommend it, but for the sake of discussion, we'll
talk through it. So, in this approach, you start the same way, determine if the image is
decorative, think about the context in the audience, think about what stands out to you, and
then get writing while continually looking back and forth between the image and your
description, and then review the image and the context one more, edit down the description,
and cut unneeded things. So, with that...you know, we're going to be still thinking about that
same image. So, knowing myself, you know, I gave myself the time and space to consider
this image and the context so closely. And this is what I ended up with. A large terrarium
around 18 inches in diameter containing vines of English ivy. The clear glass of the bottle is
foggy inside from the humidity within. The bottle stands in a darkened room. A small spiky
plant stands behind it. And floral curtains are visible in the background. The curtains are
drawn, and the room is dark, and the terrarium is lit by a single lamp. So, that's a lot of
description, which is not necessarily a terrible thing if you have the time for it. But, you
know, if you're depending on the context, of course, context, context, context, how in-depth
you want the description to be is going to be a factor. And I think this is a little too much
information for something that is not really important to the book. It's just a terrarium.
So, if we took that description, you know, edited it down, we would maybe end up with
something like a large spherical terrarium with vines of English ivy inside lit by a single
lamp. Floral curtains are drawn and the room is dark other than a lamp light. So, maybe you'd
end up with something like that. But probably it would take a lot longer to get there because
you're trying not to miss everything. So, I like the quick-glance approach, and I highly
recommend giving it a shot. And do try out different approaches that work for you.
Now, this one I don't have really an example for. We've talked about it earlier in the
presentation moments ago, the ChatGPT collaboration approach. So, again, decide if an
image is decorative, think about the context in the audience, think about what stands out to
you. Copy the image to an AI and tell it to describe the image and then use this as your
starting point, review, edit, correct and refine with the AI return. So, you can definitely give
that a shot.
But now we're going to turn to talking about long descriptions a little bit and make sure I'm
on time. Yes, it's pretty close. So, long descriptions are longer descriptions, multiple
paragraphs, lists, tables, etc. that you include elsewhere in the book. Generally, you link out
to them from somewhere below the image. In the alt text, you would give a really short
description and say "follow link below for long description," that kind of thing. And then the
person could read that there. So, long descriptions are used for things like graphs, maps and
charts. So, I'm going to talk a little bit about each of those, so we maybe feel comfortable
when we come across it.
So, starting with graphs. How do we begin? Review the context of the graph. It could be
fully described in the text. So, take a look. Because not all graphs are going to require a long
description, especially if they're discussed in depth in the text. But if it does require a long
description, in that long description, you'll want to provide the title of the graph, its purpose,
the layout, and the information on the x and y axes. You can also provide an overview of the
info shown on the graph. These things you can include in the alt text and then if more detail
is needed for understanding, write that long description. It could break down all of the info
presented by the graph or it could be provided, you know, maybe as a data table if
appropriate. So, here, I wanted to share an example where you probably wouldn't need a
linked long description. So, this is a graph displaying the observed and predicted Australian
post-output value over time. And in the alt text, I've written, "Dot graph dispalying the
observed and predicted values of the Australian Outpost from 1976 to 2002. The years are on
the x axis, and total output value in millions of dollars is on the y axis, ranging from 400-
4000." And then I talk a little bit about the observed and predicted values, they're nearly
identical, and the value increases steadily each year, from about 500 million in 1976 to 3.9
billion in 2002, at a rate of around 100 million per year.
So, depending on the context, maybe it would require a long description if this was not well
discussed in the text. And maybe if each data point was available to you, you could build a
data table. But if this is just something that people are only expected to look at for a quick
minute, then you can just have that kind of shorter description. But I have a complex graph
here that I wanted to talk about as well. So, this one is kind of a chart, but charts are graphs.
This is a pie chart. So, it can be here. So, looking at this causes of mortality in the army from
1854 and 1855, it's pretty clear that a long description is going to be needed because we're
looking at pie charts with multiple sizes like heights of each piece of pie and there's multiple
colours per piece of pie as well. So, for the alt text, I drafted, "Diagram of the causes of
mortality in the army in the East from April 1854 to March 1855. Data is shown as a pie
chart with wedges of different sizes and heights and multiple colours per wedge. Follow the
link below the image for a long description." And then I gave a bit of a long description here.
I'm not going to read it out, but it breaks down the colours of the wedges, what they mean. I
included the text from the page. And this is a bit of an example of a long description and how
you get to that with the alt text.
Now I want to talk a little bit about maps. So, just like any image, when you come across a
map, review its context. Maybe it's fully discussed in the text. And again, just like graphs,
just like any image, not all maps require a long description. But if it does, in the alt text,
you'll include the name and the title of the map and maybe a description of the legend
depending... Maps can become quickly overwhelming. So, describe it in a really structured
way, like maybe by quadrants, top left, top right, by compass directions. This makes a lot of
sense for maps, northeast, northwest, etc. If it's really detailed, maybe use the hours of a
clock face to kind of describe it. I didn't get a map description example in here today because
it's a lot to cover, but I did link to the diagram centre, which has examples. You can grab that
from the slides. Natalie, sorry, I didn't send that link to you. But if you Google diagram
centre image description, that'll get you there.
Next one I wanted to talk about was diagrams. So, just like always, when you come across a
diagram, when you come across a complex image, review its context. If it's fully discussed in
the text, maybe it won't need that long description. But if it does, describe it systematically.
Use lists and headings and subheadings and any structure that you can use that makes sense
is going to be helpful. So, I have an example here of a diagram. It's eight steps for hand
washing. And I thought this is kind of a perfect situation to maybe pull in our old friend,
ChatGPT, and see what it does with it. So, I just put it in and I asked it to describe and it
gave a decent description. Part of the reason... So, before I talk about what it fed me back,
part of the reason I was like, "I need ChatGPT here," was because in the bottom left or, like,
around the 7:00 position, there is an image of two hands kind of interlocking. I really thought
to myself, "I don't know how to begin to describe that. So, maybe ChatGPT will do a better
job," because sometimes if something... Something like that, I just can't physically wrap my
mind around how to describe that to a person. So, that's something to take into consideration
when you ask ChatGPT to help.
But I thought it was interesting. So, it did give back reasonable instructions, shows a series of
steps for hand hygiene. Steps include apply soap, rub palms together, rub the back of each
hand with other fingers interlaced. So, it gives good details for each one. It missed some
things though. Like number one, it said apply soap, but it doesn't say apply soap with your
elbow, to dispense the soap with your elbow, which is really what's being demonstrated in
that picture. I think they missed some things. There's an image of a clock indicating the
process should take a certain amount of time. Well, it's telling us 30 seconds, like half of a
one-minute clock face is green. So, we know that it's 30 seconds, but the computer couldn't
get that. It's saying a thumbs-up symbol for the correct method. It's actually just kind of a
random thumbs-up symbol. And a no symbol for incorrect methods, specifically showing not
to skip any steps or wash inadequately. But actually what it's showing you is not to touch the
tap with your hand and not to wear rings when you're doing this. So, it's not perfect, but it is
a good first step. And that's definitely something you could turn to ChatGPT for. Diagrams
are complicated. But whether you're doing it yourself or enlisting AI, just do it step by step
and use lists, and use headings, and use structure. And that's really the heart of things.
So, in my previous presentation, I talked all about collaborating with colleagues, with
authors, with AI, etc. And I don't have too much to add to that. But nevertheless, I just am
going to advise a bit of caution. So, we saw about specifically AI and about your colleagues.
You all need to edit...everyone needs to edit any image descriptions that are going out,
whether it's written by a person or AI. But AI takes special care. It makes mistakes, and these
are not mistakes you want to share in the books. And another reason I want to caution... And
I know I used the ChatGPT in this, but I did use it sparingly because I don't feel great about
the environmental impact. And I know it's not my place to advise on this, but in case you
haven't heard, I just wanted to share... I just want you to be mindful. This is an article from
the New York Times. There's a fundamental mismatch between the technology and its
environmental sustainability currently. And then the CEO of OpenAI says basically he
doesn't see how the needs could be met without a breakthrough, like fusion or radically
cheaper solar plus storage or something at a massive scale, like a scale that no one is really
planning for. So, if you're going to use it, be really mindful. Maybe think about incorporating
carbon offset things and don't just go crazy with it testing. I know image description is hard,
but if you have the capacity at all to do it with people in-house—not with your publishers,
you are publishers—with authors, please try and do that. Okay, so that's my little cry there.
And collaborating with people, that's great. Definitely give that a shot. One thing I talked
about last time was having a set of in-house guidelines that you would share with people on
your team and with authors. And I am working on that. I hope to have it done in time for this
presentation, but unfortunately, I didn't quite pull it together. It's about half done, but I still
plan to finish it. So, if you want a copy, then email me leah.brochu@gov.ab.ca. And when I
get that finished up, I will be happy to share it with you. It's going to be incomplete. It's not
going to be full of great descriptions. It's just going to be like an example, and it'll talk a little
bit about putting these guidelines into practice, a little bit about the techniques, as well as a
little bit about something I didn't cover today, which is inclusion and cultural sensitivity,
which is another complicated thing to take into consideration and talk about.
So, I think that's it for me today. I've got a few minutes for questions. I had a little... Maybe if
nobody has any questions, we'll do a little practice image description. But you know what?
I'm going to say I can take questions now. And if we don't have time for these interactive
things, you can just practise image description in your own time. But, yes, I'll turn on my
video. And if anyone has... I think there's probably some questions, but maybe someone can
point them to me.
Shuvanjan: Thank you, Leah. That was incredibly insightful. I'm sure everyone here found it
as helpful as I did. I definitely learnt a lot of new things. We do have some attendees'
questions. I'll start with the first one. And the question reads, "If I'm inviting people to an
event via social media, I give all of the information in text, like place, date, and time. If the
image I am describing is the event invitation, I assume all I need to indicate is event
invitation. Is that correct or is that a best practice?"
Leah: Yeah, that's pretty much correct. I think you could consider it a best practice. But I
think one thing to keep in mind is to make sure that the person knows that all the information
has been shared with them. So, maybe say event information in the alt text and then say all
info provided below kind of thing so that someone isn't like, "Well, what am I missing? What
other information is in this picture?" Because a lot of time we do put information in a picture.
So, yeah, just indicate in some way so that a screen reader knows they're getting all that
information.
Shuvanjan: Amazing. Thank you for that. Our second question reads, "Most of what I have
to describe are headshots. Any tips on describing people? I always struggle with how much
detail to include, eye colour, which isn't always apparent in low resolution, hair colour,
hairstyles, and how to describe ethnic hairstyles accurately. How much detail to add about
skin tone and features, manners of dress, and how many accessories that the subject is
wearing are important to include, whether the person is wearing makeup or not?"
Leah: I'm going to be a little bit... I'm going to cheat here and say that's, like, an in-house
guideline you might want to kind of develop for yourself. You probably want them to be
standardised, but how much depth you want to go into is so dependent on the context and in
this case, not the context of the book but the context of the situation. When I'm doing author
photos, I was always pretty loose with it. I did say middle-aged or young adults, but a lot of
the time, I just went with the simple description. They've got glasses, they've got dark hair.
And I think one important thing is, especially if it's a headshot or if it's like an author photo,
one thing I tried to focus in on was the vibe they were putting out. So, a lot of times maybe
they're being silly in the picture or maybe they're being really serious in the picture. Try to
get at a little bit of who the person is and what they're saying about themselves with how
much accessories they're wearing, something like that. I hope that's a tiny bit helpful. It's not
simple, but yeah, I think developing some guidelines for yourself and try to capture that vibe
in the best way you can is what you're wanting to go for.
Shuvanjan: Thank you. Yes, I do agree. Guidelines are always very important. Our third
question, and this is something I'm interested in myself. Are there any resources for how to
write long descriptions for sheet music?
Leah: Oh, I feel like I don't know of any. I know that there is sheet music code. I can't
remember what it's called. Is Riane LaPaire here? If that person wants to email me,
leah.brochu@gov.ab.ca, I can get back to you. Yeah, I don't know about... I know a person
who works with accessibility who also is a musician, so she'll know but I don't know.
Shuvanjan: Thank you, Leah. Our next question, would you recommend using AI as a
starting point with human interaction or should it only be used if the writer has a hard time
writing the caption?
Leah: I would definitely say only use it if you're having a hard time. Be mindful of that
environmental impact and also be mindful... Especially if you're new to image description, it
is a skill. It's an art and not a science and it's a skill that you can work on and that you will
improve at and that you will get faster at. So, I would say work on it. And if you're having a
really hard time, then see what the old computer has to say.
Shuvanjan: Thank you. And now for our next question, are there any pros about putting alt
text in the metadata of an image? Sigil will now add such info into the alt text in the EPUB.
Leah: I don't have the answer to that question. I don't know about that at all and I'm sorry.
Things are going to happen so fast in EPUB, whereas now I'm working on government
documents and PDFs and stuff right now, so I don't know and I'm sorry. Maybe tweet Laura
Brady.
Shuvanjan: And for our next question, for long description, "Leah mentioned a data table
might be necessary and wondered what that is."
Leah: A data table, I should just say table. It's a table with data in it, you know, column, like
year, amount of money with all the cells. It's just a table full of data.
Shuvanjan: Thank you. And for our next question, does alt text have to include punctuation?
Leah: Yes, I mean, it definitely should. It should be grammatically correct sentences. The
screen reader will be able to navigate that better. If it's a single sentence, you know, I guess
you wouldn't need a period at the end, but yeah, it's read as text.
Shuvanjan: How does writing image descriptions for children differ from writing them for
adults?
Leah: That's an interesting question. That's kind of hard to address. I mean, I think you just
have to play with it and see how it's different. I think especially in a children's book, like
there's often going to be a lot more whimsy. So, maybe you want something lighter and more
flowy that really goes with the text. Whereas, you know, if you have a memoir and there's a
picture of a person like accepting an award, like that will be dull. So, I mean, not to say that
grownups are more boring than kids and the kids are way more fun. But I think, yeah, it's a
different approach. And that is just like being mindful of that context and that audience
because you don't want to have like really clinical descriptions of things for kids. Otherwise,
it'll take them right out of it. And you don't want to have, like, two silly descriptions for
adults because if it's not a silly book, then they're not going to like that either. So, yeah, it's
really just about the context and the audience.
Shuvanjan: Amazing. Thank you for that. You mentioned that while describing panels in
graphic novel to use present simple tense. Besides that advice, are there other advice that you
would share with our attendees who are working on writing alt text for multiple panels in a
comic book?
Leah: My best, hottest tip is to read the Literary Image Description Guide. It's on the APLN
website, that's in the resources. They have a whole guide and it's basically just about that. It
covers some children's books too, but there's graphic novel stuff in there. So, I'm not going to
try to say anything in one minute. Yeah, Natalie put that in the chat. Thank you so much. So,
there's a link to the resource guide called the Literary Image Description. And it is precisely
like...yeah, graphic novels are covered in there. Oh, I think you're muted.
Shuvanjan: Thank you. And for our last question, what do you put in the code for alt text
when the image is decorative? Do you just leave it blank?
Leah: Yes, with nothing between the quotation marks. So, a decorative image in the alt text
goes alt="" with nothing between those two quotes. And if you want to add an aria role of
presentation, you can do that as well. It kind of just doubly tells the programme that it's a
decorative image. But the important thing is having alt="" so there's nothing between those
quotes.
Shuvanjan: Thank you. And I think that will be all for all of our questions. Thank you so
much, Leah, for joining us today. Before we go, we'd love it if you could provide feedback
on this session. We'll drop a link to the survey in the chat. Please take a couple of minutes to
fill it out. We'll also be emailing you a link to a recording of the session as soon as it is
available. To our attendees, we invite you to join our upcoming session, Applying AI to
Publishing: A Balanced and Ethical Approach scheduled for September 10. Find information
about all upcoming events and recordings of previous sessions on our website,
bnctechforum.ca. Lastly, we'd like to thank the Department of Canadian Heritage for their
support through the Canada Book Fund. And thanks to all of you for attending.
Leah: Thank you.

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Transcript: Details of description part II: Describing images in practice - Tech Forum 2024

  • 1. Shuvanjan Karmaker: Hello, everyone. Thank you for joining us for today's Tech Forum session. I'm Shuvanjan Karmaker, Product Coordinator at BookNet Canada. Welcome to Details of Description Part Two: Describing Images in Practice. Before we get started, BookNet Canada acknowledges that its operations are remote, and our colleagues contribute their work from the traditional territories of the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishinaabe, the Haudenosaunee, the Wyandot, the Mi'kmaq, the Ojibwa of Fort William First Nation, the Three Fires Confederacy of First Nations, which includes the Ojibwa, the Odawa, and the Potawatomie, and the Métis, the original nations and people of the lands we now call Beeton, Brampton, Guelph, Halifax, Thunder Bay, Toronto, Vaughan, and Windsor. We encourage you to visit the native-land.ca website to learn more about the peoples whose lands you are joining from today. Moreover, BookNet Canada endorses the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and supports an ongoing shift from gatekeeping to space-making in the book industry. The book industry has long been an industry of gatekeeping. Anyone who works at any stage of the book supply chain carries a responsibility to serve readers by publishing, promoting, and supplying works that represent the wide extent of human experiences and identities and its complicated intersections. We at BookNet are committed to working with our partners in the industry as we move towards a framework that supports space-making, which ensures that marginalised creators and professionals all have the opportunity to contribute, work, and lead. In the spirit of that acknowledgement, I confirm BookNet's and my own responsibility to mend the sacred hoop with Canada's Indigenous peoples, to be an ally to all Black, Indigenous and people of colour and to unite and work alongside one another. For our webinar today, if you are having difficulties with Zoom or have any tech-related questions, please put your questions in the chat or you can email techforum@booknetcanada.ca. We are providing live ASL and closed captioning for this presentation. To see the captions, please find the Show Captions button in the Zoom menu at the end of your screen. If during the presentation, you have questions for us, please use the Q&A panel found in the bottom of the menu. Lastly, we'd like to remind attendees of the Code of Conduct. Please be kind, be inclusive, be respectful of others, including of their privacy, beware of your words and actions, and please report any violations to techforum@booknetcanada.ca. Do not harass speakers, hosts or attendees or record these sessions. We have a zero-tolerance policy. You can find the entire Code of Conduct at bnctechforum.ca/code-off-conduct. And now, let me introduce our speaker. Leah Brochu is an accessibility advisor and document analyst with the public library services branch at the Government of Alberta and a passionate advocate for accessibility and inclusive design. Previously, Leah worked for the National Network of Equitable Library Service, first as a production assistant, then as a project assistant, and finally as the accessible publishing and resource coordinator. With a background in library and information science and classical studies, Leah combines her love
  • 2. of books with technology and works to ensure that everyone can read what they want when they want in the way they need. Leah, thank you for joining us and over to you. Leah Brochu: Thank you, Shuvanjan, and everyone at BookNet, and the interpreters, and the captioners. Thanks, everyone, for working on this and thanks, everyone, who is attending today. Yeah, I'm going to dive right in. I'm Leah. Maybe we've met, maybe we haven't, but I think my bio covered it and I've got a lot to cover, so let's dive in. So, today I'm doing Details of Description Part 2, kind of a follow-up to the last presentation where I talked about involving collaborators and working with the team. And today it's going to be a little bit more practical going back to the guidelines, which I didn't really cover in that presentation just talking about real image descriptions. So, I'm going to try to dive in. Come on. Yeah. So, today we're going to talk about the guidelines. We'll talk about some techniques. We'll talk a little bit about collaborating, but you can really look at the first presentation for that and then I've got a slide with a few resources on it. So, starting off with the guidelines, maybe you're familiar with them, maybe not, but hopefully in the way I talk about it, you'll learn something new. We've got, I think, nine here, and we're going to go through each of them starting with decorative images don't need to be described. So, the first thing you always want to do before you write that image description is decide whether or not it needs a description. Is it decorative or non-decorative? So, you want to ask yourself when you first face an image, is it important? Is it meaningful to the narrative or the content? What's the likelihood of it being discussed by readers? I'm going to turn my video off because it doesn't need to be on. And if left undescribed, would it have a negative impact on the reader's experience? So, as promised, this is the in-practice seminar, so let's look at some examples that I've got here. This first one, so I took a picture of a page from a book. It's Chapter 9 from the "Odyssey" titled In the One-Eyed Giant's Cave. And in the top right corner, there's a little graphic of two dolphins, and that's on the start of every single chapter. So, when you come across an image like this, go to those questions. So, number one, is it important or meaningful to the narrative or the content? No. If this was a chapter about dolphins, maybe. There is dolphins in the Odyssey, but this is the same image on every single chapter, so it's not important. What's the likelihood of it being discussed by readers? Almost nil. Not totally nil but pretty close. It's not very exciting. And the last one, if left undescribed, would it have a negative impact on the reader's experience? Likely not. So, this is one you could technically mark it as decorative. If you felt different, if you wanted to mark it up, to give it a description and call it non-decorative, you could do a graphic of two dolphins jumping. That's not going to be a problem for anyone. And at the same time, marking it as decorative will also not be a problem. So, it's always a little bit grey area sometimes. But my next image here, I have a page from a book called "Worms Eat My Garbage." It's a composting book. And this is a list of food waste fed to worms. So, on this list, there's apples, bananas, cake, pears, etc. And then on either side of that list, there's images of the
  • 3. food. There's apples, bananas, cake, pears, the same things. So, is that important to the content? Nope. What's the likelihood of it being discussed by readers? Again, pretty much nil. If left undescribed, would it have a negative impact on the reader's experience? Nope. It would probably be annoying for a screen reader user to hear apple, apple, pear, pear, banana, banana. So, that one is something that you probably are going to consider decorative when you look at it. And finally, I've got one more picture from "Worms Eat My Garbage." It's a page early on in the book, What to Call Your Setup. The text on this page is illegible, but it's just about your setup. And then on the second page, there's quite a large drawing of a cute little worm wrapped around an apple core. So, is this important to the narrative or the content? You know what? It seems like at a glance, maybe it's decorative. But at the same time, it is kind of meaningful to the content because it lends to the vibe of the book, this happy little worm. Throughout, it's cutesy. So, if you're not describing this happy little worm, the person reading it with a screen reader is not getting the same book as a person who's getting to flip through and look at all these cute images. So, yeah, if left undescribed, it would have, kind of, a negative impact on the reader's experience. Everyone needs to know about the smiling worm, even though you could maybe consider that decorative. So, I hope that lends a little clarity to the difference between decorative and non-decorative. One thing that I thought of, so at the government where I work now, you know, we have a visual identity and a lot of the documents, the template we have has a little blue bar in the top left. That's decorative because it is just a small blue rectangle. And one way I thought of it is, you know what, if that's given a description, small blue rectangle, that's going to be a little bit more confusing than useful to the screen reader user. Like, it's like, why is there a small blue rectangle? It doesn't lend anything. You know, if we had it as maybe like small blue rectangle that's on many documents and lends itself to the visual identity of the government of Alberta, something like that, but you wouldn't do that. It would just be a little bit confusing. The next guideline we love is context is key. So, you always want to take context into consideration. The context of an image is going to give you clues around what to focus on because you don't need to describe every single detail in most cases. You know, a picture might be worth a thousand words, but you don't want a thousand words in the alt text. And the context will help you, kind of, avoid unnecessarily repeating details that you find in the context. So, I've got an image here. This is from "The Roman Soldier's (Unofficial) Manual." So, it looks like... I mean, it kind of looks like some food in some containers. I really didn't have a good gauge on it when I first came across it. But, you know, then I examined the context and we've got a caption on the following page. They're just helpful. But without that context, I might have said something like a drawing of a few clay containers, a pot with a handle, some vegetables, and a large round object with a post. And that wouldn't be helpful to the reader. But when we have this caption, "Mess rations for one squad. On campaign the unit has a small grinder for corn," oh, that's what that is, "but in a hurry the corn can be boiled and eaten directly. Fresh vegetables are welcome, and any country boy in the squad knows how to set snares for a bit of wile hare to go with the meal..." So, with that information, with that context, you know, I was able to come up with a better description, something like a drawing
  • 4. of mess rations, including a clay jar of corn, a round grinder, a pot with a handle, two other clay jars, and some vegetables. So, that's just one quick example. Looking at the context is going to really inform so much, which kind of leads into the next guideline, which is consider the audience, which is basically deeply a part of the context, but we like to pull it out and have it be its own guideline. So, the audience is part of the context. Images might need to be described differently depending on whether they're written for a child or for an adult or maybe for a PhD student. And 99% of the time, you're going to be able to use the language, the tone and the voice of a book to help you inform the tone and voice of your description, because that's going to be how the author is talking to the audience is kind of how you want to talk to the audience through these image descriptions if you're writing them in-house, if you're not the author. Maybe there's authors here today. And then you don't need to know this. Of course, you'll already be writing for the audience in the image descriptions as well as in the text. Sometimes when you're thinking about audience, you might have a hard time with post-secondary or maybe even secondary level, like, textbooks. So, you might need to kind of draw on subject matter specialists. And again, that's just being considerate of the audience and the information in the book. This next guideline is about writing clearly structured descriptions. I'm going to go a little bit into depth here because organising them is pretty important. Broadly the way to think about it is work from the general to the specific. So, consider that context, the reason for the picture being there, and this will inform the structure. So, think about the kind of the big picture and then you want to hone in on any key details. This necessarily... Like, I'm going to talk about being objective in a bit, but writing a structured description or writing description, it's always going to be subjective. What stands out to you in an image won't necessarily be what stands out to me. And of course, the context in the book itself will be a huge factor. But nevertheless, it's important to have that general structure starting with the big picture and working your way down. So, I have an image on this slide. That's the flowers of Elagabalus. He's a Roman emperor who is said to have had flowers drop from the ceiling, so many that his guests maybe drowned in flowers. Nobody in this image is drowning in flowers. They are covered in flowers. They are blanketed in flowers. Nobody's drowning. It's a very pretty image of lots and lots of pink flower petals and Roman diners. So, one way you might, kind of, structure the description could be seven people recline around a table on a marble stage among broad marble columns. Behind them, there's a statue of an adult, a child, and a dog. The room is in the open air and past them hills and mountains are visible. The reclining diners look out toward the floor in front of them, which has people lying on cushions looking this way and that as thousands of pink petals blanket them. But But this isn't ideal. I didn't start with the big picture. I started with the details. And as you maybe felt when I read that, it somewhat takes away from the impact of the photo as I didn't describe, kind of, the crux first and foremost. So, a better structured description might be a group of Romans dine at a banquet, some at a table on a raised platform and some on the floor before them. The diners on the floor are being blanketed in thousands of pink petals that float down from above. So, from here, you can get more detailed if you need to depending on the context, you know, like the diners on the platform look down on the guests
  • 5. who are barely visible among the petals. The room is open to the air, and there's hills and mountains, that kind of thing. But you want to, you know, kind of start with there's diners and they're getting covered in flower petals. You don't want to start with the full setting. So, that's structuring a description working from big to small. Next is to be or to try to be concise. So, let's talk about this a little bit. So, one of the benefits of paying attention to the context is that it will help you be concise. Like, in the image we were just discussing, I could have gone on and on and, you know, maybe if this was an art book with a section on this painting or a museum guide, that would have been appropriate. But in general, we want alt text to be short and sweet or shortish and sweetish. A note on being concise before we get too far, a technical note I want to add is there's not too many places out there with character with short character limits despite reading here and there that they exist. Like, I've heard that, you know, Facebook and Instagram have, like, 125 character limits, but I haven't experienced this and I tested it. You know, I typed far more than 125 characters into the alt text for Facebook and Instagram, and it just kept letting me type. So, I wouldn't, you know, shoot for a thousand, but you can be more than 125. So, I know that kind of trips some people up to get it that short, and in alt text in an EPUB and in most of the alt text in, you know, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, I'm not coming across that. I think Twitter has a thousand-character limit. I think that's the one I have seen, which is much more than 125. So, yeah, we're not... No, sorry, wrong point. So, I just wanted to mention that. So, that all said, you know, you don't want to be going on and on describing every detail in a particular image, you know, unless it's a museum guide or something. Not only is this difficult for the person who's writing the description, it can also be distracting for the reader or, you know, at worst it can lead to cognitive overload, which is when a task demands more processing capacity than the capacity our cognitive system has. When that happens, we experience cognitive overload. So, to avoid crafting descriptions that might excessively contribute to cognitive load, which can lead to cognitive overload, I just wanted to share a few tips for preventing cognitive overload, which really neatly tie into image description work. So, number one, explain core concepts first, right? Big picture before small picture. Eliminate unnecessary information. Don't go into too much detail. Draw attention to the most important elements. You know, that one speaks for itself. And use simple and straightforward language. And again, that part speaks for itself. So, a rule of thumb is that alt text should not be more than a few sentences. If you need it to be longer, then you'll want to use a long description. And I'm going to come back to long descriptions in the technique section. But in short, if you need multiple paragraphs or lists, or you want to use headings for structure, you'll want to use long description. Alt text is read as a single string of text, and it's not easy to navigate, you know, with a screen reader, with assistive technology. So, it should just be a few sentences. When you need structure, that's when you turn to long description. And in general, the point of this slide is to be concise. Was I concise on this slide? No. Don't follow my lead. Okay, the next guideline that's important to share is about using the present simple tense. So, you want to use present tense and action verbs, active verbs. It's pretty straightforward. Using the present tense and action verbs will help you be concise and clear. So, let's take a look at two approaches to describe this image here, which is a panel from a Spider-Man comic. So,
  • 6. in the present, and I actually taught myself a little bit about grammar when I was working on this, what I have seen a lot is the present continuous tense. For some reason, it just kind of seems natural when you're writing, but then when you read it back, it doesn't seem great for an image description. So, the present continuous tense description of this panel from the comic is "a few minutes later" Peter Parker is looking up at a wrestling ring where a bald, muscular man in briefs is holding a slightly smaller, but still muscular, man in the air over his head. Peter is stroking his chin and thinking "Hmmm... this will be a good chance to test my power again!" A large sign by the ring reads "$100 to the man who can stay in the ring three minutes with Crusher Hogan!" A crowd of people is excitedly watching the wrestlers." So, maybe you did, maybe you didn't get the feeling that this was a little clunky, you know, grammatically. So, let's hear the present simple approach. Let's smooth that over. I'm just going to read this one as well. "A few minutes later" Peter Parker comes upon a wrestling match where a bald, muscular man in briefs holds a slightly smaller, but still muscular, man in the air over his head. Peter strokes his chin and thinks "Hmmm... this will be a good chance to test my power again!" A large sign offers "$100 to the man who can stay in the ring three minutes with Crusher Hogan!" A crowd excitedly watches the wrestlers. So, I mean, for me, that reads as much smoother, so we're probably on the same page there. I was going to say next objective. No, next guideline is to be objective. So, I'm sure you've heard this again and again. Be objective. Don't let your personal opinion colour the description of the image. Don't editorialise. But I'm going to add a layer to that today. You also don't want to be so obtuse that you distract from the image's intent. So, for an example, in this image, we have a little comic here. Well, let's hear the objective description first that I got ChatGPT to help me with a little bit because I thought, "I bet ChatGPT is pretty objective," and they were overly so. So, it wrote, "This image is a comic panel. It shows a playground slide with a spider web constructed at the bottom. Two spiders on the side of the slide are looking at the web. The caption at the bottom of the image reads, 'If we pull this off, we'll eat like kings.' The scene humorously suggests that the spiders plan to catch something big enough in their web to provide a feast." So, when you describe it so objectively, so much so that you just say humorously suggests, really kind of taking away from the reader's ability to get the punchline on their own. So, you would want to be a little bit more human about it. So, I wrote, in a black and white cartoon drawing, two spiders sit... I have a typo there. Sorry. But, yeah, two spiders sit near the bottom of a playground slide where they've constructed a large spider web. One says to the other, "If we pull this off, we'll eat like kings." So, that's letting the punchline do the work instead of adding some objectivity at the end. I have a second example here, objectivity elsewhere. This is a picture from a book, "The Book of Hallowe'en" from Public Domain. So, I have got two descriptions here. I'll read these ones out. So, this one is, I think, a little bit overly objective. So, this image is a black and white photograph titled "In Halloween Time." It shows a rural scene with several stacks of harvested crops, likely corn stalks, arranged in tepee-like formations in a field. In the background, there is a wooden building, possibly a barn, and several leafless trees, suggesting an autumn setting. The scene evokes a rustic seasonal atmosphere typical of Halloween time in the countryside.
  • 7. So, I found some issues with this. The description is going to be a lot smoother. I think it's okay to say that that building in the background is a barn. It is definitely a barn. And the leafless trees and the harvested things, it's not just suggesting an autumn setting. Like, it is fall, and it's from "The Book of Hallowe'en," so we know it's Halloween. We know it's October. So, I did a little editing, a little writing on my own, and I really cut that description around in half and said, "A sepia-toned photo titled 'In Halloween Time.' Bunches of harvested corn stalks are arranged into tepee-like shapes set in a field in front of a barn. The drying vegetation and leafless trees in the background make for an eerie scene." So, saying it's an eerie scene is not really objective, but it's not problematic. That's what they're going for, so I think it's okay to kind of smooth out the description by just throwing something like that in there, like saying it's an eerie scene. It's okay. The next guideline is about censorship. You probably have also heard, censorship, don't do it. You of course don't have to go into graphic detail, but if you're describing images from the Kama Sutra, you'd want to be detailed in order to ensure that the reader gets all the necessary information. Or on the less fun side of things, if you have a first aid handbook or something, there's likely going to be images and a discussion of wounds and subcutaneous fat. These need accurate descriptions so all readers have the same information. While something might be described in the text, the image reiterates the discussion, aiding learning. So, this iterative process is useful to everyone, even those who aren't accessing the images visually. So, you got to describe it. And if you can't, you got to ask someone else because all readers deserve the same experience. I didn't pull a real example here, but I thought I'd pull up kind of a historical equivalent. So, in 1910, the opera Salome came to London and in it, Salome, the main character, she... Well, John the Baptist's head, his cut-off head has a big role. I think she maybe smooches it at some point. But in 1910 London, the censor wouldn't allow the head to be present. And just like censoring image descriptions, this would lead to an incomplete understanding of the text of the work. So, just pictured here, I have an image from a newspaper, like a political comic, where the text reads, "Salome without the Baptist's head." And in the picture, Salome is holding an empty platter, which is the vessel she generally carries the head on. And just for demonstration and interest, I've also included an image of a photo of actress Gertrude Hoffmann dressed as Salome in scarves and chains. And she has a disembodied head with a big long beard and lots of hair, John the Baptist at her feet, and she reaches toward him. The next guideline we have is about text in images. So, text within images needs to be written out. Again, all readers need the same experience. All readers must be able to receive the same information. This is part of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. So, if the image has legible text that you expect sighted readers to read, it needs to be available to assistive technology as well. I think, in my work at NELS, the most common thing that we saw this missing from was images of letters or forms that were included in books. But if it's an image of a letter, definitely you're expecting the reader to read it. So, it has to be included in the alt text, especially if it's a handwritten letter. Don't make a person who uses assistive technology trying to OCR that because it generally doesn't go well. So, we've got to give the text to them.
  • 8. So, I wanted to talk about it a little bit in-depth for a minute here, talking about whether or not the text is legible and how much to include. In these next few slides, I'll be using this image here, which just a quick description for accessibility. It's a vintage full-page ad for Camel cigarettes. It features a doctor answering the phone from bed saying, "I'll be right over." An extensive text throughout the page talks about how doctors who care about you also choose Camel cigarettes. So, I thought this would be an interesting one to see how ChatGPT dealt with it. And I'll share this description here and then we'll talk about it. So, ChatGPT said, "This image is a vintage advertisement for Camel cigarettes. The ad features a doctor in pajamas sitting up in bed talking on a phone with a look of concern on his face. Next to him on the nightstand are a lamp, an ashtray with a cigarette, a clock and other items. The text at the top left says, 'I'll be right over.' Below that it reads 24 hours a day your doctor is 'on duty guarding health, protecting and prolonging life.' This is followed by a passage emphasising the dedication of doctors to their patients. The main slogan in the middle of the ad states, 'More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarettes.' The text further claims that according to a recent nationwide survey, more doctors choose Camel cigarettes over other brands. At the bottom right, there's an image of a pack of Camel cigarettes with a smaller inset of a woman holding a cigarette. The ad includes text promoting the smoothness and taste of Camel cigarettes, appealing to both doctors and the general public." So, this is not bad. It doesn't include all of the text on the page, which to be fair, like in this version that people attending this session right now are seeing not legible, so it kind of makes sense. But it was legible in the version that I gave to ChatGPT. So, they kind of picked and choose, and it read it and developed its own description. But I think, you know, before I continue talking about text and images, I just want to flag something. Maybe you caught it, maybe you didn't. Like, ChatGPT makes mistakes. And I'm going to come back to this in a bit. But this is, you know, next to the doctor on the nightstand, there's a lamp and an ashtray with a cigarette, a clock and other items. So, what ChatGPT did there, I think, I guess, was see this pencil and thought, "Oh, given the context of the ad, that's going to be a cigarette," but it's not a cigarette. It's a pencil. That's not an ashtray. It's a pad of paper. So, if you're looking to ChatGPT, definitely be careful because it's going to make stuff up, and I've seen that more than once. And we'll see that again in a little bit. But nevertheless, especially for something like this, a complex ad, it can be kind of useful. So, that's the ChatGPT version with some mistakes. Interesting but not including all the information. So, here I pulled a human example, a human written example, me, I'm the human. And I did include all of the text on the document. I'm not going to read the whole thing. You know, if you get the slides, you want to read that, it's fine. It's just talks about doctors and how they're great and what do they smoke. And there's also something about the T-zone test will tell you if Camels are good for you. T is for taste and T for throat. So, if they taste good and they are smooth on your throat, then you want Camel cigarettes. I'm a pretty good salesperson for Camel cigarettes today. But this is what you would want, this full text, you know, in a linked long description if you had this much text in an image. So, I just wanted to demonstrate that. If the text was illegible, then you could shorten it up. I've got an example here that kind of... It's close to the ChatGPT's version because it just has the big text and the images discussed, but it has a little bit more than the ChatGPT said because we can
  • 9. read more like Camels, costlier tobaccos. and that kind of thing. And they hadn't included that. And that is my work on guidelines. So, yeah, and I kind of ChatGPT'd it up a little bit at the end there, but text and images needs to be included as long as it's legible is the big guideline takeaway there. Okay, so now I'm going to play with these guidelines a little bit. And I've got some techniques and approaches here. So, I invented these two titles of approaches that I'm going to talk about right now. So, this first one, when writing alt text, we've got the quick- glance approach. Simply, in this approach, you simply give the image and the context the briefest of glances after deciding whether or not it's decorative and then start jotting down an image description based on what stood out to you. Then, you would do a closer look at the image in the context and do your best to make sure you had written a concise and accurate description. And this approach might help you write descriptions a little more quickly, because you're not focusing, you know, so closely on the image giving yourself time to take in the potentially numerous distracting details before writing your description. So, as an example, I've got this image here. The caption is English ivy in a bottle. It's like a glass bottle terrarium. So, you know, in the quick-glance approach, I just took a quick glance at that, looked away, and wrote a quick description. A large spherical terrarium with English ivy inside. And then I went back to the image to see, is there anything else, you know, really important there? And I thought, you know what, maybe we'll add it's in a dark room and a lamp shines onto it. Just FYI, there's a lamp in the image. I took a picture of this page with my phone. It's glossy paper. So, there's actually a shine of light over where the lamp would be. But underneath that glare, there is a lamp. I'm not just making it up. So, that's one approach to description. And this is, you know, good for not too complicated images. Just take a quick glance, write something up, and then double-check with the image. The next approach I've titled the keep-on staring approach. So, this approach is what I think a lot of us do. I've done it, and I can't really recommend it, but for the sake of discussion, we'll talk through it. So, in this approach, you start the same way, determine if the image is decorative, think about the context in the audience, think about what stands out to you, and then get writing while continually looking back and forth between the image and your description, and then review the image and the context one more, edit down the description, and cut unneeded things. So, with that...you know, we're going to be still thinking about that same image. So, knowing myself, you know, I gave myself the time and space to consider this image and the context so closely. And this is what I ended up with. A large terrarium around 18 inches in diameter containing vines of English ivy. The clear glass of the bottle is foggy inside from the humidity within. The bottle stands in a darkened room. A small spiky plant stands behind it. And floral curtains are visible in the background. The curtains are drawn, and the room is dark, and the terrarium is lit by a single lamp. So, that's a lot of description, which is not necessarily a terrible thing if you have the time for it. But, you know, if you're depending on the context, of course, context, context, context, how in-depth you want the description to be is going to be a factor. And I think this is a little too much information for something that is not really important to the book. It's just a terrarium. So, if we took that description, you know, edited it down, we would maybe end up with something like a large spherical terrarium with vines of English ivy inside lit by a single
  • 10. lamp. Floral curtains are drawn and the room is dark other than a lamp light. So, maybe you'd end up with something like that. But probably it would take a lot longer to get there because you're trying not to miss everything. So, I like the quick-glance approach, and I highly recommend giving it a shot. And do try out different approaches that work for you. Now, this one I don't have really an example for. We've talked about it earlier in the presentation moments ago, the ChatGPT collaboration approach. So, again, decide if an image is decorative, think about the context in the audience, think about what stands out to you. Copy the image to an AI and tell it to describe the image and then use this as your starting point, review, edit, correct and refine with the AI return. So, you can definitely give that a shot. But now we're going to turn to talking about long descriptions a little bit and make sure I'm on time. Yes, it's pretty close. So, long descriptions are longer descriptions, multiple paragraphs, lists, tables, etc. that you include elsewhere in the book. Generally, you link out to them from somewhere below the image. In the alt text, you would give a really short description and say "follow link below for long description," that kind of thing. And then the person could read that there. So, long descriptions are used for things like graphs, maps and charts. So, I'm going to talk a little bit about each of those, so we maybe feel comfortable when we come across it. So, starting with graphs. How do we begin? Review the context of the graph. It could be fully described in the text. So, take a look. Because not all graphs are going to require a long description, especially if they're discussed in depth in the text. But if it does require a long description, in that long description, you'll want to provide the title of the graph, its purpose, the layout, and the information on the x and y axes. You can also provide an overview of the info shown on the graph. These things you can include in the alt text and then if more detail is needed for understanding, write that long description. It could break down all of the info presented by the graph or it could be provided, you know, maybe as a data table if appropriate. So, here, I wanted to share an example where you probably wouldn't need a linked long description. So, this is a graph displaying the observed and predicted Australian post-output value over time. And in the alt text, I've written, "Dot graph dispalying the observed and predicted values of the Australian Outpost from 1976 to 2002. The years are on the x axis, and total output value in millions of dollars is on the y axis, ranging from 400- 4000." And then I talk a little bit about the observed and predicted values, they're nearly identical, and the value increases steadily each year, from about 500 million in 1976 to 3.9 billion in 2002, at a rate of around 100 million per year. So, depending on the context, maybe it would require a long description if this was not well discussed in the text. And maybe if each data point was available to you, you could build a data table. But if this is just something that people are only expected to look at for a quick minute, then you can just have that kind of shorter description. But I have a complex graph here that I wanted to talk about as well. So, this one is kind of a chart, but charts are graphs. This is a pie chart. So, it can be here. So, looking at this causes of mortality in the army from 1854 and 1855, it's pretty clear that a long description is going to be needed because we're looking at pie charts with multiple sizes like heights of each piece of pie and there's multiple colours per piece of pie as well. So, for the alt text, I drafted, "Diagram of the causes of
  • 11. mortality in the army in the East from April 1854 to March 1855. Data is shown as a pie chart with wedges of different sizes and heights and multiple colours per wedge. Follow the link below the image for a long description." And then I gave a bit of a long description here. I'm not going to read it out, but it breaks down the colours of the wedges, what they mean. I included the text from the page. And this is a bit of an example of a long description and how you get to that with the alt text. Now I want to talk a little bit about maps. So, just like any image, when you come across a map, review its context. Maybe it's fully discussed in the text. And again, just like graphs, just like any image, not all maps require a long description. But if it does, in the alt text, you'll include the name and the title of the map and maybe a description of the legend depending... Maps can become quickly overwhelming. So, describe it in a really structured way, like maybe by quadrants, top left, top right, by compass directions. This makes a lot of sense for maps, northeast, northwest, etc. If it's really detailed, maybe use the hours of a clock face to kind of describe it. I didn't get a map description example in here today because it's a lot to cover, but I did link to the diagram centre, which has examples. You can grab that from the slides. Natalie, sorry, I didn't send that link to you. But if you Google diagram centre image description, that'll get you there. Next one I wanted to talk about was diagrams. So, just like always, when you come across a diagram, when you come across a complex image, review its context. If it's fully discussed in the text, maybe it won't need that long description. But if it does, describe it systematically. Use lists and headings and subheadings and any structure that you can use that makes sense is going to be helpful. So, I have an example here of a diagram. It's eight steps for hand washing. And I thought this is kind of a perfect situation to maybe pull in our old friend, ChatGPT, and see what it does with it. So, I just put it in and I asked it to describe and it gave a decent description. Part of the reason... So, before I talk about what it fed me back, part of the reason I was like, "I need ChatGPT here," was because in the bottom left or, like, around the 7:00 position, there is an image of two hands kind of interlocking. I really thought to myself, "I don't know how to begin to describe that. So, maybe ChatGPT will do a better job," because sometimes if something... Something like that, I just can't physically wrap my mind around how to describe that to a person. So, that's something to take into consideration when you ask ChatGPT to help. But I thought it was interesting. So, it did give back reasonable instructions, shows a series of steps for hand hygiene. Steps include apply soap, rub palms together, rub the back of each hand with other fingers interlaced. So, it gives good details for each one. It missed some things though. Like number one, it said apply soap, but it doesn't say apply soap with your elbow, to dispense the soap with your elbow, which is really what's being demonstrated in that picture. I think they missed some things. There's an image of a clock indicating the process should take a certain amount of time. Well, it's telling us 30 seconds, like half of a one-minute clock face is green. So, we know that it's 30 seconds, but the computer couldn't get that. It's saying a thumbs-up symbol for the correct method. It's actually just kind of a random thumbs-up symbol. And a no symbol for incorrect methods, specifically showing not to skip any steps or wash inadequately. But actually what it's showing you is not to touch the tap with your hand and not to wear rings when you're doing this. So, it's not perfect, but it is
  • 12. a good first step. And that's definitely something you could turn to ChatGPT for. Diagrams are complicated. But whether you're doing it yourself or enlisting AI, just do it step by step and use lists, and use headings, and use structure. And that's really the heart of things. So, in my previous presentation, I talked all about collaborating with colleagues, with authors, with AI, etc. And I don't have too much to add to that. But nevertheless, I just am going to advise a bit of caution. So, we saw about specifically AI and about your colleagues. You all need to edit...everyone needs to edit any image descriptions that are going out, whether it's written by a person or AI. But AI takes special care. It makes mistakes, and these are not mistakes you want to share in the books. And another reason I want to caution... And I know I used the ChatGPT in this, but I did use it sparingly because I don't feel great about the environmental impact. And I know it's not my place to advise on this, but in case you haven't heard, I just wanted to share... I just want you to be mindful. This is an article from the New York Times. There's a fundamental mismatch between the technology and its environmental sustainability currently. And then the CEO of OpenAI says basically he doesn't see how the needs could be met without a breakthrough, like fusion or radically cheaper solar plus storage or something at a massive scale, like a scale that no one is really planning for. So, if you're going to use it, be really mindful. Maybe think about incorporating carbon offset things and don't just go crazy with it testing. I know image description is hard, but if you have the capacity at all to do it with people in-house—not with your publishers, you are publishers—with authors, please try and do that. Okay, so that's my little cry there. And collaborating with people, that's great. Definitely give that a shot. One thing I talked about last time was having a set of in-house guidelines that you would share with people on your team and with authors. And I am working on that. I hope to have it done in time for this presentation, but unfortunately, I didn't quite pull it together. It's about half done, but I still plan to finish it. So, if you want a copy, then email me leah.brochu@gov.ab.ca. And when I get that finished up, I will be happy to share it with you. It's going to be incomplete. It's not going to be full of great descriptions. It's just going to be like an example, and it'll talk a little bit about putting these guidelines into practice, a little bit about the techniques, as well as a little bit about something I didn't cover today, which is inclusion and cultural sensitivity, which is another complicated thing to take into consideration and talk about. So, I think that's it for me today. I've got a few minutes for questions. I had a little... Maybe if nobody has any questions, we'll do a little practice image description. But you know what? I'm going to say I can take questions now. And if we don't have time for these interactive things, you can just practise image description in your own time. But, yes, I'll turn on my video. And if anyone has... I think there's probably some questions, but maybe someone can point them to me. Shuvanjan: Thank you, Leah. That was incredibly insightful. I'm sure everyone here found it as helpful as I did. I definitely learnt a lot of new things. We do have some attendees' questions. I'll start with the first one. And the question reads, "If I'm inviting people to an event via social media, I give all of the information in text, like place, date, and time. If the image I am describing is the event invitation, I assume all I need to indicate is event invitation. Is that correct or is that a best practice?"
  • 13. Leah: Yeah, that's pretty much correct. I think you could consider it a best practice. But I think one thing to keep in mind is to make sure that the person knows that all the information has been shared with them. So, maybe say event information in the alt text and then say all info provided below kind of thing so that someone isn't like, "Well, what am I missing? What other information is in this picture?" Because a lot of time we do put information in a picture. So, yeah, just indicate in some way so that a screen reader knows they're getting all that information. Shuvanjan: Amazing. Thank you for that. Our second question reads, "Most of what I have to describe are headshots. Any tips on describing people? I always struggle with how much detail to include, eye colour, which isn't always apparent in low resolution, hair colour, hairstyles, and how to describe ethnic hairstyles accurately. How much detail to add about skin tone and features, manners of dress, and how many accessories that the subject is wearing are important to include, whether the person is wearing makeup or not?" Leah: I'm going to be a little bit... I'm going to cheat here and say that's, like, an in-house guideline you might want to kind of develop for yourself. You probably want them to be standardised, but how much depth you want to go into is so dependent on the context and in this case, not the context of the book but the context of the situation. When I'm doing author photos, I was always pretty loose with it. I did say middle-aged or young adults, but a lot of the time, I just went with the simple description. They've got glasses, they've got dark hair. And I think one important thing is, especially if it's a headshot or if it's like an author photo, one thing I tried to focus in on was the vibe they were putting out. So, a lot of times maybe they're being silly in the picture or maybe they're being really serious in the picture. Try to get at a little bit of who the person is and what they're saying about themselves with how much accessories they're wearing, something like that. I hope that's a tiny bit helpful. It's not simple, but yeah, I think developing some guidelines for yourself and try to capture that vibe in the best way you can is what you're wanting to go for. Shuvanjan: Thank you. Yes, I do agree. Guidelines are always very important. Our third question, and this is something I'm interested in myself. Are there any resources for how to write long descriptions for sheet music? Leah: Oh, I feel like I don't know of any. I know that there is sheet music code. I can't remember what it's called. Is Riane LaPaire here? If that person wants to email me, leah.brochu@gov.ab.ca, I can get back to you. Yeah, I don't know about... I know a person who works with accessibility who also is a musician, so she'll know but I don't know. Shuvanjan: Thank you, Leah. Our next question, would you recommend using AI as a starting point with human interaction or should it only be used if the writer has a hard time writing the caption? Leah: I would definitely say only use it if you're having a hard time. Be mindful of that environmental impact and also be mindful... Especially if you're new to image description, it is a skill. It's an art and not a science and it's a skill that you can work on and that you will improve at and that you will get faster at. So, I would say work on it. And if you're having a really hard time, then see what the old computer has to say.
  • 14. Shuvanjan: Thank you. And now for our next question, are there any pros about putting alt text in the metadata of an image? Sigil will now add such info into the alt text in the EPUB. Leah: I don't have the answer to that question. I don't know about that at all and I'm sorry. Things are going to happen so fast in EPUB, whereas now I'm working on government documents and PDFs and stuff right now, so I don't know and I'm sorry. Maybe tweet Laura Brady. Shuvanjan: And for our next question, for long description, "Leah mentioned a data table might be necessary and wondered what that is." Leah: A data table, I should just say table. It's a table with data in it, you know, column, like year, amount of money with all the cells. It's just a table full of data. Shuvanjan: Thank you. And for our next question, does alt text have to include punctuation? Leah: Yes, I mean, it definitely should. It should be grammatically correct sentences. The screen reader will be able to navigate that better. If it's a single sentence, you know, I guess you wouldn't need a period at the end, but yeah, it's read as text. Shuvanjan: How does writing image descriptions for children differ from writing them for adults? Leah: That's an interesting question. That's kind of hard to address. I mean, I think you just have to play with it and see how it's different. I think especially in a children's book, like there's often going to be a lot more whimsy. So, maybe you want something lighter and more flowy that really goes with the text. Whereas, you know, if you have a memoir and there's a picture of a person like accepting an award, like that will be dull. So, I mean, not to say that grownups are more boring than kids and the kids are way more fun. But I think, yeah, it's a different approach. And that is just like being mindful of that context and that audience because you don't want to have like really clinical descriptions of things for kids. Otherwise, it'll take them right out of it. And you don't want to have, like, two silly descriptions for adults because if it's not a silly book, then they're not going to like that either. So, yeah, it's really just about the context and the audience. Shuvanjan: Amazing. Thank you for that. You mentioned that while describing panels in graphic novel to use present simple tense. Besides that advice, are there other advice that you would share with our attendees who are working on writing alt text for multiple panels in a comic book? Leah: My best, hottest tip is to read the Literary Image Description Guide. It's on the APLN website, that's in the resources. They have a whole guide and it's basically just about that. It covers some children's books too, but there's graphic novel stuff in there. So, I'm not going to try to say anything in one minute. Yeah, Natalie put that in the chat. Thank you so much. So, there's a link to the resource guide called the Literary Image Description. And it is precisely like...yeah, graphic novels are covered in there. Oh, I think you're muted. Shuvanjan: Thank you. And for our last question, what do you put in the code for alt text when the image is decorative? Do you just leave it blank?
  • 15. Leah: Yes, with nothing between the quotation marks. So, a decorative image in the alt text goes alt="" with nothing between those two quotes. And if you want to add an aria role of presentation, you can do that as well. It kind of just doubly tells the programme that it's a decorative image. But the important thing is having alt="" so there's nothing between those quotes. Shuvanjan: Thank you. And I think that will be all for all of our questions. Thank you so much, Leah, for joining us today. Before we go, we'd love it if you could provide feedback on this session. We'll drop a link to the survey in the chat. Please take a couple of minutes to fill it out. We'll also be emailing you a link to a recording of the session as soon as it is available. To our attendees, we invite you to join our upcoming session, Applying AI to Publishing: A Balanced and Ethical Approach scheduled for September 10. Find information about all upcoming events and recordings of previous sessions on our website, bnctechforum.ca. Lastly, we'd like to thank the Department of Canadian Heritage for their support through the Canada Book Fund. And thanks to all of you for attending. Leah: Thank you.