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Writing Great Alt Text

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One of the simplest ways to make information more accessible is to add alternative text (alt text for short). It’s brief descriptions of images for users who can’t see them. But what to write? This is a deep dive into writing alt text that is usable and useful. You’ll learn how the right words can make images speak clearly.

Updated for AccessU and AccessU Summit 2017

Published in: Design
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Writing Great Alt Text

  1. 1. Writing great alt text Whitney Quesenbery Center for Civic Design @civicdesign | @whitneyq | @awebforeveryone https://www.slideshare.net/whitneyq/writing-great-alt-text-61826426
  2. 2. The basics Alt means alternative
  3. 3. Alt text is... A principle of accessibility Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 Principle 1: Perceivable Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.
  4. 4. Alt text is... A requirement for accessibility Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 Guideline 1.1 Text Alternatives: Provide text alternatives for any non-text content so that it can be changed into other forms people need, such as large print, braille, speech, symbols or simpler language.
  5. 5. Alt text is... Code. Specifically, an attribute in the image element <img src="tickets.jpg" alt="#A11YSUMMIT. Buy tickets">
  6. 6. Alt text is... Part of appealing to all senses.  Images – alternative text  Video – captions and video descriptions action  Audio - transcripts An accessible UX principle: Accessible Media: Appeal to all Senses A Web for Everyone by Sarah Horton and Whitney Quesenbery http://rosenfeldmedia.com/books/a-web-for-everyone/
  7. 7. Because technology needs it Screen readers (and other assistive technology) can't interpret the meaning of the image without it. <img src="fb.jpg"> <img src="twitter.jpg"> <img src="li-logo-square.jpg"> <img src="g.jpg> <img src="btn1875412.jpg"
  8. 8. Because people need it  People who use screen readers and other AT  When images are missing or turned off  For translations Jacob Vishnu MariaTrevor Personas from A Web for Everyone by Sarah Horton and Whitney Quesenbery http://rosenfeldmedia.com/books/a-web-for-everyone/resources/
  9. 9. The problem Why are we (still) talking about alt text?
  10. 10. Alt text is invisible content  It's hard to tell if it's good or bad...or even it it's there.  Even bad alt text passes some accessibility checkers. Banner Ad <img src="banner-ad-176987362334876292.jpg" alt="banner-ad-176987362334876292.jpg">
  11. 11. The tools don't help They ask for the information at the wrong time, and in the wrong way. Or they are tedious. And repetitive.
  12. 12. Why isn't it an easy part of creating content?  See the alt text in context.  Have a sticky window where it's easy to edit at any time  More ideas? Jacob is working at a computer, using a Braille note keypad. He has earphones on listening to something, and has dark glasses. Trevor sits...
  13. 13. The usual rules A simple way to decide how to write alt text
  14. 14. The simplest guideline Start with this question: What information does this image add?  Does the page make sense without it?  What kind of information is it?
  15. 15. If the image contains <img src="useless image" alt="">  Text Repeat the words  Visual information Explain it  Sensory information Describe it  Nothing new Ignore it
  16. 16. A simple decision tree  What is the role of the image?  Decorative? Use null alt text or CSS  Sensory? Write a descriptive identificaation  Informative?  No new info? Use null alt text  Simple or a link? Write short alt text  Complex image? Create long text  Section of the same page  Linked page  Longdesc 4 Syllables - http://www.4syllables.com.au/2010/12/text-alternatives-decision-tree/
  17. 17. Or, a detailed analysis HTML5: Techniques for providing useful text alternatives (updated Sept 8, 2014) http://rawgit.com/w3c/alt-techniques/master/index.html
  18. 18. On the HTML5 standards horizon: <figure> and <figcaption>  Keeps the image, alt text, and caption together <figure><img src="castle-painting.jpg" alt="The castle now has two towers and two walls."> <figcaption>Oil-based paint on canvas. Eloisa Faulkner, 1756.</figcaption></figure> Example from: http://rawgit.com/w3c/alt-techniques/master/index.html#m6
  19. 19. A writer's approach Start with a content strategy
  20. 20. Know your audience  What knowledge or background do they have?  What terminology will they know? <img alt="Molecular structure of diethyl diazenedicarboxylate">
  21. 21. Context, not just rules  What is the reader's goal?  How does the image fit into the page?  What other information is around the image?
  22. 22. What is noise? What is important? 1. Icons for categories 2. Bookmark 3. Hero image 4. Title 5. Description
  23. 23. Create a consistent 'voice' Make the alt text part of the (stylistic) voice of the site, in how images are voiced (by assistive technology). Functional? Descriptive? Emotional?
  24. 24. Consider the fox What should the alt text for this image be? Image Credit: J. and K. Hollingsworth/USFWS
  25. 25. What if we see it on this page? The text on page shown in the image says Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) Description Red foxes are a rusty reddish color on the upper side of their body and tail. They have a white underside, chin and throat. Their tail is very bushy with a characteristic white tip, and they have prominent pointed ears. The backs of the ears, lower legs and feet are black. Other than the common rusty red, red foxes have three different color variations: a black phase where they are almost completely black, a silver phase in which they are black with silver-tipped hairs, and a "cross" phase where individuals are reddish brown with a dark cross across their shoulders. Adults typically stand 15 to 16 inches from the ground and are 35 to 41 inches in length. They can weigh between 8 and 15 pounds.
  26. 26. Examples...examples.. .and more examples
  27. 27. Get the basics right Repeat the text in the image. Alt text: “Webcast. Applying 21st Century Toxicology to Green Chemical and Material Design. September 20-21, 2011”
  28. 28. Don't create images of text Bonus: makes it more responsive, too
  29. 29. Identify the target of a link  Do these social media images go to the organizations' pages,  Or are they share links? Alt text: “UXPA group on Facebook” "@UXPA_Int on Twitter" "UXPA's LinkedIN profile"
  30. 30. Don't create noise When images are used like a bullet, they can have empty alt text. If they are clickable make them part of the text link.
  31. 31. Don't hide meaningful images Is a profile photo part of the content? <img alt="Photo of Caroline"> or <img alt="Caroline Jarrett">
  32. 32. Don't hide information in the alt text Caption: Red fox, credit: John & Karen Hollingsworth Alt text: Red Fox as Sachuest Point NWR. Credit J and K Hollingsworth
  33. 33. Captions & alt text work together The caption: “Figure 1. Meetings of the branch of UXPA China in Qingdao (photo by the author)” The alt text: “A small group of people around a table.”
  34. 34. Don't just repeat the same text Caption and alt text both say: Gerald Chan is an alumnus of the public health school, having earned master’s and doctorate degrees in the 1970s
  35. 35. Managing the punchline How do you manage content where the text and visuals work together to make a point readers can discover?
  36. 36. Managing the punchline  Page title: Rubes Cartoon: If you build it  Image and alt text: A cat teacher gives a presentation  Caption/description: “If you built it, they will come” A cat teacher gives a presentation, pointing to an illustration showing how to construct a birdhouse
  37. 37. Consider the surrounding text The caption: “Figure 1: The ABC of research methods” The alt text: “ABC diagram.” or "ABC diagram sketched on a chalkboard.” or “A diagram sketched on a chalkboard as a triangle. Top: Attitude. Right: Behavior. Left: Comprehension.
  38. 38. When the text is long... Put the text on the same page, and link to it. The alt text: “Two personas" The caption includes a link: “Read the text in this image” The text is in a box at the end of the article. The caption reads: Example snapshots of personas demonstrate Spanish-speaking users’ language needs and preferences, as well as medical literacy, web skills, and other relevant characteristics. Read the text in this image." The link points to a grey box below
  39. 39. When the information is in a chart... Combine the visual chart with a data table. The alt text: "Bar chart of data in table below" The title: "More Education Means More Money" http://www.careerinfonet.org/finaidadviso r/earnings.aspx?nodeid=21
  40. 40. Workflow Alt text is part of writing
  41. 41. How long should alt text be?  No more than a few words? (WebAIM)  5-15 words? (Many sources)  30-50 words (2-3 sentences)? (W3C Draft)
  42. 42. Keep it concise Focus on the important words (no prizes for writing long prose). Avoid noise words  "Image of.. "  "This is a..."
  43. 43. Be consistent Each image, each page, each section is all part of your site or app. Use the same approach everywhere, especially for functional elements:  Providing additional text  Locating explanatory text or data  Identifying figures in the text
  44. 44.  Write the text, caption, alt text together  Hiding the image in the manuscript makes it easier to visualize the flow of the words. This is the text in the image: ...mall, we realized that even everyday items such as clothing and shoes would also be bought in installments (see Figure 1). A light bulb went off for us—not only was it common to pay in installments, but it applied to items we did not expect, too. Alt text: Picture of shoes with installment pricing sign Figure 1. In a mall in Sao Paulo, our research team spotted more items sold in installments than we initially expected. Notice that the installment price is more visually prominent than the total price! Add alt text to the writing workflow
  45. 45. This is change!  Admit it  Embrace it  Set a reasonable pace Rome wasn't built in a day (but if you don't start, you never get there)
  46. 46. Make the web a better place. Write some (great) alt text today! Every time you do, an accessibility fairy gets their wings.
  47. 47. Storytelling for User Experience with Kevin Brooks Global UX with Daniel Szuc A Web for Everyone with Sarah Horton http://rosenfeldmedia.com/books/a-web-for-everyone/
  48. 48. Get in touch! Whitney Quesenbery whitneyq@civicdesign.org @whitneyq http://civicdesign.org @civicdesign
  49. 49. Thank you.

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