You’ve heard the term ‘alternative text’ (or ‘alt-text’, for short) in several of the episodes so far... and this episode is no different. You will soon hear from our incredible guest, Theresa Mabe, who will speak about all things accessibility for social media, including reasons why and how to be strategic in writing alt-text in your posts to social media. Theresa is both a visually impaired content creator, as well as a marketing professional, so she comes at accessible content creation from two very important and valuable angles. She is incredibly knowledgeable and articulate about digital accessibility. I am so excited for you to learn from her lived experiences and from her deep knowledge on the technical aspects of accessibility within social media platforms. (Also, she also hosts a podcast so she sounds like a dream!)
Just before we hear from Theresa, I’d like to start this episode by describing some of the technical aspects of writing alt-text. This information is outlined in further detail in the Association for Registered Graphic Designers’ AccessAbility 2: A Practical Handbook on Accessible Graphic Design. I highly recommend that you check it out if you’re just learning how to write effective alt-text.
Remember that alt-text is necessary for any non-text content (like images) on the web so that assistive technologies can translate the descriptions of what’s visible on screen into a format specific to the readers’ needs (like Braille or speech).
There are 10 tips for writing effective alt-text outlined in the handbook:
Alt-text should be functional, meaning that it should communicate something specific to the reader; the same message that the image is meant to convey. Alt-text should also be functional in the sense that if the image links the reader somewhere, the alt-text should tell them where the link will take them.
Alt-text should be relevant and consider the audience. This could mean describing an image (ex: alt-text for a company’s logo might describe in detail what the logo looks like, including colours or specific fonts used) or it could mean describing the communication intent less specifically (ex: alt-text for the same company’s logo might simply state the name of the company). Think about relevancy for the intended audience.
If there is embedded text inside of an image, the alt-text should include this embedded text. (Ex: If there is an image of a movie poster, the alt-text should include the name of the movie, which is undoubtedly featured in the image of the movie poster.)
The length of alt-text should be one or two sentences long and the sentences can (and should) be concise.
Structure alt-text so that it starts with a short description that can help the user decide whether or not they want to read the long description. In other words, don’t bury the lead and mention the most important information first. Sometimes digital platforms (like Educational Learning Management Systems or LMS) ask content creators to provide both short and longer-form alt-text and readers can decide which is most relevant to them.
Objectivity (versus subjectivity) is important in alt-text. Do your best to describe the image in a way that reserves your judgements and opinions. Users should be given the opportunity to make up their own minds about the content.
As with most writing, do your best to reduce redundancy when writing alt-text, keeping in mind the content that is presented to users in the main body of the text and/or social media post. Don’t include specific information that is communicated elsewhere.
Do not include unnecessary words. This includes starting alt-text with “image of” or “link to”, which simply adds clutter and doesn’t add to the users’ experience.
Maintain necessary words. If additional text will help clarify meaning and provide context, then yes, include them. The example that RGD provides drives home this point beautifully. For example a “Drawing of the Loch Ness Monster emerging from the water in daylight” is much different from a “Photograph of the Loch Ness Monster emerging from the water in daylight”. Add or keep text if it helps establish meaning.
Finally, finish your alt-text with a period. Don’t leave the reader hanging. Inserting appropriate punctuation helps provide a pause between elements on the page.
There you have it! 10 tips for writing effective alt-text.
Now on with the show! Theresa, please tell us about yourself and help us better understand the world of digital accessibility, specifically what’s happening with accessibility on social media.
Discussion of Spiderman Movie Trailer (from the episode): https://www.instagram.com/spidermanmovie/ - Watch trailer via Instagram in highlights to see dynamic captioning.
About Our Guest:
Theresa Mabe, CPACC (she/her) is a Baltimore-based, visually impaired higher ed marketing professional with a degree in digital media and web technology and is certified through the International Association of Accessibility Professionals. She works at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where she is a member of the UMBC Inclusion Council as well as the UMBC Digital Strategy team. Theresa is also the owner of Accessible Influence, where she provides resources and guides for content creators looking to improve accessibility in their work by reducing digital barriers to maximize their impact.
Music (public domain via Free Music Archive): Marcos H. Bolanos - Good Feeling
Talk Paper Scissors Theme Music: Retro Quirky Upbeat Funk by Lewis Sound Production via Audio Jungle
Episode Artwork: Canva (remixed by Diana Varma)