November 2, 2023
Imagine scrolling through social media and coming across a post with an image you can’t see. You can try to understand the photo based on the post or caption. But if there is no post or caption, only a photo, you won’t know what is in the image. This can leave you feeling isolated and out of the loop online. This happens often to people who are blind or visually impaired.
What is Alt Text?
Alt text (also called alternative text) is a short description of an image. It helps people understand what an image shows and can be read aloud to people who are visually impaired.
An example of alt text using this photo would be: A brown haired woman with glasses, wearing orange headphones, looks at a computer screen in her home office. Her chin is resting on top of her hands, and she smiles softly.
How is Alt Text Different from Captions?
A caption is always present under an image. Captions usually give more specific context or attribution to an image. They tend to be brief due to limited space. You can find captions frequently in newspapers and in television.
An example of a caption would include the source who captured the photo and the year they copyrighted it. It can also include a brief description of the action happening in the photo.
Why is Alt Text Important?
Alt text makes images more accessible. It can be useful for all levels of vision impairment, but especially for people who use screen reading devices. You can learn more about screen readers here. You may not know anyone who uses a screen reader today. But you don’t know who may want to look at the image you’re sharing in the future, and be unable to enjoy it without alt text.
Using alt text can also help search engines to know what is in an image. This can improve search results and make it easier for you to find what you need when surfing the web.
How to Write Alt Text
You have the ability to add alt text to images on every major social media site. You can find it by clicking on “edit photo” or “advanced settings.”
Here are five simple tips to keep in mind when adding alt text to your images:
- Be specific with what is in the picture
- Don’t repeat yourself from the caption
- Avoid starting with “a photo/image of”
- Write less than 170 characters if possible
- Add context that relates to the topic
Building a More Accessible World
People with visual impairments enjoy being active on social media, just like everyone else. There are many visually-impaired creators on websites such as YouTube and Tiktok. Using alt text allows everyone to be included in the conversation.