Alternative Text

Resources on Alt Text

When creating alt text, Bryan Gould of the National Center for Accessible Media suggests asking three questions:
  1. Why is the image there? 
  2. Who is the intended audience? 
  3. If there is no description what will the viewer miss? 
This third question, he points out, does not imply that alt text should include every visual detail, but rather that it should include the most important concepts. The STEM description guidelines he summarizes suggest that alt text be brief and focused on data, not extraneous visual details. 

Obviously, the rhetorical situation dictates the type of description necessary: for an image that will be the subject of class analysis, more detail would be necessary. Moving from general description to specifics in most cases allows readers to choose whether to go further and deeper in the same way a visual reader can. Finally, Gould suggests asking someone who has not seen the image to review the description.

Alt Text Example (with Revisions)

I recently created alternative text for an image that will be included in a forthcoming article. I solicited assistance from colleagues to determine whether the text describes the visual in a clear way. I charted my process of revision as a record for others:

Figure 1: Rhetorical Strategies Can Succeed and Fail.

The image presents 6 individual Venn diagrams, each labeled with a set of rhetorical strategies and rhetorical fallacies. Each Venn diagram consists of two side-by-side circles that overlap, layered on top of one another so that they share a middle space while each circle also retains an individual outer space.

Within the 2 overlapping circles of the Venn diagrams, one is labeled with a rhetorical strategy term and the other is labeled with the corresponding rhetorical fallacy term.

These paired terms include: 1) valid generalization and hasty generalization, 2) strong pathos and faulty emotional appeal, 3) useful common values and ad populum, 4) reasonable series of related claims and slippery slope, 5) stating argument persuasively and straw man, and 6) justifiably unstated assumptions and begging the question.

The images ^circles are in blue with black text.

Click here for corresponding image.

Things I Learned

1. As I revised my alternative text, the more precise/specific my language was, the clearer readers found it. For example, instead of "images" in the final line, I needed to say "circles."

2. It was useful to make the first sentence sum up the image succinctly, and then expound on the finer points in later sentences. Because the article already discusses the venn diagram in depth, it made sense that some readers might hear the first sentence and then want to move on.

3. I considered how my students might discuss this image in class. If they referred to "the blue circles" would students who used screen readers know what others were referring to? People often use this kind of visual short hand in conversation. So, I wanted to include these details about color at the end of the description.  

4. More isn't always better. Sometimes I included adjectives that actually made the text more confusing. My readers suggested I remove "overlapping" and "paired" as shown in the struck-through words in the description. These terms were redundant from my earlier point about how venn diagram circles overlap and seemed confusing on their own.

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