Okay, this is a little PSA on alt text. What is alt text? If you use WordPress or design websites, you might have seen it as a field on your pictures. If you do web design, you might recall hearing about it. Alt text is “alternative text” and it has it’s roots in the earlier days of the web.
This goes back to the days where we had dial up internet. Remember that? WEEEEE TRRRRK ACK ACK ACK. The modem dialed up and you waited for those sweet, sweet internets to come to you. Well, back in those days, images were slow loading. Alt text would explain what a photo was before it loaded. Or if it didn’t load… which was a common issue back then!
Well, there’s a case to be made for why it’s still relevant on the web today and it has everything to do with accessibility.
I found out about this issue from a good buddy of mine named Miller. Miller’s my age and completely blind. A childhood friend of my husband’s, they grew up together. Miller was sighted back then but lost his sight in his 20s. But Miller, god bless, is a nerd like us. So not being able to see the internet won’t keep him from using it.
He uses a screen reader. JAWS is the most common. And it reads the internet to him. The reader goes SO FAST. Everythingseemsstrungtogetherwithnobreakjustthislongalmostbuzzingsoundthatisthetextbeingread. He says he can keep up. Sometimes I wonder if normally paced conversations are agony for him.
For Miller and people like him, alt text is how they can know what a picture is supposed to be. It is read to them along with the text in the article/site/page/etc. In my gig as Online Editor at my school newspaper, we incorporated alt text day one. And while it is kind of a long process, I’m glad we do it.
Take a look at the last photo you took on your phone. How would you describe it to someone who couldn’t see? How would you describe it to someone who might not know what colors are?
See? Kinda hard, right?
It’s not only the right thing to do, there’s been laws and legislation passed that require compliance and reasonable accommodations be made in regards to those who need an accessible internet. Alt text is just the beginning. Some websites are designed in such a way that it is incredibly hard for screen readers to navigate.
I will say, I can be better. I’m going to go back and make sure all my photos on this blog have alt text. It’s just a little thing that makes a huge difference for folks. It’s something maybe you can do, too, if you have control over your content.
I’ll end this post by linking to a video of Tommy Edison, noted film critic who was blind since birth, describing colors, which is just as interesting as it sounds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59YN8_lg6-U