Welcome to the Aidis Trust blog. Here you’ll find our posts on assistive technology that are meant to inform and encourage discussion. Feel free to join in!

Making Images on Websites Accessible

picture shows the BBC News homepage for March 13th 2017 without pictures and instead displays the alt text that would normally only be heard through screenreaders. An example includes for the headline "MPs to consider Brexit Bill changes" the alt text reads: "A road traffic sign is in front of the Union Jack and the European flag hanging outside European House in Smith Square, London"

Recently we had a chat here at The Aidis Trust about the image descriptions we put on our blog to help visually impaired people, so I thought it may be useful to write a post about why it’s important to have these image descriptions.

If you’ve ever used a screen reader you may have noticed that sometimes, when it encounters an image, it will give you a description of what it is and other times it will not. Most of the time, if it gives you a description, it is because the image has a thing called “alt text” attached to it. This is where, the person who has built the website has attached a description to the image that they have written. We do this for the images we use on the blog, so if you were to go on the blog with a screen reader you would hear the description of the image when you navigate to that part of the screen.

Having an image description is useful because it allows a visually impaired person to know what a picture is of. This is important, because it allows them to have the same information as their sighted peers. If the image is at the top of an article, it may give them information about what it’s going to be about, as it would do for a sighted person viewing the same website. For example, I sometimes browse websites about books and if I hear that the image is related to something from a book I am interested in then it may encourage me to read the article. If the image is offering a photograph of a thing or event, then it should give the visually impaired person similar information to what it should be giving the sighted person about that thing or event. If it’s an image of an item on an online shopping site, it should be detailed so that the visually impaired person has a good sense of the product Or if it’s just an image that’s there for adornment, then the description should be brief in order to let the visually impaired person know what the picture is, in case they are wondering without providing an excess of unnecessary information. Depending on the individual browsing, they may just be curious to know what the image is just because it’s there so that may be useful or they may not be bothered, in which case they can skip past it. Some people argue that alt text shouldn’t be used in this situation, however I am personally of the opinion that it can often be quite nice to know roughly what the image is and if a person doesn’t want to know, it’s easy enough to just skip past it.

Providing image descriptions can be really useful, because it just helps visually impaired people to have the same information as their sighted peers, so if you run a website, I highly recommend it. As an extra unrelated to disability benefit, many marketers argue that adding alt text to your article is good for search engine optimisation (also known as SEO) which is the name that marketers give to the idea of increasing your page rank on search engines such as Google. This is because, when a person searches for something on Google, if the keywords you use in your image description are similar to keywords a person searches for, it will make it more likely that your article will appear in their search results. That said, it should be noted that this is not a reason to overuse keywords that could be search terms in your image descriptions. Firstly, this is obviously not helpful to the visually impaired people who need that description. Secondly, it will actually work against you because Google have algorithms set up to lower the page rank of your site if you are keyword cramming.

What are your experiences of images on websites? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.


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