Lesson of the day: ‘The hidden image descriptions make the internet accessible’

Featured Article: “The hidden image descriptions that make the internet accessibleby Meg Miller and Ilaria Parogni

Alt text, a written image description, can be read aloud or translated into Braille through screen readers, apps, or browser extensions. For internet users who are visually impaired or blind, alt text is an essential part of the online experience. However, alt text is not available on all websites and the text itself is often inaccurate or inadequate in its description.

In this lesson you will learn how companies and disability activists are trying to improve alternative text. Then edit one of the alt text samples from the article before writing an image description on one of your own photos or on a social media meme.

Part 1: Observe

Scroll through the article’s introduction before getting to the title. What was your experience reading the image descriptions? Could you imagine the images in your head? Why or why not? What was missing?

Part 2: Practice

Read Haben Girma’s message on Twitter: “How do you describe color to a blind person? Yellow is the warmth of the sun on your skin and the delicious tartness of lemon cupcakes. Red is the complex sweetness of raspberries. Blue is… what would you say?’

Describe the colors blue and green to a visually impaired or blind person in vivid and suggestive language.

What was your experience describing those colors? How often do you see people with image descriptions or alt text in social media posts or? museum exhibits

Read the articleand then answer the following questions:

1. How does alt text work on most websites? Who is the target audience? Why is it important to have an alt text option?

2. What do you notice about the alt text samples as you scroll through the article? What does alt text do well? What are some issues with it, based on your observations and what experts say in the article?

3. How have individual websites, such as Google or Facebook, attempted to address alt text deficiencies? What about companies like Scribely and CloudSight dedicated to making better versions of it? What do you think of the different approaches?

4. What are some of the experiences Cynthia Bennett, a researcher with the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, has had with text generated by artificial intelligence?

5. How do disability rights advocates take action? What are some of the things they encourage people to keep in mind when writing alt text? How can you best make alt text relevant and engaging for people viewing your content?

6. How do artists like Bojana Coklyat and Shannon Finnegan deal with subjectivity, identity and representation in their workbook Alt Text as Poetry? What are two different perspectives on these issues, as presented by Thomas Reid, a voice actor and podcast host, and Brad Folkens, the chief executive of CloudSight? What do you think about these problems?

Part 1: Edit Alt Text from the Article

Look at the alt text for the image below.

Then, using the skills you practiced during the warm-up and learned from the featured article, write two sentences with alt text that would bring this image to life for a partially sighted or blind person. Use language to give the user an idea of ​​the full picture, not just the individual objects within it. What is the main point or purpose of the image? Is there a tone, texture, or feel it conveys?

You can share your edited alt text in the comments section of this lesson.

Part 2: Write alt text for one of your own social media posts

Edit one of your posts on Instagram or any other social media platform where you’ve posted an image. If you want, you can use a meme, like the one in the Gregory the A’ight descriptions article. Consider the context and use expressive language that brings the reader into the experience of the image.

You can use these guides to learn how to embed alt text in Twitter and Instagram† If you are a TikTok user, make a new video that integrates automatic captions for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, but be sure to edit the captions to make sure they are correct. You should also include an alt text explanation of your video in the description.


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