Our goal is for the WordPress Photo Directory to be as accessible as possible, making it easy for anyone using a screen reader to understand what each photo is, as well as providing good alt text for those using any photos on their own sites and projects.
Alt text provides a description of an image that is read aloud to anyone using a screen reader for any reason.
In the past, some photo contributors have provided descriptions that include feelings or feel more story-like. (Like “waking up on a beautiful morning” or “a great day for a cup of coffee.”) These are not descriptive and are not generally helpful for people relying on screen readers to describe a photo.
In order to help you provide better descriptions when you submit a photo to the directory, we’ve compiled some information to make it easier. (Many thanks to @alexstine and @joedolson for their expertise and input.)
I think we can all agree that there is alt text that’s too short, but are there times when something is too descriptive?
Alex Stine: Sometimes ALT Text can be too descriptive in that it can provide more information than what people could actually see in the image. The experience should be equal, not more or less.
Joe Dolson: There’s a balance to strike. For the purpose of the photo directory, some assumptions need to be made. First, the audience and the author do not have a common knowledge base. For alt text, that means that personal information or specific knowledge of the scene should be omitted. Alt text is highly contextual, and in this case the context is “share the photo with strangers who will use it for their own purposes.” So the alt text should be strictly kept to information that is visible in the image. There are exceptions, however; well-known landmarks can and should be named. If it’s a picture of the Statue of Liberty, it would be disingenuous to omit that information. That’s a judgment call for the submitter, since “well known” is not strictly definable.
Some people think that adding colors to a description isn’t necessary, and others argue that it is. Should submissions to the photo directory include colors? Are there times when it should vs. when it shouldn’t? (Like describing clothes, or a building.)
Alex Stine: I think descriptions of color are okay since you would visually get this detail when looking at an image. People without vision may not fully understand the concept of color if they haven’t had vision before. For people like myself, I have had vision, so I may still be able to get something from knowing the colors.
Joe Dolson: Descriptions don’t need a detailed description of colors, but prominent or dominant colors should be mentioned. Again, it’s a judgment call how much detail to add. But colors should absolutely be mentioned. There are several reasons: one is because screen reader users aren’t necessarily blind and/or may have once had color vision; a second is because color-blind users will benefit from being told what colors are in a picture; and the third is because the photo directory search queries alt texts, so this enables searching for color.
How in-depth should a description be? For example, is “German Shepherd puppy” a good enough description, or would “German Shepherd puppy sitting on a wooden floor looking at the camera” be better?
Alex Stine: In this case, the second description (“German Shepherd puppy sitting on a wooden floor looking at the camera”) would be better. It allows me to more accurately understand the scene.
Joe Dolson: Object, action, and environment are the three primary characteristics that should be conveyed in some way. Anything else is bonus, but ensuring that those three characteristics are communicated is a good way of making sure that the description is roughly equal to the image.
When is including the location of a photo important? Is “mountains” enough or is “mountains in the Himalayas” better?
Alex Stine: This could easily fall in the category The 'category' taxonomy lets you group posts / content together that share a common bond. Categories are pre-defined and broad ranging. of “too much information” as that information is not available to people with vision simply by looking at the image. Unless it is clear what the mountain range is by looking at it, this information should not be included in the description.
Joe Dolson: I think I addressed that above; essentially, it’s a question of how common this knowledge would be, or how significant. I will argue slightly with Alex on this because of the purpose of the photo directory – if somebody specifically is looking for pictures of the Himalayas, that should be possible. If the photo directory had any filtering or tagging, I’d say that information should be a tag, rather than an alt text, but, since it isn’t, I think that information should be available. But it’s only particularly important to include in cases where the image is of something that most people would actually recognize. A purposeful image of Mount Everest should probably say what it is. A pretty scene of some mountains that happen to be the Himalayas? Maybe not so relevant.
I want to also add that alternative text should be literal. You should describe what’s in the scene, and not make assumptions. Just to pick a random example:
While it may or may not be valuable that this specifies Himalayas (I’d argue not, since there’s nothing distinct), the biggest weakness here is the word ‘Trekker’. It could also mean a Star Trek fan, and if a blind user included this expecting a person hiking with a backpack but it was actually a person in a Star Trek uniform…
Are there tools or resources that you would recommend for evaluating alt text quality and ensuring online content accessibility Accessibility (commonly shortened to a11y) refers to the design of products, devices, services, or environments for people with disabilities. The concept of accessible design ensures both “direct access” (i.e. unassisted) and “indirect access” meaning compatibility with a person’s assistive technology (for example, computer screen readers). (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accessibility)?
Alex Stine: Test with a screen reader, that’s the best way. I also like the Accessibility Checker plugin A plugin is a piece of software containing a group of functions that can be added to a WordPress website. They can extend functionality or add new features to your WordPress websites. WordPress plugins are written in the PHP programming language and integrate seamlessly with WordPress. These can be free in the WordPress.org Plugin Directory https://wordpress.org/plugins/ or can be cost-based plugin from a third-party.
Joe Dolson: Alt text quality is heavily contextual. No tools required, just read the text and look at the image and decide whether it seems appropriate.