Here’s Why You Should Use Alt Text – The NAU Review

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Sean Kugler is a digital accessibility analyst for NAU’s Disability Resource Office.


Many of you have heard the term “alt text”. What is alt text? Alt is short for alternative. The purpose of alt text is to provide a textual alternative to the image you are using and why you are using it. You create as close as possible the same experience for all your spectators.

Who reads the alt text?

Alt text is intended for use by people who use screen readers or other assistive technologies to interact with their phones and computers. Many people are blind or visually impaired. It can also be used by people with a slow internet connection or low bandwidth when pages don’t load completely.

Other benefits of alt text

Do you know SEO? SEO is search engine optimization. This means that the words you use in the alt text are added as keywords used when people search the internet. Like hashtags, your alt text can drive more people to your article, blog, or website.

Do all images need alt text?

Not all images require alt text. Some are purely “eye candy” and don’t add any meaning to your webpage/blog/flyer. They are simply there to catch someone’s attention and their sole purpose is decoration. In these cases, the image can be marked as artifact or decorative.

Keys to effective alt text

Alt text is more than a visual description of the image you’ve chosen to post or share. It’s about what you think is useful about the image. Pictures are worth a thousand words, which of those words is important to your message. Think about what you would add as alt text for the image below.

Here are some options:

1. Photo of the old NAU main building.

2. Photo of the old main entrance to NAU.

3. Photo of the entrance to a historic red brick building with stairs.

4. Photo of a student descending the stairs in front of Old Main.

5. Photo of Rachel Kanyur walking down the stairs in front of Old Main.

Considerations for choosing alt text include why you are using the image, i.e. what is important in the image to your message.

Alternate text for flowcharts, graphs, charts and diagrams

When describing flowcharts, charts, diagrams, and diagrams, it is important to visually describe what is being conveyed. Think of a pie chart showing the market share of computer operating systems. Pass the information displayed by the chart:

Pie chart that shows Windows holds 65.79% market share, while OS X holds 25.32%, Chrome OS holds 3.45%, 3.08% is unknown, and Linux 2.35% share Steps.

Pie chart that shows that Windows holds 65.79% market share, while OS X holds 25.32%, Chrome OS holds 3.45%, 3.08% is unknown, and Linux holds 2.35% market shares.

If you use graphs that show trends, describe the trends. Remember the message you are conveying through the graphic.

Alternative text in social media

Many social media platforms now allow you to add alt text. Please add it as the platform allows, but also include the text in the post itself. This makes it accessible to everyone.

Use these pictures!

Go take pictures and be sure to describe them in the alt text.

References and additional information:

Alternate text for complex images

United States desktop operating system market share

Everything you need to know to write an effective alt text

Google Images best practices

What is alt text and why is it important?

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