The first thing that design experts learn about accessibility is that images need alternative texts (alt texts). According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, every business website must get optimized for web accessibility. Alt texts are an essential part of making a website ADA compliant. The process is usually straightforward and easy to learn. But the challenging part is to determine efficient alt texts that need to be used by design experts to boost website accessibility. To understand what alt text would be appropriate, design experts need to understand the purpose of the image and the user experience it will generate.
Who Needs Alt Texts?
Before web designers determine what alt texts should be used, they must understand who benefits from alt texts. Alt texts are for people with disabilities such as impaired sight or lack of vision. They use screen readers to access websites, apps, social media, blogs, so on and so forth. These people cannot see images on these websites and need words that can be read by screen readers to describe the image to them so that they can decide if it is relevant to them or not.
If an image provides essential information that is not available elsewhere on the website, alt text will ensure that the user does not miss out on that information. Some people might be dealing with temporary loss of vision, such as people who had eye surgery, or they met with an accident and are recovering from it. Alt texts might be useful for such people who are using assistive technologies to access a website.
In some remote places, internet speed can be quite slow. People who are accessing a website from such locations can turn off images on a web page so that it loads faster. Alt texts can provide them the necessary information for better user experience. People with cognitive disabilities might also need to turn off images on a website as they can be distracting for them.
One might say that it is best to use as few pictures as possible. But images are not only essential for the visual appeal of the websites, but they are also necessary for people with learning disabilities. Therefore the best solution is to provide optimized alt texts to enhance web accessibility. Alt texts are also used by web crawlers to gather information for search engines. For all these reasons and more, web accessibility providers like accessiBe developed an image recognition and OCR software that generates alt tags to images lacking them. Free plugins like Userway are not able to generate alt text if certain criteria aren’t met, so one would have to carefully analyze the presence of alt texts before enrolling on any accessibility provider.
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Which Images Need Alt Text?
It may surprise you, but every image on a website does not need an alt text to improve digital accessibility. Many pictures on a website are for decoration and do not need alt texts. On the other hand, some images have a purpose on the webpage and are an essential part of the user experience and navigation.
Images That Provide Information
Some images, such as infographics cannot be rendered or replicated by HTML or CSS as text all the time. Infographics or ads are there for a short time on websites and must generate as many clicks as possible. That’s why designers must use alt texts that can describe the words on the image and also provide information that will advertise the infographic so that the users feel urged to click on it.
Images That Serve as Links or Buttons
Many images on websites, especially on eCommerce or social media, serve as links or buttons to another page that contains further supporting information. Some of these images have texts around them, while others don’t. Every image that acts as a link to another webpage must have an alt text. Designers must keep three things in mind while writing the alt texts for such images.
- Alt texts should describe the image and the words around or on it.
- Alt texts should provide a brief idea about what will happen when the user clicks on it.
- The alt text should include all the essential information about the image but should omit descriptions that are present on the linked page.
Most logos require alt texts to boost their accessibility. Logos are often placed as a header and bring a user back to the homepage. Therefore the alt text must provide this information along with the words used in the logo.
Many designers often forget that icons are images as well that are essential for navigation on the website. They are rarely decorative and often need an alt text. Sometimes icons have words next to them that describe their purpose. But most often, they are not accompanied by text descriptions. These icons must have an alt text that describes their purpose, along with a brief description of the destination page.
Alt texts are an integral part of ensuring that the images meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Ideal alt texts should be descriptive enough to explain the image comprehensively. It should also be brief enough not to overload the user with information. That’s why design experts must reflect on the purpose of the image before writing an alt text.