We hear from Stacy Scott, Head of Accessibility at Taylor & Francis, about the importance of alt text on visuals for those who are blind or have visual impairments.
As a blind Mathematics graduate, I could not have engaged in my study, had descriptions of pictures not been made available to me. Pictures are just as crucial as the written word, and this is no less so for someone who is unable to see the images through their eyes. So, authors must add the Alt text, to fuel the imagination, and help make their content inclusive to all.
There are many elements to accessibility and one of the biggest questions is, how do we make visual aspects such as images, charts and diagrams accessible to those who are blind or have a visual impairment? What are the consequences of not providing these descriptions?
Challenges for blind or visually impaired individuals in academia
The fact is, many potential students are still being turned away from subjects thought to be ‘too visual’. I am speaking from personal experience, as a blind Mathematics graduate, who was initially told I could not study the subject, due to me being blind and Maths having too many visual elements.
This attitude sadly still prevails in many parts of the world. Indeed, accessing subjects of such a visual nature, such as Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) will undoubtedly continue to be one of the biggest challenges faced by students, educators and publishers, due to their heavy reliance on pictorial detail and a lack of description.
What is alt text (alternative text)?
Alternative text, also known as alt text, is a written description of an image which users can access to make sense of the image if they can’t view it. Alt text sits behind the image, chart or graph, so it can be read aloud as it is encountered by a Text-to-speech (TTS) user, but it cannot be seen on the surface. Alt text is typically used to describe content requiring a shorter description and is often seen in social media, for example, describing a picture accompanying a Tweet.