Brightspace, our Learning Management System (LMS), was designed with accessibility in mind. However, it is the responsibility of the instructor and/or course designer to ensure their course content is formatted using best practices for accessibility; including the use of good heading structure, text formatting, contrast and color, descriptive links, alternative text, tables, lists, etc.
I am writing a series of accessibility related blog posts that will provide suggestions on how you can make small changes when creating course content to make it accessible. This is the fifth tip in my series of accessibility related blog posts and it focuses on when alt text (alternative text) is not enough.
Computers can read text on a screen but images, graphs, and charts are meaningless to visually impaired users. Alternative text (alt text) is an alternate method for supplying information about images, graphs, and charts to users who are visually impaired.
Alt text should describe the important contents of an image that a user who cannot see an image would need to know, such as text, numbers, and other data. Describing colors, location of objects, and other visuals is only needed when necessary to understanding the image.
complex images, graphs, and charts require more detailed description than the limited one or two brief sentences that are used in the alt text
Adding alt text to images, graphs, and charts is an important part of making them accessible. Most images, graphs, and charts can be made accessible using alt text descriptions. However, complex images, graphs, and charts require more detailed description than the limited one or two brief sentences that are used in the alt text.
What should you do when you have a complex image, graph, or chart whose meaning cannot be conveyed with alt text alone? There are several ways to handle complex images where a short description is not possible. The best solution is to include a thorough description of the complex image in the content of the page, immediately before or after the image. If you don’t want to add more content to your page, another preferred alternative is to create another web page with the thorough description of the complex image and link to it near the image.
You may be wondering what exactly should you include in the thorough description. The Diagram Center (Digital Image And Graphic Resources for Accessible Materials) is an excellent resource that provides comprehensive guidelines to make it easier for you to make complex images accessible to all learners.
Here are a few additional resources to help you with describing complex images:
- Effective practices for description of science content
- How do we access meaning in art? (Describing art images)
- Complex images for all learners (pdf)
It is extremely important for students with disabilities to have access to accessible course content. Describing complex images utilizing these tips is good course design. Even though you may not have a student with a disability currently enrolled in your course, you will find students without disabilities will take advantage of accessible content as well.