by Jaime Rodriguez, RDPFS Intern
Alternative text, alt text for short, is helping to make the internet more accessible for everyone, especially people who are blind or have low vision. Alt text, when available, can be detected and either read aloud or translated into braille to convey visual content using screen readers and other assistive technology. It is essential for a quality online experience for users who require assistive technology. “But it is not always available, or even helpful.” Haben Girma, a lawyer and disability rights advocate, whose work was cited in the March 11, 2022 Bulletin, noted that words like “’image,’ ‘jpg’ or graphics’” frequently are used and “’That doesn’t tell me anything.’” With an increasingly “image-saturated world,” people with vision loss can have difficulty fully experiencing the web. Many social media platforms have features where users can add alt text descriptions manually to their posts. These options, however, are not well known and are “mystifying to many.” Some company websites autogenerate alt text using artificial intelligence (AI), although in many cases the text is incomplete or lacking in quality. In part due to this “challenging landscape,” people with vision impairment, disability rights advocates, and technology professionals are devising ways to expand use and improve “the quality of alt text.” Companies such as Scribely and CloudSight seek to make alt text more accurate and widely available, using both AI and human review. Individual “Digitally savvy social media users” have also come up with pointers, such as how to craft alt text and to direct followers to useful resources. However, some disability rights advocates say that while AI alt text is improving, it still often misses the mark, especially when describing photos of multiple people or important moments. Most people do agree on “one point: that the presence of alt text is an important step toward making the internet more accessible.” It is key to expand the use of alt text so that everyone can enjoy online content, regardless of their sight. For more information, read The New York Times article, “The Hidden Image Descriptions Making the Internet Accessible”.