Three people looked at a piece of art at the Met, wrote a description of it, compared notes, and “created a single description for the alt-text field of the museum’s app: ‘Fragmented marble sculpture of three nude women, with missing heads, and their arms around each other.’” The description referred to a second century sculpture, Marble Statue Group of the Three Graces.” The Met’s requirement: the description had to be 30 words maximum. If they have them at all, museums make these alt-text descriptions available only to users of screen readers, but at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, “image descriptions are visible to sighted users who elect to see them by ticking a prominently displayed button.” Now artists are banding together to overcome financial disincentives to good alt-text descriptions by proactively providing them to publications or institutions that request to reproduce their work.
Artists Bojana Coklyat (who has low vision) and Shannon Finnegan put together a workshop, Alt-text as Poetry. “Alt-text is an essential part of web accessibility, making visual content accessible to blind people and people with low vision. It is often overlooked altogether or understood through the lens of compliance, as an unwelcome burden to be met with minimum effort. How can we instead approach alt-text thoughtfully and creatively? This project reframes alt-text as a type of poetry and creates opportunities to practice writing it,” Finnegan’s web page states. The accompanying workbook is free here.