Episode 2 Alt text
0-0:14 Orthotonics Accessible as Gravity plays and fades out
0:14 Hello and welcome to Accessagogy a podcast about accessibility and pedagogy. I’m your host Ann Gagné and this podcast is recorded on treaty 13 on the traditional land of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation.
0:29 Welcome to episode two! In this episode we are going focus on alt text, or alternative text, which for some of you who know, you know a little bit about me know that I really care about this a lot so I hope you will enjoy this episode.
0:41 I’m going to explain what alt text is, where you usually find alt text, and how you can use alt text in your educational spaces, and not just on social media or websites.
0:54 So what is Alt text? Alt text or alternative text is the textual description provided for images or any other non-text content that you share on the web, on social media platforms for example, or in even documents.
1:11 Alt text is both a good way to support accessibility but also a contextually appropriate educational practice that models your commitment as an instructor to accessibility, the creation of accessible documents, and also accessible information sharing.
1:30 So how does one create an alt text? Well there are many places where you can input an alt text in the different tools and platforms that you may use. So for example if you are on WordPress, there is a place where you can add an alt text for images and media you are uploading there to use on your web site. If you are a social media platform like Twitter for example, or Instagram or Facebook, there are also places where you can add the alt text and describe the non-textual information that you are sharing.
2:03 This is also very important if you are the kind of person who shares a lot of memes for example, or if you’re a person who likes to communicate with a lot with images.
2:14 So I’ll have links in the show notes to show you how to add alt text on Twitter, on Instragram, on Facebook, and you know just places to get you started if you haven’t done this before.
2:30 So why is this important? So let me give you an example that I see a lot particularly on academic Twitter. So folk will go on Canva, for example, and create these promotional cards for an event or talk that they are giving and think that because they may have remembered to put an alt text in the Canva app that it will necessarily show up on Twitter when they share it. And in fact is it won’t sadly, you actually need to double check that the alt text is there on all the platforms where you’re sharing that promotional advertisement.
3:05 Because if you don’t what you tweet it out for example all you will see is just the image of the event, where you know it may have things like where folk can register, those kinds of things, and if I’m using a screen reader all it will say is image and give me no details about the event, where to register or any of that, because I’ve forgotten the alt text.
3:30 A similar thing happens when people take a screen shot of a call for papers, or CFP, and share that without alt text. When the call for papers for a conference or special edition or an edited collection is supposed to be about things like inclusion and equity and the CFP that’s shared has no alt text, it kind of suggests that equity and inclusion is actually not important to this call for papers. As you will hear many times on this podcast, I assure you, modelling is a thing, and showing folk that you care about accessibility and inclusion through the practices that you do does more than actually just using a word without having accessible practices in place.
4:20 There is also a belief that is it only folk who use screen readers who use alt text, and though a majority of folk do use screen readers to access alt text, there are folk who access it in different ways and other ways to help support understanding and the context of an image such as folk who have ADHD or processing disorders when it comes to different types of information.
4:43 So I am sure some of you are like okay how does this apply to my day to day educational spaces. I’m not on social media, I don’t use social media in my classes so this conversation isn’t valuable to me.
5:00 So I’m here to say yes it absolutely is because if you are sharing or imbedding images or non-textual information in things like a Word documents or slide decks then you need to create alt text for those images as well in order to support the creation of accessible documents and to share accessible information.
5:20 Some products, like Microsoft Word or PowerPoint have artificial intelligence (or AI) tools that create automatic alt texts for images when you upload an image into a document. However, most of those AI descriptions are actually not great and that is mostly because the AI doesn’t take into account context when it’s describing it and context is super important for alt texts.
5:49 Context is important in alt text because you may use the same image in different places and with different context and that means the alt text will have to be different for each time. So let me give you an example. Say you had a chart of enrollment numbers of students over time and you’re using that chart in a meeting with the dean or the provost, if you are using that in a meeting with the dean or the provost the alt text for that chart would describe the data, so that people would know the data because that’s what folk would need.
6:29 However, if you’re using that same chart, as simply like an example of the kind of chart you want students to create in your classes, and it mainly used as a decorative element on a slide, then that alt text would be different or you would even mark that chart as decorative which is a feature that is available in Microsoft products.
6:52 So I’ll put a link in the show notes of how to and where the alt text goes in Word and PowerPoint, including the spaces where you can mark as decorative, and I’m choosing those two as those two tend to be as those are the two that the most often used tools in educational spaces.
7:13 I’m also going to provide in the show notes an example from Harvard university which is a website that I often share, that gives you a tangible example of the difference in alt text in different contexts. So on the website from Harvard it provides a picture of a stadium and demonstrates how you can have the same picture and use it in different context and it would mean that the alt text would be different. So the examples that they give is like using the stadium to discuss renovations or using the stadium to discuss an event that could happen you know in that stadium. So the alt text in those two situations could be different.
7:55 Pedagogically, alt text can be useful in educational spaces besides what is found on websites and social media because alt text helps to communicate information and you can then build in discussions around alt text as extensions to you know discussions around assignments or activities that you do in your class. And this is applicable to a lot of different disciplines.
8:18 So for example, if you have an assignment where you ask the students to create some sort of graphic organizer or infographic, that could also be an excellent time to talk about alt text and reinforce the use of alt text when sharing information like this and then make it part of the assignment. It’s a great opportunity for learners to practice distilling information and think about how they would share the important points in that graphic organizer or in that infographic to someone who would use a screen reader.
8:55 Alt text also becomes important for instructors who may have learners in their courses that need materials, assignments, or tests in an alternative format.
9:04 And this could be particularly important for those in STEM fields, science, technology, engineering, and math, so I’m thinking chemistry physics, those kinds of things when you think about how you would create an alt text for an image, a graph, or a chart, that’s part of a test question situation.
9:25 I note this because you don’t want your alt text to kinda give away the answer if it is in a necessary testing situation, and if it occurs to you that when you are thinking okay how would I alt text this that there is no real way for you to create an alt text for that image that you are attaching to the question without giving away the answer, you may have in fact created what is called a visually-biased question.
9:52 That means that you are assuming that the learner can see what you are asking in order to answer it and that’s problematic. Visually biased questions happen all the time, and this is an area of discussion that is gaining more traction as more courses and course elements have online components.
10:11 So another resource that I will put in the show notes is a longer document, that discusses visually biased questions, and alt text, and though this resource is mostly aimed at K-12 educators, there is a lot in that document to support instructors in higher education as well as they reflect on question prompts.
10:33 So that’s it, that’s a ten minute high-level overview of some of the ways that alt text can be used and should be thought about in educational spaces.
10:45 Remember that I also want this to be a space where you can ask questions and share concepts that you would like me to discuss as well. So if there’s anything that I mentioned here about alt that you would like me to clarify or need more resources about, please ask.
11:01 As well if you have ideas or aspects of your pedagogy that you would like me to address in this podcast, please feel free to send me an email at accessagogy so that’s acc e ss a gogy at gmail dot com. I will try to include as many suggestions as I can in the podcast because ultimately this podcast is for you. So that’s it, that’s episode 2, thanks so much for following along and asking how can I make my space more accessible today? Have a great week!