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Improving alternative text for images

Some colleagues at work have recently been asking interesting questions about “good/appropriate alternative text for images”. I definitely reckon it’s a topic worth revisiting because it feels like the landscape has changed a bit on this front over the years.

I think the web design industry has traditionally been:

  1. lacking knowledge of how to write good alternative text.
  2. too quick to decide which images are “purely decorative”, or accurately described by a matter-of-fact short label when maybe they actually should convey their inherent tone and emotion to all users rather than only those with no visual impairments.

But as inclusion-centric practioners we can probably do better. In his blog post Writing great alt text Jake Archibald breaks down the considerations. I reckon it’d be useful for us to dissect this post and try to boil it down to some practical rules-of-thumb for our teams.

But also, I’ve just noticed a couple of interesting developments at the big players. Firstly, Twitter have upped their image alt game and are encouraging their users to try doing so, too.

And hot on the heels of Twitter’s announcement, I now see in Slack an Edit file details option for adding image descriptions. It’s great that Twitter and Slack are doing this… and also serves as a reminder that tools such as Slack and Twitter are consumed on the web and so accessible best practices apply when you’re writing content on them, too!

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