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Prioritizing Review of Image Alt Text

Ensuring that your organization utilizes appropriate alt text for images within your website is pretty much considered Accessibility 101.

For those readers who are not familiar, alt text or alternative text is the text version of an image read to a web visitor utilizing a screen reader while browsing your website. There are many best practices for providing alt text for images. For more on alt text best practices, please check out our blogs: There's No alternative to Good alt Text and What is Your Alt Text Policy.

Most automated accessibility checkers flag for images that do not contain alt text.

That moment when you have so much to do.. You decide to take a nap. Meme featuring dog with rolls tucked comfortably into a person's bed.

Some tools will even suggest that you review alt text for every image contained within your website. While this is a great idea, most people that I have worked with can't bite off that big of a project all at once. This approach could also cause a person to feel overwhelmed and that making progress is hopeless.

Having a starting point for prioritizing alt text for review is essential, even for people who make it their mission to review all alt text.

One of the many things that I am so proud of about the work that we have done at DubBot is that we have been able to add on additional, smarter checks to flag for alt text that exists but that our users should prioritize for review.

These smart checks include:

  • Alt text that contains the file's name - We have seen this utilized by developers as a fallback option for when alt text fields have been left blank. While this would check the box that an image has alt text, the file name is not often descriptive. If our users have other placeholder alt text options, we can fully customize this to their needs.
  • Alt text that contains "image of" or "picture of." This is redundant for screen readers and an easy fix for content editors.
  • Suspiciously short alt text - While you don't want to provide an exceptionally long alt text, you can prioritize reviewing images with alt text that is less than a specific threshold. To eliminate the noise that this review suggestion can add to reporting, organizations can specify their threshold for this length. We can even quickly add exceptions for alt text that is short for a good reason. 
  • Suspiciously long alt text - While you want to be descriptive, it is also good to consider that some screen readers do not have a pause function for the image's alt text being read.
  • Alt text marked up as decorative - It is entirely valid to mark up some images as decorative. Different organizations have different policies around this. My personal opinion is that an image should be marked up as decorative if it adds no contextual value to the page, like a spacer image. (More in another blog post.) But website managers may want to ensure that users are not taking a shortcut by marking up images as decorative and that their policy is being implemented correctly.
  • Review alt text that utilizes gender pronouns. Some organizations are now making a concerted effort to ensure that alt text is more inclusive. DubBot can flag for the use of she/her/he/him or any other term like Latino/Latina so that content editors can ensure that alt text that describes people utilize preferred terminology.

If you have any checks that you would like to prioritize programmatically, I'd love to hear from you. We are constantly growing our smart alt text review options for our users!

Penny Kronz, CPACC
VP of DubBot Client Services
~ accessibility specialist, web developer, mom