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AI and ALT Text: Using Custom Policies for a Balanced Approach

A square in the middle with the letter AI. Lines coming from those letters with representations of video, text generation, ALT text, image generation, etc.

Est. read time: 3 minutes   

Ensuring that all users can engage with online content regardless of their abilities is a top priority. One solution that has gained more recent traction is using artificial intelligence (AI) to generate alternative text, or ALT text,  for images. This approach, while offering several advantages, also presents challenges.  

AI-driven ALT text generation boasts remarkable speed, surpassing many human operators in processing and describing images. Its scalability addresses the growing demand for ALT text in the expanding landscape of digital content, making it a pragmatic choice for large-scale projects. Moreover, AI's capability to support multiple languages fosters inclusivity, catering to a global audience.

However, challenges accompany these benefits. AI-generated descriptions can lack the emotional and aesthetic context crucial for conveying the complete meaning of images. Technical errors in image recognition can result in inaccurate or nonsensical ALT text, causing confusion. Ethical concerns also loom large, as AI systems are only as unbiased as the data they are trained on. If the training data contains biases, it can perpetuate and amplify them, raising ethical concerns in ALT text generation.

If you incorporate AI with human oversight, DubBot can help you create a balanced approach using our prebuilt Custom Policies for ALT text. This results in a more accurate, contextually relevant, and inclusive ALT text for diverse audiences.

You can access these policies from the Settings page.

First, click on "Policies," located in the lower left menu. Then click "Add new policy."

The Manage Policies page in DubBut with a red arrow pointing to the button labeled "Add new policy"

 

Then select “Import from policy library.”

The Manage Policies page with a red arrow pointing to "Import from policy library" from the dropdown menu.

The following are examples of the four prebuilt ALT text policies available in the policy library.

 

ALT text is the same as the filename. Flags pages with file names in the ALT text.

Filenames are often generic and do not provide meaningful or descriptive information about the image's content.

Page level view where an image has ALT text that is the same as the filename. A red arrow points from the text "ALT text is the same as the file name" to the image.

 

Image ALT text is less than 12 characters. Flags pages with ALT text that is short.

Having ALT text that is too short or generic (e.g., less than 12 characters) might not effectively communicate the purpose and the emotional and aesthetic context of the image.

Page level view where an image has ALT text that is less than 12 characters. A red arrow points from the text "Image alt text is less than 12 characters" to the image.

 

Image is marked-up as decorative. Flags pages with images that contain alt="".

The WCAG 1.1.1 Non-text Content Level A states that "All non-text content that is presented to the user has a text alternative that serves the equivalent purpose." This includes ensuring that decorative images are appropriately marked as such.

Page level view where an image is marked as decorative. A red arrow points from the text "Image is marked-up as decorative" to the image.

 

Unwanted language or characters in ALT text.

Using terms like "image" or "picture of" can be considered redundant because screen readers already announce that the content is an image. Including such terms doesn't add meaningful information for the user. Additionally, using special characters like parentheses in ALT text can be problematic because screen readers may not interpret them correctly.

Page level view where the ALT text contains an unwanted character. A red arrow points from the text "Search for unwanted language or characters in the ALT text" to the image.

 

If you need an additional customized policy, such as one tailored for accurately labeling landmarks on your campus, DubBot gives you the flexibility to craft your own. For further assistance, read the Help document titled Custom Policy Examples for ideas on more granular checks and the instructions for the needed settings.

The use of AI in generating ALT text for images presents a compelling solution to the growing need for accessibility in digital content. However, it is crucial to acknowledge its constraints and incorporate human oversight to ensure the most equitable and inclusive experience for those depending on ALT text.

For more information on ALT text and best practices for its implementation, please see Alternative Text for images and media on websites in the DubBot Help Center.

Resources

 

Maggie Vaughan, CPACC
Content Marketing Practitioner
DubBot