Accessibility

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Rich descriptions in alt text making all the difference for accessibility and equitable access to online resources

This month I wanted to share something with you that is transforming how we make content accessible on the web. The James Webb space telescope has stunned the world with its incredible pictures from far beyond our corner of the universe. However what’s been taking the world by storm in accessibility circles has not only been the images, but that they can be understood by people who are blind.  When images are put online, we include alt text so there’s a description that can be read to people using screen reader tools if they can’t see. However when an image is complex, it can be tricky to try and figure out what is the best concise-yet-descriptive way of making the image accessible. This was the challenge of the people charged with providing alt text for images from the James Webb Space Telescope, and they did an incredible job.  The following is an example of an image taken by the telescope (image © Copyright 2022 NASA)

And here is its photo and alt text:
“The image is divided horizontally by an undulating line between a cloudscape forming a nebula along the bottom portion and a comparatively clear upper portion,” reads one. “Speckled across both portions is a starfield, showing innumerable stars of many sizes. The smallest of these are small, distant, and faint points of light. The largest of these appear larger, closer, brighter, and more fully resolved with 8-point diffraction spikes. The upper portion of the image is bluish and has wispy translucent cloudlike streaks rising from the nebula below.”

Speckled across both portions is a starfield, showing innumerable stars of many sizes. The smallest of these are small, distant, and faint points of light. The largest of these appear larger, closer, brighter, and more fully resolved with 8-point diffraction spikes. The upper portion of the image is bluish and has wispy translucent cloudlike streaks rising from the nebula below.

The alt text here is not only great for this image, but every image received has its own alt text highlighting the dedication in making space accessible to all. From a practical standpoint, it puts us in a great position that when we come across content that’s not accessible and told its too hard, there’s now something to point to that shows it’s really not and that’s likely to be a great thing in making more websites and apps accessible in the future. 

Dr Scott Hollier
ASCCA Director – Accessibility