Welcome to our April issue of the Accessibility Minute Newsletter! This newsletter is produced by the CU Boulder Digital Accessibility Office and covers one accessibility skill or topic per month. Please visit the DAO website to access past newsletters. As always, thank you for taking a minute (or two!) to read.

Identity and Inclusion in Alt Text

In collaboration with the Office of the Senior Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at CU Boulder, this month’s newsletter will discuss diversity and inclusion within alternative text (alt text). The topics covered in this newsletter are meant to be a starting point to create a deeper understanding of the implications alt text can have when people are the subject of an image. As you read this newsletter, it is important to note that creating inclusive alt text is an ongoing learning process. We encourage you, as content creators, to seek feedback on your use of alt text and be open to learning and adjusting your practices.

Although there is guidance to writing good alt text, there is no single, perfect way to write alt text, as it is highly dependent on the context in which an image is being used and can be subjective to the content creator. When writing alt text for an image of a person, ask yourself, "Is the subject’s race, gender, disability, skin color, ethnicity, age, or other descriptive information essential to understanding the image in its context?" For instance, if you were describing an image of the Hulk, you’d want to describe whether he is currently green or in male human form because that’s contextually important to the story.

A group of activists with varying disabilities, racial identities, genders, and age demographics holding a sign that reads ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Martin Luther King Jr.'"

Let's say the image above this paragraph is used in a course discussing the Civil Rights Movement and how disability advocates saw the opportunity to join forces alongside other historically underrepresented groups to demand equality. Appropriate alt text may be “A group of activists with varying disabilities, racial identities, genders, and age demographics holding a sign that reads ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Martin Luther King Jr.’” Details about the intersectionality of the group should be included in the alt text because it provides important context for why the image is being used. If you were to write alt text that reads, “people in a crowd holding a sign that reads ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Martin Luther King Jr.,’” that may create an inaccurate narrative about the context for those who cannot see this image.

If you choose to omit information such as skin color, gender, ethnicity, ability, age, etc., Léonie Watson, in Thoughts on Skin Tone and Text Descriptions, asks you to consider the following question: "If you read a text description that says ‘a person’, what does the image in your head look like? There's a good chance that the person in your imagination looks a lot like you. That's because, to you, you are your own normal." Choosing to omit this information can push a narrative of what a “default” person looks like and is often exclusionary.

Avoiding Assumptions

Alt text creators can consciously counteract biases without making assumptions about the individuals(s) in the image. When people are the subject of your image, be aware of and refrain from projecting your biases onto your description as much as possible, as inaccurate descriptions of a person or people’s identity can be harmful. For example, you cannot tell what a person’s sexual orientation, pronouns, or gender identity is just by looking at them. For this reason, unless the subject in the image is a known individual, it may be best to avoid harmful or inappropriate biases and instead use phrasing like “person” or “individual.” You can describe other features about them, such as body language, expression, hair, clothing, etc. if it’s important to the context. When possible, if the subject of an image is someone you know, use the language they use to describe themselves.

Final Thoughts

We want to acknowledge that identity and descriptive information about individuals is not monolithic (Dismantling Monolithic Thinking to Create an Inclusive Environment). We encourage our subscribers to send us feedback and share their thoughts on this topic.

Below this paragraph, we have curated various resources dedicated to enhancing and understanding diversity within alternative text. From articles to resources for inclusive stock images, these resources serve as a guide to fostering a more diverse and equitable digital landscape.

Inclusion in Alt Text Articles

Inclusive Stock Photos that Include Alt Text

Please note that the alt text included in the stock image resources listed below will provide you with descriptive information about the individuals in the images, but the alt text will vary depending on the context of how you use these images.

Co-Authors of the April 2024 Newsletter

Ashley R. Grice, Ed.D. (she/her/hers) and Fabiola Mora, M.A. (she/her/ella)

Office of the Senior Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

April Challenge

If you capture images of people, ask the individual(s) to describe themselves so that you have an accurate description to include in the alt text and image caption.

DAO News

The DAO presents a tri-annual Digital Accessibility Buff Award (linked below), recognizing CU Boulder students, staff, and faculty who have demonstrated noteworthy digital accessibility practices and fostered an inclusive digital environment for individuals with disabilities. We are excited to share that Kevin Crafts has been selected as the Digital Accessibility Buff Award winner for the April 2024 cycle! Read more about why Kevin is our Digital Accessibility Buff.

Follow the DAO on LinkedIn! By following us, you'll get access to behind-the-scenes insight into our office, information about our services, applicable accessibility tips posted every Tuesday, resources, upcoming event information, and more.

DAO Office Hours are now the 4th Tuesday of every month from 1 to 2 PM MT. Our next office hours will be held on Tuesday, May 28th, 2024.