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Checklist: Adding Alternative Text and Long Descriptions

    Creator: Accessible Libraries

    Date of Update: March 5, 2024


    If your documents, websites, or digital materials (emails, social media posts, programming materials, etc.) have images, gifs, graphics, charts, graphs, maps, and tables, you must add alternative text to describe them. Screen readers will read an image’s alternative text, also known as alt text or image descriptions, for people who use assistive technologies to consume digital content.


    1. Include alternative text with your images, gifs, graphics, charts, graphs, maps, and tables.
    2. Provide long descriptions for complex images.

    Include alternative text with your images, gifs, graphics, charts, graphs, maps, and tables.

    If your digital materials have images (simple and complex), you must add alternative text (alt text), which is a textual description of an image for people who can’t see the image (blind/deafblind).

    Why add alternative text?

    If alternative text is not added, screen reader users will be excluded from accessing the full meaning of your images and graphics. If you don’t add alt text, that field could include:

    • Auto-generated alt text can be, at best, undescriptive and, at worst, incorrect and confusing. For example, “may be a picture of indoor” is auto-generated alt text for a photograph of a library interior.
    • The image’s file name.
    • Nothing at all. When screen readers read nothing, they tell the user there is an “image” or a “graphic” with no label, or they will try to create alt text for the image (depending on the screen reader used).

    How to create alternative text for your images.

    Here are some tips to follow when creating alt text:

    1. Do not include the phrase “This is an image/graphic of…” in your alt text, as screen readers will announce that it is graphic.
    2. If there is text within an image, write it in the alt text.
    3. Your alt text should not include information available in the surrounding text. For example, using text from the image caption.
    4. Write for your audience. For example, you would describe an image meant for children (like a photo of the newest children’s book), then you would describe an image meant for adults.
    5. Use present tense and action verbs.
    6. Ensure your alt text is inclusive and descriptive.
    7. Use inclusive language in your descriptions. For example, avoid gendering a person unless you know their preferred pronouns.
    8. Describe the physical characteristics of people in images.
      1. Physical characteristics include hairstyle, skin tone, facial features, clothing, etc.
      2. For skin colour, we recommend using the emoji scale: Light Skin Tone, Medium Skin Tone, Dark Skin Tone, etc.
    9. Descriptions should be objective and free from censorship. People who use screen readers should receive equal access to the information conveyed in images.

    You do not need to describe decorative images (purely aesthetic images that do not convey meaning), but we suggest you refrain from using decorative images in your posts.

    Some things may be difficult to describe. The goal is to give the reader all the important information in an image.

    Alternative Text Example:

    Alternative Text: Two bookshelves flank a library aisle. The shelves on the left display magazines. The three middle shelves on the right have green and blue baskets and books (the top and bottom shelves are empty). At the end of the aisle, there is a comfy blue chair with windows behind it that look out on a road and greenery.

    Provide long descriptions for complex images (graphics, charts, graphs, maps, and tables).

    If your digital materials have complex images, you need to include longer descriptions. A complex image includes:

    • Graphs
    • Tables
    • Infographics
    • Maps

    What are Long Descriptions?

    A long description is a detailed text description of an image that can be several paragraphs long. They describe all the information readers need to know to understand them. Long descriptions are used in conjunction with alt text.

    Add a link to the long descriptions, using informative hyperlinks, in your digital materials (documents, websites, digital content, etc.)

    How to create long descriptions for your complex images.

    Write descriptions with a clear structure, working from the general to the specific:

    • Describe the overall image. You should repeat the alt text in the long description to refer to the image used in your presentation, following the above tips for creating alt text.
    • Break the image up into chunks of content and describe each chunk separately in a logical manner.
      • For example, in a chart, you would describe the overall chart and data it presents and then text – like the y and x-axis labels, the percentages of each option, etc.

    Long Description Example

    Video 1. The long description of an infographic read aloud by a screen reader.

    Long Description Text

    An infographic about library use in six sections. There are four horizontal panels. The last two panels are split in half vertically.

    Top panel: Patron engaging with library staff with information desk. Title text “How Canadian Public Libraries Stack Up.” OCLC logo with slogan “The World’s Libraries Connected.”

    Second panel: Map of Canada with text “Every month, 204,000 Canadians get job-seeking help with their public library”. Canadians go to libraries to find jobs, create new careers, and help grow our small businesses. We borrow books, journals, music, and movies. We learn to use the latest technology. We get our questions answered, engage in civic activities, meet with friends and coworkers, and improve our skills at one of the 600 (star) Canadian public libraries. Here are a few ways that Canadian public libraries stack up. Star: There are 607 public library locations covered by the Graphic Canadian Urban Libraries Council’s 2010 Canadian Public Library Statistics report.

    Third panel, left side: A movie night pie chart resembling a DVD. The large portion of the pie reads, “261,000 DVDs”. The small slice reads, “24,000 DVDs”. Canadian public libraries circulate ten times more DVDs than each day. Sources: OCLC, 2011. Primary Research,

    Third panel, right side: No ticket required. Line drawing of a library with text: “Library visits – 100.2 million”. Line drawing of a cinema with text: “Movie attendance – 112.2 million”. Line drawing of a hockey player on skates with stick with text: “NHL attendance – 4.8 million”. Canadians visit the library almost as much as we go to the movies and 20 times more often than we attend Canadian NHL games each year. Source: Canadian Urban Libraries Council, 2010. Canadian Public Library Statistics, Statistics Canada. Motion Pictures Theaters, 2010. ESPN NHL Attendance Report (graphic), 2011-2012.

    Fourth panel, left side: “Our Cultural Journey” bar chart highlighting the stat, “Over half of Canadians visit public libraries annually”. Zoos, aquariums, and planetariums – 42%; Live theatrical performances – 44%; Museums – 48%; Public libraries – 56%; Conservation areas or nature parks – 58%; Movie theatres – 68%. Canadians enjoy cultural trips away from home. Source: OCLC, 2011. Primary Research Hill Graphic Strategies, 2012. Statistical Insights on the Arts.

    Fourth panel, right side: “What We Carry”. An open wallet with a library card inside with text” “62% have a library card”. A Canadian passport with text: “64% have a passport”. Nearly two out of three Canadians have library cards – about as many as have passports. Source: OCLC, 2011. Primary Graphic Research, Passport Canada, Annual report for 2010- 2011.

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