Emotional Rich Alt Text

I’m guilty of not taking the care to consider people with different abilities compared to my own. As a person of the Internet, I spend a lot of my free cycles thinking about writing, developing and making things for the Internet. Often, those projects include images which I do my best to include Alt text for anyone using a screenreader to browse what I’ve produced. I feel more guilty for not having thought about the depth that I describe those images.

This old post by Léonie landed in my lap recently and it shook me up:

A good alt text can conjure up wonderfully stimulating mental images. A friendly smile is the same in print, photo or wax crayon.

Whether you listen to an image or see it, the emotional response is the key factor, so why should we recommend that these emotion rich images should be given a null alt text and hidden from screen reader users?

I now think—obviously?—the emotional power and content of images should not be confined to the sighted. If an image is important enough to spend my bandwidth on, to share with everyone who visits my weblog, then I should consider the different means of consumption that someone could choose.


To pull off on a tangent for a moment, I think there’s a wider discussion that should be had about metadata in general. Knee-jerkingly, I consider most metadata to be anywhere from neutral to chaotically evil: used by the powers that be to identify, track, categorize, target, etc. Think of Instagram/Facebook and location metadata, or the invisible fingerprints left after calling someone—all ways to make associations whether helpful or incriminating. Perhaps, I should spend more effort thinking the wide variety of microformats that contribute meaning to the weave of our shared Internet fabric.

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