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When a caption already describes the image… and other topics thread
First of all, thanks for your answers to my previous questions!
Okay, here’s a new one. It’s a bit of a doozy.
I have a question about a very complex pathology textbook with 1900 microcopy images that we have, and how to deal with it both from the perspective of the image captions and from the perspective of the new world of accessibility regulations in Europe and Canada.
When we get down to it, the cost of writing alternative text for the 1900 images would unfortunately be prohibitively expensive and labour-intensive for the press at this time (we are a small operation, only 3 people), and even moreso if we were to hire a pathologist to do it—which we would certainly have to do if we wanted to have alternative text that did anything beyond saying “a microscopic image of X.” With this in mind, we’re wondering if alt text is necessary for this book in order to continue to sell into Europe past 2025, and ultimately to sell in Canada, too.
This would not mean that these images won’t be described at all. The captions actually do a fair job of image description, and are indeed written by pathologists with the aim of pointing out the relevant features of each image. Here is an example:
Image 2.6 Atypical lipomatous tumor and well-differentiated liposarcoma are characterized by large atypical, hyperchromatic cells, preferentially found in fibrous septae (image A) and in or near vessel walls (image B). Lipoblasts (image C) are not a requisite for diagnosis. Lipoblasts are immature adipocytes with uni- or multivacuolated cytoplasm. The cytoplasmic vacuoles indent or scallop the nucleus.
I remember hearing in a Benetech training led by Charles LaPierre that if a caption adequately describes an image, it would be repetitive and unnecessary to include alternative text. Is this potentially an option for this book? If so, how do we complete the alt attribute? (is it just alt = “” ?)
Finally, if this is not an option for this book, I’m also wondering about the extent of the regulations that are coming into place, as we currently understand them, and if a book like this one will lose its markets if it doesn’t include alternative text. No worries if this latter question is too much to deal with right now!
November 2, 2022 at 7:16 pm
In this case I would ask first about the intent of the images. I’ll use the example you gave:
“Image 2.6 Atypical lipomatous tumor and well-differentiated liposarcoma are characterized by large atypical, hyperchromatic cells, preferentially found in fibrous septae (image A) and in or near vessel walls (image B). Lipoblasts (image C) are not a requisite for diagnosis. Lipoblasts are immature adipocytes with uni- or multivacuolated cytoplasm. The cytoplasmic vacuoles indent or scallop the nucleus.”
If the goal is for readers to use these images to be able to name two necessary characteristics and one possible characteristic of atypical lipomatous tumors and well-differentiated liposarcoma, I think their caption achieved that goal. I don’t have the image, but I can mispronounce the characteristics based on my new knowledge :D. In that case, there are two options for alt text, one is a null tag (alt=””) and the other is informational which is basically just a super simple description to let the reader know the image exists (alt=”Three part microscopic photo of a lipomatous tumor each featuring defining characteristics.”)
BUT, if you want readers to be able to recognize those characteristics and the goal of the images is to show what, for example, a fibrous septae looks like and how close it needs to be to the vessel wall to be a distinguishing characteristic, you need more extensive alt text. That said, the authors chose those images for a reason and the authors are the experts so this is a chance to turn back to them and ask for descriptions. Even if you introduce the descriptions over time as the authors finish the work, you are taking the necessary and appropriate steps to make the book usable for everyone.
One a side note – extended description in this case can be helpful for more than readers with visual impairments. If you implement an extended description that is viewable, it will be helpful to users with learning disabilities as well.