Including image descriptions in your ebooks and digital content hugely increases accessibility because it ensures that all readers have access to the same content. This Introduction discusses the importance of image descriptions — to your readers, to the business case, to social inclusion, and more.
Think of all the books that you have read for leisure, work or school in your lifetime. How many of your textbooks, novels, memoirs, and instructional books have images? Now imagine those books with all of the images omitted. Undoubtedly, this would make the experience of reading the books frustrating and challenging, especially if you need those books for employment and educational purposes.
This is the reality for many readers around the world who have a print disability (which includes individuals who are blind or visually impaired, people with cognitive and comprehension disabilities, and persons who have physical mobility challenges), but happily, there are ways to address this issue! Including image descriptions in your books is the best way to ensure that your publications can be fully understood, and fully enjoyed, by all readers.
Importance of Image Descriptions
Image descriptions should be used in ebooks, on social media posts, on your website, and in your newsletters. It’s important because…
Accessible images can teach and empower! Have you ever heard of Tim Cordes, Haben Girma, Jean Little, and Erik Weihenmayer? Tim Cordes is a blind physician who earned a Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Wisconsin –Madison. Haben Girma is a lawyer and motivational speaker who is the first Deafblind graduate from Harvard Law School. Jean Little was an award-winning Canadian author who was blind. Erik Weihenmayer is an adventurer and speaker who is the first blind person who reach the summit of Mount Everest. These are all highly talented people who rely on or have relied on accessible images to get some of their information due to their print disability.
Accessible images reach more people! In Canada, 1 in 5 people have a print disability; this is a sizable portion of the population, and does not even include an aging population (many of whom have deteriorating eyesight). Without accessible images, these people are prevented from fully accessing content. This is a challenge for them, and may be detrimental to publishers and authors, since the disability community has massive buying power. It is like walking away from an investor who is offering billions of dollars. That is similar to what is happening here when images are inaccessible. The Canadian disability community has over $80 billion of annual disposable income. Globally, this figure jumps to over $1.8 trillion annually, all the way to $10.74 trillion annually if we include families and friends who have a connection to someone with a disability according to the Return on Disability 2020 report. The more accessible your books are, the more potential readers you have!
Accessible design benefits everyone! Wheelchair ramps were seen as a burdensome requirement when they were first introduced but are now widely used, not only by people in wheelchairs, but also by mothers with strollers and travelers with big suitcases. This is the same with image descriptions (on the internet). When you make images accessible on your websites, it does not only benefit readers with print disabilities. Image descriptions will improve SEO (search engine optimization), meaning that your content will be more discoverable to everyone because search engines can easily index the machine-readable text. Image descriptions also benefit people trying to view your images on a mobile device. Readers can get frustrated when they have to pan around a screen to see the entire image or the graphic does not load due to low bandwidth. When image descriptions are included, the visitor can access these instead.
Determining who Can/Should be Tasked with Writing Image Descriptions
Who Should Create Image Descriptions
This resource discusses the options you might have for image description creators/authors. There are many different people that can potentially do this work, and deciding on a person or group is an important step!
This Best Practices document reviews key guidelines to writing image descriptions. Whether you are a publisher, freelancer, author, or anyone else, this document will help you make decisions about how and what to describe.
Subject(s): Image Descriptions
Resource Type(s): Standards and Best Practices
Reviewing Image Descriptions
Guide for Reviewing Image Descriptions
This guide shares a short checklist of items to review when reading or editing image descriptions. Whether you wrote them yourself, or someone else wrote them, this guide will help ensure the quality of descriptions.
Subject(s): Digital Marketing, Ebook Production, Image Descriptions, Website Accessibility
Resource Type(s): Checklist, Standards and Best Practices
Writing Descriptions for Digital Media
Introduction to Writing Alt-text for Digital Media (other than ebooks)
Images used on websites, social media, and other non-book content need image descriptions. The writing guidelines are mostly the same, but there are a few additional things to consider. This Introduction document looks at these,…
Subject(s): Digital Marketing, Image Descriptions
Resource Type(s): Checklist
External Links to More Information
Guide to Image Descriptions
A thorough introduction to image descriptions; it discusses: the importance of image descriptions, workflow considerations, and terminology; it also provides some technical guidance and code samples, and of course provides detailed image description guidelines, with examples!