[Athen] Guide to Writing Alt Text

Karlen Communications info at karlencommunications.com
Mon Apr 2 11:11:15 PDT 2018

This isn’t available any more on the CSUN website, but it is something that I use in workshops to get people started thinking about how to describe images. I caution participants that ideally their images will relate to content unlike the artwork descriptions in this project. However, it is a good start toward thinking about Alt text.

I also caution them that Alt Text should not be 300 words! It should be short and concise.

Here is how I use the attached document in a workshop:

1. I have pages from a small calendar, the ones that are about 6X6 inches – not the really large ones.
2. I divide the participants into groups and give them one picture from the calendar. I find the classic artists like Monet really good for this. Don’t choose seasonal pictures or anything too abstract.
3. The pictures are also chosen from an angle where they can’t see what picture they or other groups are choosing.
4. I given them 20-30 minutes to write down their descriptions of the images. None of the other groups see the picture until the end.
5. At the end of time, I ask each group to read their description without revealing their picture. I then give the rest of the participants a minute to get the image into their minds.
6. I then ask the group who has just presented to reveal their picture so we can se if the picture is representative of the description.

We then discuss for a minute or two what might be missing, what would have helped with understanding the picture if anything.

The guidelines for this project are for art and are designed to be objective to not suggest something that is a form of bias or supposition. This creates great discussion about what is important, how to describe something without adding your personal bias…I find it is a great exercise and something not computer based for the topic of accessible document design.

The document is linked to from the Karlen Communications website. It is called “A Picture is Worth 300 Words” in case it doesn’t manage to travel with this post.

Cheers, Karen

From: athen-list <athen-list-bounces at mailman13.u.washington.edu> On Behalf Of Christine Robinson
Sent: Monday, April 2, 2018 12:50 PM
To: Access Technology Higher Education Network <athen-list at u.washington.edu>
Subject: Re: [Athen] Guide to Writing Alt Text

Hi all –

The image description guidelines from the Diagram Center are wonderful. As someone who tries to guide busy faculty and staff in creating alt text, however – it’s a tough sell to try to get people to read that much.

Here’s what I’ve been telling people (my attempt at the bottom line):

Alt text should briefly convey (1) the purpose for which the image was included, and (2) a description of any relevant visual elements.

Comments? Criticism? Anybody got a better summary?

All ears,


Christine Robinson | Technical Trainer/Writer | Center for Teaching Excellence

Georgia Gwinnett College | 1000 University Center Lane | Lawrenceville, GA 30043

From: athen-list [mailto:athen-list-bounces at mailman13.u.washington.edu] On Behalf Of Castiglione, Deb A
Sent: Monday, April 02, 2018 10:30 AM
To: Access Technology Higher Education Network <athen-list at u.washington.edu <mailto:athen-list at u.washington.edu> >
Subject: Re: [Athen] Guide to Writing Alt Text

Thanks Kathy!

I am familiar with them, but had not thought to bring them to the attention of my colleagues. Thank you for the reminder!

We are in the process of drafting guidelines, but I know you all on this list are actually in the field writing alt text and know best what the students want/need.


From: athen-list <athen-list-bounces at mailman13.u.washington.edu <mailto:athen-list-bounces at mailman13.u.washington.edu> > on behalf of Kathleen Cahill <kcahill at mit.edu <mailto:kcahill at mit.edu> >
Reply-To: Access Technology Higher Education Network <athen-list at u.washington.edu <mailto:athen-list at u.washington.edu> >
Date: Monday, April 2, 2018 at 10:04 AM
To: Access Technology Higher Education Network <athen-list at u.washington.edu <mailto:athen-list at u.washington.edu> >
Subject: Re: [Athen] Guide to Writing Alt Text

Hi Deb,

Are you familiar with the Image Description guidelines put out by the Diagram Center and NCAM (National Center for Accessible Media)? They are available at <http://diagramcenter.org/table-of-contents-2.html> http://diagramcenter.org/table-of-contents-2.html

Good luck – such a challenge with complex higher ed subjects!


Kathy Cahill

Associate Dean, Accessibility and Usability

MIT Office of Undergraduate Education

77 Mass. Ave. 7-143

Cambridge MA 02139

<mailto:kcahill at mit.edu> kcahill at mit.edu

(617) 253-5111

From: athen-list < <mailto:athen-list-bounces at mailman13.u.washington.edu> athen-list-bounces at mailman13.u.washington.edu> on behalf of "Castiglione, Deb A" < <mailto:deb.castiglione at cengage.com> deb.castiglione at cengage.com>
Reply-To: Access Network < <mailto:athen-list at u.washington.edu> athen-list at u.washington.edu>
Date: Monday, April 2, 2018 at 9:24 AM
To: " <mailto:athen-list at mailman13.u.washington.edu> athen-list at mailman13.u.washington.edu" < <mailto:athen-list at mailman13.u.washington.edu> athen-list at mailman13.u.washington.edu>
Subject: [Athen] Guide to Writing Alt Text

Hello Everyone!

I’ve been off the list for a bit, moving and changing jobs. My employer has changed, but not my basic role – striving for universally designed and accessible learning experiences in higher ed.

I’d love to work with individuals on this list, so that we can fulfill learners’ needs and eliminate potential barriers. I hope to develop some long-term partnerships.

I don’t want to tie up the listserv, so please email me off list with thoughts and information that you feel would help to serve your learners better and create more universally designed and accessible learning experiences.

Speaking of… does anyone have a good guide/guidelines to writing alt text for higher education that they would be willing to share?

Thanks much.


What is “essential for some” is almost always “good for all” (Meyer, Rose, and Gordon, 2014).

Deb Castiglione, EdD, ATP

Director, Universal Design & Accessible Technologies

Learning Center of Excellence


5191 Natorp Boulevard, Mason, OH 45040

513-229-1654 / 513-309-6262

<mailto:deb.castiglione at cengage.com> deb.castiglione at cengage.com

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://mailman12.u.washington.edu/pipermail/athen-list/attachments/20180402/eb8e52e8/attachment.html>
-------------- next part --------------
A non-text attachment was scrubbed...
Name: PictureIsWorth300WordsCSUN2001.pdf
Type: application/pdf
Size: 293174 bytes
Desc: not available
URL: <http://mailman12.u.washington.edu/pipermail/athen-list/attachments/20180402/eb8e52e8/attachment.pdf>

More information about the athen-list mailing list