Building Accessible Online Learning – Why Alternative Text (ALT) Tags Shouldn’t Be An Afterthought

The importance of accessible images cannot be overemphasised, especially in online education and digital learning.

Images play a crucial role in enhancing the learning experience, and are used in practically every online course you might find, and the reason not surprisingly is that visual graphics are a proven to have a significant impact on student engagement and learning outcomes.

This is because imagery can help to break up text and make the content more visually appealing and memorable. Additionally, imagery can help to bring learning material to life and provide students with a potentially more immersive and interactive learning experience.

However, to ensure that everyone has access to the information that an image is suppose to convey, it’s important to use accessible images, and a practical step that every online experience developer should be undertaking is to include Alternative Text (ALT) tags to images.

What are Alternative Text (ALT) tags?

ALT tags (also known as ALT attributes or ALT descriptions) are HTML attributes given to images on a webpage that provide a text description for what the image contains. They are used to make the content of a website accessible to people who use screen readers or have images turned off in their web browser, as well as to improve search engine optimisation (SEO) by providing additional information about the content of the images.

Practical Steps to Ensure Effective Use of ALT tags in Online Learning

So what are the best use cases for ALT tag information, and when should you consider a different option? We advise the following three options with all images included in your online learning experiences:

  1. Use short, concise and to the point alt text for simple images that convey simple information. Your ALT tag should be short, sweet, and to the point for the people who need it.
  2. Use long descriptions for complex images such as graphs, charts, infographics and diagrams. The long description should provide equivalent access to the information contained in the image.
  3. Use actual text instead of images of text when possible. Actual text is more flexible and can be resized without losing clarity or becoming grainy. Additionally, users can modify the background and text colors to suit their reading preferences.

Are There Any WordPress Plugins That Can Speed Up To Process of Managing ALT Tags?

A plugin for WordPress is available to download for free from the global WordPress plugin repository called Bulk Auto Image Alt Text (Alt tag, Alt attribute) optimization (image SEO). Using this plugin can help to speed up the process of adding ALT tags to all images found on your site, as well as being able to apply auto-generation tools for tags to be produced based on the categories and keyword associated with your posts, pages, or even WooCommerce product pages.

Making Learning Accessible To As Many People As Possible Should Be The Duty of All Online Learning Experience Developers

Using alternative text for images is crucial for ensuring accessibility in online education and digital learning.

To get the most out of alternative text, it’s important to be mindful of the context in which the image is found, and be responsive to that context.

Additionally, don’t rely on artificial intelligence to write your alternative text, as it hardly ever gets it right. Most platforms have a mechanism for adding alternative text, and it’s important to make use of these mechanisms to increase the accessibility of our images.

Members of the WPETG are committed to the mission of making high-quality online learning experiences available to as many people as possible through the experience and ideas that we share.

Do you have anything you would like to contribute about your experiences building accessible online learning? Please share them with us over in our community area on LinkedIn.

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