You know that awesome feeling when someone enjoys what you write? How about that feeling when someone enjoys the way you describe an image in words? Is it the same feeling or different?
I’m not sure which is more awesome, being able to write something that engages my readers to do something, whether it is taking action or commenting or sharing my work or being able to write an image description that makes my content more inclusive.
The hardest part for me as a deaf blogger is writing something that can be used with a text to speech software which will read out loud what I write. And this is something I am not able to do in the dark, even with hearing aids on.
Writing Image Descriptions For Your Mind
The reason is because the software is speaking word for word every word I write. Nothing more, nothing less. That’s fine because there is such a thing as a tad bit too much information.
The thing is that these software also reads what is not visible.
The Problem With Blogging and Images
If you are not using a screen reader or a text to speech software, you might not realize the image I added to this post has an alt tag and an image description.
My problem is that I want you to enjoy your reading experience regardless of your human condition. I have tried to the best of my abilities with using hearing aids and organic tactile technology.
It’s just a fancy way of saying recognizing the sounds coming from the speakers on my MacBook and iPhone with the use of hearing aids and hands on the speakers.
What is driving me up the wall is that these software programs seems to be “talking” more than what I wrote. Part of this has to do with coding and software. For example, if done right, images will have alt tags that are not visible on screen but spoken out loud by these programs.
It drove me up the wall because every expert seems to have their own opinion of what to do with an alt tag. Howerver, none of them explained how to use it from an accessible point of view of the reader.
It was Claire Brotherton who allowed me to understand alt tags in her post, The importance of WordPress alt text for accessibility and SEO.
Basically, an image has several parts.
- A file name.
- A title.
- A tag.
- A description.
- A whole bunch of somewhat useful meta information.
That’s it. Nothing more. The problem is providing a reasonable solution to describing images for those who are not able to access images for different reasons.
It can be a result of poorly designed software and/or technology or even human conditions such as blindness or low vision. For example, the image I used in this post with has a file name.
That’s it. A short and simple file name that serves no purpose other than to name the file. It’s not a bunch of random characters. It’s enough to know what the file is about. Now, let’s look at the title of the image.
Blank Sketch Pad on Wood.
That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. A simple title.
The issue with alt tags.
Alt tags are not visible on screen.
Unless you know how to find it, you will not know there is an alt tag. There are screen readers or text to speech software that will find these alt tags and read them out loud.
If the image is one that shows a slice of an apple pie, that’s what the alt tag should say. For example, the image I used for this post with has this sentence inside the alt tag.
Blank sketch pad with pencil resting on top of it.
That’s it. A short and simple description. Nothing fancy to write home about.
That’s what an alt tag is.
The other issue with alt tags.
However, a short simple description will never do an image justice.
That’s where image descriptions come in. If you have not yet checked out the attachment page the image is linked to, I encourage you to do so now. You can always return to this page.
You will see the image file name in the address bar, the title of the image, the image itself, and with an image description below it. Here’s the link to the attachment page for Blank Sketch Pad on Wood.
Did you notice the image description below the image?
Now, I admit I am not an expert nor am I the perfect image describer in the world. Despite years of art training as well as writing experience, it is an area where I still have to improve upon to determine what matters.
For example, one of my favorite opening sentences in all of the books I have ever read is this.
The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.
That sentence is from Stephen King’s book, The Gunslinger. It’s a great sentence to set the stage with.
It is the sentence that inspired me to become a better writer with. However, it’s the wrong kind of sentence for an image description.
That’s where the problem began for me. I want my readers including those who have low vision or are blind to enjoy their reading experience.
It was not until I came across a terrific essay by a legally blind author who is also a college professor. It was this specific statement that stood out the most.
The best descriptions for blind people come from those who can step back from the immediacy of their own experience and imagine the world perceived by other means.
I highly recommend reading her essay. It blew my mind and gave me more information than any of the experts ever could have given me when it came to image descriptions.
It’s not about being an expert, it’s about the user experience, or in this case, my reader’s reading experience. Here is the link to the essay hosted on the Kennedy Center’s website, Blind Imagination: Pictures into Words.
Don’t go crazy with image descriptions.
You are not writing a book.
You are describing an image. This was my personal challenge because as a writer, it is easy for me to run away with describing an image.
However, as a reader, it is harder to stay focused on the topic without being distracted by something irrelevant. That’s when I came across Art Beyond Sight’s Guidelines for Verbal Descriptions.
Granted, it is a little boring and a little academic but it serves the right purpose. To provide a set of guides to describing an image in an artistic environment like a museum. There’s a lot of guidelines in it but it is a good starting point for image descriptions on a blog.
Step 1: Provide a standard description to frame the image in.
Is the image a horizontal, square, or a vertical image? This allows the reader to understand what shape the image is. Heck, I suppose even a circle or oval or just about any geometrical shape is acceptable.
Step 2: Provide a general overview of the image to focus the description of the image.
This is where things do get complicated especially with many items within the image. This was probably my biggest stumbling block. That’s why I picked the blank sketch pad to start with. It contained three items to deal with.
A sketch pad, a pencil, and I presume a floor.
The floor could very well be a desk but it is the one area of the image that is open to interpretation. Hell, it could be a ceiling with everything superglued to the ceiling to mislead us.
Step 3: Orient and add the specific details.
This is where I am still learning the fine line between enough information and too much information. For example, this is how I described the pencil in the image.
On top of the blank page, a pencil is laying flat at a slight angle towards the left side of the sketch pad near the spiral binding.
In one sentence, we know:
- Where the pencil is – on the blank page,
- What the pencil is doing – laying flat,
- How it is positioned – at an angle,
- Where it is posisitoned – towards the left side of the pad near the spiral binding.
Even if there was no images, it should not be difficult to create a simple statement that allows any reader to frame the image in their mind.
The Bottom Line For Image Descriptions
We are not the ones who are reading the image descriptions.
We are the ones writing these image descriptions. We have to presume the reader is smart enough to know a few things like what a sketch pad is, what a pencil is, what a floor is.
What we have to do is become the reader without seeing the image.
If we are able to enjoy our reading experience about the image, then we have succeeded. If we are not able to enjoy the reading experience about the image, we have failed. That’s why I think I found a solution to my image description.
Only time will tell as my readers provide me with feedback. I have enabled comments on my image attachment pages. It is with hope that the feedback I get on my image descriptions will improve my readers’ experience.
The odds are very minimal anyone will comment on these pages but the door is open. Now, I have to go back and fix all the mistakes I made with my previous images.
Why is it important to blog about image descriptions?
The answer is simple.
To be honest with you, this was a challenge for me because of another blogger I admire. Blinkie Fustrations wrote her post to help me understand whether a picture tells more than a thousand words or not?
I do plan on posting a list of resources that I found useful for me in solving this problem. I encourage you to sign up for my email list so you are aware when I post this.
In the meantime, I have a question for you.
Do you have any issues with your blogging experience you would like to find an accessible solution for so you can be a more inclusive blogger?
Leave a comment and let me know.