The University of Toronto Press is committed to making its books as accessible as possible. This includes appropriate image descriptions – specifically, alt text and extended descriptions – in ebooks. A reader who is visually impaired or uses assistive technology for any reason can have these descriptions read to them, thereby allowing them to understand a book’s visual content.
A good image description doesn’t just state what the image is a picture of; instead, it must convey to a print-disabled user what is conveyed to a sighted user visually. As the author, you know best why a given image has been included and what it should convey to the reader. For that reason, UTP requires that authors provide alt text and, when relevant, extended descriptions for all figures and images in a book (in addition to captions and any descriptions or explanations in the main text).
These elements will be edited along with the manuscript to ensure that they are clear, consistent with the text of the book, and conform to best practices in the creation of image descriptions.
There are four elements to image description:
Visible to all readers
Caption- title or brief explanation of an image or figure (or group of images/figures); may include source or permission credits
Body text- main text of the publication; provides context for visual resource
Not displayed on the page; embedded in the ebook and accessed via assistive technology/screen readers
Alt text- short description (often 140 characters or fewer) of a specific visual resource: what a reader would glean from a quick look at the image; required for every image that is meaningful and not merely decorative
Extended Description- longer textual description of a specific visual resource; may contain structural elements or subsections (e.g. a table, paragraphs)
This section provides guidance for writing alt text and extended descriptions.
PROVIDING IMAGE DESCRIPTIONS
The following should be provided in the manuscript immediately after the paragraph containing the call-out to the image and immediately preceding the figure number and title (see Preparing Your Artwork). If your book has more than 10 images/figures, please use the template provided by your acquiring editor to create a caption manuscript for all the captions/titles, alt text, and extended descriptions for all images and figures to appear in your book.
[Insert Figure 2.2 here]
<<alt-text>>A line graph showing the increase in closed complaints over a five-year period.
<<ext-desc>>The proportion of complaints closed via settlements, as a percentage of all settlements, increased from an average of around 5% in 2010/11 to 13% in 2014/15. Facilitated settlements were generally 1% higher than the average, and non-facilitated settlements were generally 1% lower than the average. All settlements held relatively steady over the period.
Figure 2.2. Proportion of complaints closed vis settlements, 2010–15
HOW MUCH EXPLANATION IS NECESSARY?
Not all images require the same type of description.
- Many images can be adequately described in a sentence or two and only require alt text. It is good practice to state what type of image it is in the context of the alt text.
- Some images also require an extended description in order to convey to a print disabled user what is conveyed to a sighted user. Examples are:
- charts and diagrams, where a paragraph or more might be required to describe numerical or other details.
- images where you expect the reader to notice specific details.
- images of textual objects, like a contract or a historical document, the content of which is expected to be read by the user. (But if there are just a few words in the image, they can usually be provided in the alt text.)
- Some images are purely decorative, the content of which doesn’t convey relevant information to the reader and for which a description is actually a distraction. These images should not include either alt text or extended descriptions.
- Textual description may refer to terms, names, and knowledge previously established within the text.
- Textual description should prioritize information that is relevant to the illustrative material’s purpose within the text. The textual description should advance or enhance the argument in the same way that the illustrative material does.
- In almost every case it is best to begin longer descriptions with overview statements that allow the reader to grasp the whole of the illustrative material, before moving on to specifics. This convention also allows the reader to decide whether they wish to continue for further information.
WHAT NOT TO INCLUDE
An important principle is not to provide something in an image description that has already been conveyed to the reader by another means, or which conveys accurate but irrelevant information.
- Don’t use the caption as the image description. Assistive technology like a screen reader will already have read the caption to the user; if it is repeated in the alt text or extended description, the user hears it twice.
- Don’t use the image file name or the word “image” as the alt text. That may be what the image is, but the alt text needs to convey what the image is about.
- The alt text should not repeat information that is contained elsewhere (surrounding text, caption) except when repetition constitutes the best textual description. And it is not necessary to provide an extended description if that description is already conveyed in the caption or the surrounding text. Simple alt text should suffice in such a case.