Improve Your Web Collection’s Accessibility and Optimize Its Discoverability on the Internet
Never heard of Image Alt Tags? Based on Gallery Systems’ experience working with museums, it is fair to say that a good number of web collection pages don’t yet include this important data. 2020 may be the year that will change.
What are Image Alt Tags?
The concept is straightforward. Image Alt Tags are succinct, descriptive text strings, usually under 100 characters in length, that assist website and software users in understanding what is being depicted when they cannot access the digital images visually.
As shown in the video, when a user clicks on an image, often navigating with their keyboard, the Image Alt Tag text is electronically voiced by a screen reader, such as JAWS, NVDA, or Windows Narrator. Image Alt Tags are not displayed, but they may also benefit users who don’t experience them directly by broadening search results, including helping to optimize discoverability by search engines (SEO).
What Should Be Included in an Image Alt Tag?
Consider what details would help someone, who cannot view an image, understand that image within the context of the page’s data. For example, on pages representing a single collection object, screen readers can articulate the content on the page, such as the Artist/Maker, Object Name, Title, and Medium. So, this information does not need to be repeated.
For some simple, illustrative examples, the Image Alt Tag might usefully include descriptive details, such as subject matter (sailboats in a harbor), specific characteristics of a portrait or sitter (full length portrait, bearded man wearing a green felt hat), the perspective of the image (round wooden table from above), and whether the image is black and white or a detail (black and white detail of a woven rug).
Details the audience would recognize, such as the name of a prominent sitter or a distinctive style, may also be included (Queen-Ann style chair), but inferred interpretations and meanings should not be. While this descriptive text is called a Tag, it is actually a short, coherent phrase, rather than a string of independent keywords.
Other Benefits of Image Alt Tags?
Most of us approach broadening accessibility to our collection information as a community-building imperative. But be aware that there are additional reasons for informing yourself and your colleagues and taking action. Organizations with inaccessible websites can be vulnerable to legal action, as exemplified by a string of 2019 lawsuits against New York art galleries and other small business owners.
So, your institutional resolution for 2020? Embrace Image Alt Tags!
Gallery Systems can help. Our eMuseum and Web Kiosk publishing tools, together with collections management applications such as TMS, TMS Collections, and EmbARK, can be used to implement Image Alt Tags in a straightforward way, and they incorporate many other features to facilitate accessibility. Contact us to learn more.