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#AltTextForAll: Improving the visual experience for blind & low vision people

21 Oct 2019
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More than 6.6 billion images are uploaded to the internet every day, but for those who are blind or have low vision, it can be a massively limited experience.

This is why Blind & Low Vision NZ (formerly known as the Blind Foundation) is encouraging people to get on board the #AltTextForAll Movement, which aims to make the internet more accessible to those who may not be able to experience the fully visual world of the internet.

Essentially, every image uploaded to the internet has what’s called ‘Alt Text’, which describes an image with words. But there’s a problem – many images don’t include descriptions, or an AI bot has come along with an inaccurate or incomplete description.

The #AltTextForAll Movement asks people to help open up the visual world by undertaking one simple task - use the ‘Alt Text’ functionality when publishing digital images to describe the relevant information in the picture.

But if you’ve never head of Alt Text before, you’re not alone.

“It seems many people just aren’t aware of the role Alt Text can play for screen reader users,” says Blind & Low Vision NZ general manager of marketing and communications, Louise vin Sierakowski.

“We hope through this movement that people take a step forward in supporting how those who are blind or have low vision can have independent access to information. It’s simple, but it’s really important.”

Different platforms have different ways of enabling Alt Text. Here are Facebook's instructions:

  1. Click Photo/Video at the top of your News Feed.
  2. Select the photo you want to add.
  3. Click Edit Photo, then click Alt Text.
  4. The automatically generated text will be shown on the left side of your photo. Click Override generated alt text to edit it.
  5. Write your alt text in the box. To change back to the automatically generated text, click Clear.
  6. To save your alt text, click Save in the bottom right.
  7. To change the alt text of a photo after you've posted it:
  8. Click the photo to open it.
  9. Click Options in the bottom right and select Change Alt Text.
  10. Click Override generated alt text or change the alt text in the text box. You can also click Clear to change your edited alt text back to the automatically generated text.
  11. Click Save.

The campaign is supported by a series of films that focus on how the services offered by Blind & Low Vision NZ offer practical and emotional support for people with sight loss, including day-to-day living skills, getting around and employment readiness.

The global #AltTextForAll movement has been backed by New Zealand firms including Dole, Sky City, Vector, The Warehouse Group, and Westpac.

“When we started sharing the #AltTextForAll Movement with Kiwi businesses, seeing the immediate support we received, it was like a no-brainer response to get involved. With such an easy change, these companies have consciously helped the world become more inclusive for those who are blind or have low vision – simply by adopting Alt Text,” says YoungShand group account director Ben Hopkinson.

The campaign has even taken aim at prominent celebrities including the BBC, Ellen, and Ryan Reynolds to help promote the movement.

“Blind & Low Vision NZ help to open up the world for people with sight loss, through the many services they offer,'' says YoungShand creative director Scott Maddox.

"The #AltTextForAll Movement enables us to showcase this through a campaign that aims to make the millions of images we share every day more accessible.”