Best practices: Alt text for images

Web accessibility has always been a requirement for UMaine websites, and Digital Communications will be increasing our efforts to improve the accessibility of web content on in the coming year. The term “accessibility” refers to our efforts to remove barriers that prevent access to websites by people who have a disability. This month, we focus on the alternative text attribute for images commonly called “alt text.”

What is alt text, and why does it matter?
Alt text is an alternative for an image on your website. Visitors who rely on assistive technology such as screen readers cannot see these images. When the page is read aloud the image will be denoted as “image” in the audio. Without alt text, the visitor misses out on what you intended to convey.
The most frequent visitor to your website that relies on alt text is likely Google. The search engine does not have eyeballs, and relies on the non-visual content of your web page in order to characterize it for search. Because of this, proper alt text on images is helpful both to your visitors and your website’s appearance in search.

When to add alt text:
The WordPress system will save uploaded images into your Media Library, and alt text can be associated with the image (as well as a caption, description, and attribution). If you specify your alt text at the time you upload the image, that text will save into the system in a way that is used every time you embed the image in your content. If you do not add alt text to the image when it is first uploaded, you will be asked to add alt text to images that are in use.

An important caveat: Alt text updated/added in the Media Library does not automatically update for images already in use. If you are asked to add alt text to images on your site, you will need to update that within the page or post using the image.