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Images & Alt text

Software can convert text to speech, but it cannot convert images to text. To overcome this, text can be programmatically attached to an image. If you insert pictures or other images in a Word document, you must label them using the alt text (alternative text) feature in Word. A screenreader will stop on the image and read the alt text that you have written. The amount and type of description that is put into the alt text depends on the type/purpose of the image.

The information on this page introduces you to what alt text is, and how to go about describing images. For a selection of alt text samples, please visit this page: Samples of Alt text.

Alt-text is done differently for Children's Picture Books and Comics. Please visit the pages Alt-Text for Picture Books and Comic Book/Graphic Novel Description: Introduction for more information.

Every image must have a description unless it is solely decorative. To learn more about what to do with decorative images please see Content Breaks. If you come across words that are images please refer to the section Working with Images of Words and Different Alphabets on the Languages page.

What is alt text?

The W3C defines alternative text as follows:

A text alternative is text that is used in place of non-text content for those who cannot view the non-text content. Non-text content includes such things as pictures, charts, applets, audio files, etc. People who cannot see for example would not be able to see information presented in a picture or chart. A text alternative is therefore provided that allows the user to be able to convert the information (the text) into speech. In the future, having the information in text also makes it possible to translate the information into sign language, into pictures, or into a simpler form of writing.

In order for people with disabilities to be able to use this text - the text must be "programmatically determinable." This means that the text must be able to be read and used by the assistive technologies (and the accessibility features in browsers) that people with disabilities use.

It must also be possible for people using assistive technologies to find these text alternatives when they encounter non-text content that they cannot use. To accomplish this, we say that the text must be "programmatically associated" with the non-text content. This means that the user must be able to use their assistive technology to find the alternative text (that they can use) when they land on the non-text content (that they can't use).

When is alt text required?

Alt-text is required for all non-text content (i.e. images, graphs, charts, buttons, etc.) in a document. There are a variety of images that can exist in a text, and they require more or less description depending on the context and type of image.

Ask yourself the following questions when creating Alt-Text:

  • Is there a caption?
    • NO: Add alt text.
    • YES: Does the caption fully describe the image? If it does, simply include a short alt text description.
  • Is the image fully explained or described in the text?
    • NO: Add alt text.
    • YES: Add a short alt text description.
  • Is the image purely decorative?
    • NO: See above. Add alt text.
    • YES: Remove the image. This minimizes irrelevant alt text for the reader.
    • If the image is used to denote a break in text (i.e. change of context), use *** as a replacement. (See Context Breaks for more information.)

The below images can be removed from the text. This is suggested because none of these images convey meaning (i.e. they're decorative). Similar situations may arise. If unsure, ask the Production Coordinator.

  • cover (text equivalent = title/author)
  • publisher/other logo (text equivalent = name of publisher/company)
  • decorative image (no text equivalent required)
  • author photo (no text equivalent required)
Images with text, images of text, and images of tables, graphs, and maps require further attention. See the sections below for more information.

Things to do

  1. delete and re-insert extracted images as you go along
  2. clear the image formatting
  3. resize the images (if necessary) to fit on the page
  4. break the links to make sure the images are embedded into the document
  5. set the image inline with text
  6. add alt text (if required) to the image, or insert a caption (if one exists), or:
  7. add extended image descriptions (Producer's Notes)

1 and 2

Follow the instructions presented on this page: Extract Images from EPUB files.

3. Clear formatting

Select the image and then select clear formatting. If there was a little dot to the left of the image, then that should now be gone.

4. Resizing Images

6. In-line with text

Maintain the general location of images in relation to surrounding text, but ensure that the image (and caption) are within the text (that is, the text does not flow around the image) and between paragraphs (not breaking up the middle of a sentence or paragraph).

The wrapping style should be set as in-line with text (on a Mac, right click the image, select Wrap Text > In Line with Text). Software can only detect and properly read the Alt text associated with an image when it is placed 'in line'.

7. Writing Alt Text

For image description guidelines and examples, refer to:

A few tips:

  • If images are consistent throughout a book, provide this information at the beginning, and then don’t repeat in each image (e.g. if all images are black and white photographs, it is only necessary to provide this information in the alt-text of the first image).
  • As much as possible, without overburdening the reader, try and use as many of the words on the page as possible. For example, use the place and people names used in the text. NB: Ensure character names are not introduced in alt-text before they are introduced in the text.
  • When writing descriptions for illustrations you may find that the image is already described in the text. You don't have to describe it again in full, but add some details that are not given to describe the image without repetition.
  • Only write about what you see and what you know. The contents of the alt attribute should always provide a direct representation of the image and what it conveys visually. Try and think about the audience, and how to make descriptions seem less scientific. Try to warm it up a little bit, because your descriptions need to help drive the narrative forward. Image descriptions are really an art, not a science, so you can go almost anywhere with them.
  • Pay attention to what has already been mentioned in the body of the text. If the book provides a description, then the photos may not need further description.
  • Do describe colours, if applicable.

How to add Alt Text

On a Mac:

  1. Right click on the image
  2. Select Format Picture
  3. Click on Alt Text
  4. Enter a description in the alt text description field (leave the title field blank)
Type text that describes the picture, i.e. “Koala bear facing the viewer.” Be brief, but thorough. It is not necessary to begin your alt text with “Picture of. . .” A screenreader will preface the alt text with “Image.”

How to add an image description without the image

In rare cases, you may be describing the image without a copy of the original image in your document. This is often the case when digitizing from print.

You still need to describe the image, but also denote that the text is not part of the regular paragraph text.

Typically, you may have something similar to the following:

  Sally picks a completely black kettle off the floor.

The specific words you use will differ depending on the language used in the book (e.g. figure, illustration) and whether it is a description (you wrote) or a caption.

8. Adding Extended Image Descriptions (Producer's Notes)

For images that require more complex or extended descriptions, we use the Prodnote - Optional (DAISY) style. See: Producer's Note. Alt text is meant to be a brief description of the image, so as a general rule of thumb, if your description will be more than 120 words, it should be put into an in-text Producer's Note.

You must still also insert Alt text for a short version of the description.

More info on writing extended or long descriptions:

Background images

Especially in children's books, you may want to have the images as a background with the text on top.

  • Make sure the image is "anchored" to where you want it to read the description (if applicable).
  • If unsure where it's anchored, change alignment by selecting In Line with Text under Wrap Text. (You can always Undo to change it back.)
  • If not anchored in the correct place, you will need to move it, then change align back to "behind" and reposition the image.

Shortcuts in Word & LibreOffice

Finding Images

You can search for all images by using the Find function and search for ^g

Tips for Different Types of Images


  • It is not necessary to describe types of lines/colour-coding and images when this information can be described using the information the legend conveys.
  • Aim for clarity, even if detail is sacrificed. Focus on the information that is relevant in the greater context of the book.

More tips on writing text descriptions for maps.


  • Make sure the details are relevant. Do not simply repeat the titles and labels without providing information about what the graph portrays.
  • Provide as much detail as possible, but provide the most relevant information first, like what is being measured on the X and Y axes.
  • For units, use the full word instead of short forms (ex. Use “seconds” instead of “s”) and ensure the unit is described consistently throughout the description.
  • Describe the layout of the graph before describing specific data.

Images of Tables, Surveys, and Text

Sometimes you will come across images that are Tables, Surveys, or Images with Text, or Images of Words or Phrases. It is a big publisher no-no to put any form of text within an image, and there are a few ways we can deal with this as it comes up.

This section highlights some standard practices, but each case can be slightly different. If you are unsure, or have an example that is not covered in this section, please post a question in the Q&A section of the wiki.

Images of Tables

If there is an image of a table, simply recreate the table within Word following the directions in the Tables Section. Then delete the image of the table once you are done.

Images of Surveys

This one is a bit of a judgement call. It depends on the context of the image. If it’s critical to understanding the book that readers know exactly what was asked in the survey then we want to transcribe the entire survey and then add a Producer's Note at the beginning of the book to explain what we have done. Otherwise, if it doesn’t really matter to the reading experience what the details of the survey are then Alt-Text will do. There are some great examples on how to write Alt-Text here.

Example Coming Soon

Images with Text

Some Images will have text as part of that image. In these cases there are two solutions:

  1. Transcribe the Text in the Image into the Caption
  2. Transcribe the Text in the Image into the Alt-Text

Again, this is a judgement call. Both options can work, but it also depends on what the text is. When in doubt just ask!

If it is simply an image with a sign in the background, then we do not have to add this to the Alt-Text or Caption unless it is essential to understanding the image. See examples below.

Example Coming Soon

Images of Words and Phrases

A very big publisher no-no is having Single Words or Phrases as Images. This is one of the biggest accessibility sins. When this happens with must transcribe the image inline with the text, and then remove the image itself. If the image is written in another alphabet you may have to either use Unicode or set up your keyboard to type that alphabet. Please see the Languages section for more information.

Example Coming Soon


Q & A

Q: If there is a photograph of a letter, should we transcribe it into the alt-text?

A: It depends on two factors that should be taken into consideration when writing alternative text (requires some judgement):

  1. the context and purpose of the image: why is the image there? does the author want us to read the contents of the letter? how important is it to be able to read the letter? is there a caption? (if so, does the caption adequately describe the photograph?) You can learn more about when/how to describe here: Determining if the image needs an image description
  2. how long the text is: Alt text is meant to be a brief description of the image, ideally no more than 120 words as a general rule of thumb. If it's necessary to transcribe the letter and the letter is lengthy, we can use an in-text producer's note: Producer's Note

Q: For images that contain a lot of information (such as an Army record that contains a lot of text, finger prints, tables, etc.), what is recommended in terms of Alt Text?

A: Very good question! Image descriptions can be tricky. The first question I like to consider is the purpose of the image: is it decorative? for visual interest only? provide essential information? We also consider if it's adequately described in the surrounding content already.

Let's take "Shaw's US Army Record" image from Rich man, poor man as an example (below). There's a lot of text embedded within this image.

What's the purpose? This image is located at the end of the book (in the biography section) and a brief caption is provided. I haven't read the book, but I think the general purpose of the image is to give the reader a sense of what his Army record looked like, so the alternative text could describe some essential things that we can glean from the record, such as: this is his "Military Record and Report of Separation, Certificate of Service" and it contains both personal data and information about his military history.

What do I see? How much information we want to provide about his personal and military history depends on: 1) what we can actually see! (the image quality is poor, so most likely the author doesn't think it's very important that we see or know the details), and 2) what information might readers want to know that's here and isn't already in the book.

To be honest, I can't make out much information here, so I think it would be perfectly appropriate to leave out specific personal and military history details from the Alternative Text description.

Shaw's US Army Record

For further exploration: Diagram Center is the authority on image descriptions and they have great guidelines and training material: Image Description Training

public/nnels/etext/images.txt · Last modified: 2020/01/15 13:37 by rachel.osolen