Hierarchy chart showing alt text with down arrow to icons for screen readers, search engines, and broken images.

Learning the Ins-and-Outs of LMS: Tell Me What You See

Author: Nicholas Jay Hoekstra

As we continue our review of learning management systems (LMS) and how to ensure accessibility for the widest range of users, we’re going to return to a topic that was mentioned briefly in a previous post. When we checked the accessibility checkers present in many popular LMS, we realized that one of their shortcomings is that they can’t verify the quality of image descriptions or alternative text (i.e., alt text). In this post, we’re going to review some common strategies for communicating visual information on your LMS in an accessible way. This blog will cover tips for writing alt text and image descriptions as well using tables to present information.

I Prefer Texts Over Calls

Alt text provides the essential details of an image and is typically a maximum of 125 characters. It is included as part of the alt attribute of an image. Alt text is not visible on-screen, but is read aloud by screen readers. Image descriptions, meanwhile, are more detailed explanations and can be seen on-screen as long as is necessary to convey the information presented in the image or graphic. These descriptions are sometimes found within the text on a page or in a separate window that opens when clicked. Some basic rules to follow when considering alt text and image descriptions include:

  • Descriptions are not required for purely decorative images.
  • Do not include the words “a picture of” or “an image of.”
  • Write out any text that appears within the image.
  • Do not use abbreviations if they have not been defined yet within the text.
  • Objectively describe what is seen without implying emotion or intention.

This article from Perkins eLearning provides additional tips on what to include and what not to include when writing descriptions.

Totally Tabular!

Tables are a great way to organize and present information. Tables can consist in lists of figures, terms with their definitions, or other data that can be presented in a tabular fashion. When it comes to accessibility, however, there are a few things we should avoid. Tables should never be used for the purpose of formatting a page or changing its layout, such as placing an image alongside text. It is also recommended to avoid using merged cells. Although you can find specific instructions for creating accessible tables in Canvas, Blackboardand Moodle, accessible tables share a few common features:

  • A caption that briefly tells us what the table is presenting.
  • Column headers that define what the information in that column refers to.
  • Row headers that define what the information in that row refers to.

Captions, column, and row headers can each be set within the table properties. Typically, the first row and first column of a table will contain the information intended as the table headers. However, these must still be marked within the table properties for screen readers to correctly recognize them.

What is the most challenging visual information to present?

What has been your most difficult picture or table to convey with words? Tell us about it over at the CIDDL Community. Maybe we can work together to find the right words!