Over the last several months, we have been providing accessibility tips centered around different applications you may use such as Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and Adobe PDF when creating digital content. We also are holding a session during Keep Calm and Teach On, Accessibility 101, to provide more information about accessibility (August 15, 2018, 10:30-11:15 am). As we continue to build awareness of accessibility needs when creating course content, this article is going to focus on one important task: creating alternative text for images. According to Web Accessibility in Mind, “adding alternative text to images is one of the easiest accessibility principles to learn and one of the hardest to master.”

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 specify in Guideline 1.1, that text alternatives for any non-text content must be provided. Think for a minute about the images you use when creating content pages in your course. Alt text is invisible content until someone needs to use it. How do you know if it is present? If it is present, is it appropriate alternative text?

A good first practice when deciding on the appropriate alt text needed is to look at the image and what information this image may add to your content. Would the page make sense without the image? According to Whitney Quesenbery on her session regarding Writing Great Alt Text, if the image contains:

  • Text – repeat the words
  • Visual information – explain it
  • Sensory information – describe it
  • Nothing new – ignore it (alt=””)

(slide 15)

Alternative text can be presented in the alt text attribute or in the surrounding context of the image. One image may have different alt texts depending upon the context and surroundings of the image itself. The WebAim website has some excellent examples that are worthwhile viewing. Test your knowledge and see how you do!

Keep in mind that images have different purposes. Some are informative, others are just decorative. Often we see images that are just text and still others are more complex like graphs or tables. The W3C website provides more detailed information on providing alternative text based on the purpose of images.


Adding Alt Text to images in Canvas

When you want to add an image while creating content in Canvas using the rich content editor you can do either of the following:

If you place your cursor in the place you want to add an image and if that image already exists in your assets on the right hand side you can simply click the image and it will be added to your page. In this case, you will not be prompted for alt text. This is usually done when you first upload a new image to your site.

When you click +Upload a new image you will be prompted to browse for the image and a space to enter an alt text is provided. If the context of the image is already shared within the text then you can simply check the Decorative image box. Otherwise, an alt text should be added.


If you use the embed image icon in the rich content editor toolbar you will be prompted to locate your image. If this is already in Canvas, click the image and it will pre-populate the alt text with the file name of the image. Edit the file name if you intend to provide a meaningful alt text for the image. If it is a decorative image you can click the checkbox next to Decorative image. If you are using a URL or Flickr image make sure you complete the Alt text to describe the image or check the box if it is a decorative image.