What Is that Photo?

Citizen advocate Adam Reich recently brought to our attention a major flaw in NJ Transit’s social media: the lack of ALT text for many of their images, particularly problematical when they have text over the image. Web developers and designers know that for screen readers, text-over-image is not acceptable; basically, that configuration should not be used. Like so many, however, we realize that it is commonly used, can be very attractive, and will not be going away any time soon.

However, that does not mean neglecting those who use screen readers for whatever reason: visually impaired, cognitive limitations leading to confusion, susceptible to sensory overload—really, it does not matter and is nobody’s business. What is everyone’s business, however, is Internet and social-media accessibility—sometimes abbreviated a11y (yes, those are numeral ones, to represent the 11 letters missing from the word accessibility)—which means that every site, every social media post, should be understandable by all, however they access it.

Decorative photos are disregarded by screen readers, and the way that Web weavers designate that is by not including ALT text for a screen reader to see—but when the image is important, such as an event announcement, or a discount offer, or exhibit hours, then it is critical that ALT text be included. Twitter (sorry, not X to me!) has a setting that will prompt you to include a description of any image you post, which is a good way to get into the habit. The WordPress accessibility plug-in that we use for lackawannacoalition.org has a similar checkbox to mark an image as decorative, and requires either that designation or the inclusion of ALT text before an image can be saved. If I can manage this, why can’t the PR/social media staff of one of the country’s largest transit agencies?

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