014: How to Write Good Alt Text, Westmalle Dubbel


In this episode, we discuss creating quality alternative text for images, important considerations when applying alternative text, best practices inside the WordPress ecosystem, and whether automated alternative text solutions are truly ready for mainstream use.

Mentioned in This Episode


>> CHRIS HINDS: Welcome to episode 14 of the Accessibility Craft Podcast, where we explore the art of creating accessible websites while trying out interesting craft beverages. 

This podcast is brought to you by the team at Equalize Digital, a WordPress accessibility company, and the proud creators of the Accessibility Checker plugin. 

In this episode, we discuss creating quality alternative text for images, important considerations when applying alternative text, best practices inside the WordPress ecosystem, and whether automated alternative text solutions are truly ready for mainstream use. 

For show notes in a full transcript, go to “AccessibilityCraft.com/014.”

Now on to the show. 

>> AMBER HINDS: Hey, everybody, it’s Amber, and I am here today with Steve. 

>> STEVE JONES: Hey, everybody, how’s it going? 

>> AMBER: And Chris. 

>> CHRIS: Howdy. 

>> AMBER: And we’re going to be talking about alt text, but of course, we’re always going to start with a beverage. 

Chris, what are we drinking today? 

>> CHRIS: So this was somewhat inspired by something I heard on the radio recently. The beer we’re trying today may eventually no longer be available, at least in the traditional sense, and I’ll get into that. But we are trying Westmalle Dubbel, which is a Trappist Beer. 

So what marks or differentiates a Trappist Beer is that these beers are actually made by monks, traditionally. So European monks make these beers or at least oversee the production of these beers in some cases. And these beers generally have a reddish-brown color. 

They are known for having a kind of creamier head at the top if you pour it in a glass, and usually, lots of complex flavors, because it doesn’t just go an initial fermentation in a tank; they also continue to ferment it inside the bottle. So it’s kind of an interesting –

>> AMBER: How does that work? 

>> CHRIS: – And different beer. So it just still has live yeast in it. They don’t stop the yeast fermentation right away. When they bottle it, they allow it to continue for a little while. 

>> AMBER: Yes. When I poured mine into a glass, I got, like, just as much foam on the top as I got from the actual beer. So it was very foamy. But it’s, like, settled now.

>> CHRIS: I think we should taste. What the tasting notes are from Westmalle is that it should have a rich and complex flavor. It should be both herby and fruity with a fresh, bitter finish. It should be very balanced and not too extreme one way or the other.

>> STEVE: OK. 

>> AMBER: Ooh, I like that. 

>> STEVE: I’m drinking it straight from the bottle. 

>> AMBER: This is a very large bottle, you guys, which is very funny [laughter] that Steve is drinking out of the bottle. It looks like a wine bottle. That’s how big it is [chuckles]. 

>> CHRIS: Yes. That’s pretty good. 

>> STEVE: It’s not bad. 

>> AMBER: I get the bitter at the end, but it’s not super hoppy bitter. 

>> CHRIS: Yes. And I appreciate that. It’s not too bitter, and the richness is definitely there. Like, if you drink it, it’s somewhere between whole milk and heavy cream as far as the mouthfeel. It’s a very thick beer, but without being quite like a stout. It’s lighter on the flavor. 

>> AMBER: I like it. 

>> CHRIS: Yes.

>> STEVE: It’s not bad. 

>> CHRIS: Well, I mean, it’s definitely European. 

>> AMBER: Why will it not be available? Are the monks going away? Or the monks are not going to make beer anymore or what? 

>> CHRIS: Yes. That is actually the problem because fewer and fewer monks or people are getting into brewing as monks are becoming monks because… And this is from a radio story I listened to. But apparently, becoming a monk at these Trappist Breweries can be a seven to nine-year process before they let you start brewing the beer. So it’s quite a commitment to get to brew these beers. 

So what a lot of these Trappist Breweries have done is they have like one or two monks overseeing the brewing process, and then they just have run-of-the-mill employees handling a lot of the operations. So it’s still overseen by monks, even if monks aren’t doing 100% of the brewing. 

What I’m hearing is, and because it’s actually by law in a lot of European countries that in order to be a Trappist Beer, it has to be at least overseen by monks, and the numbers of monks brewing these beers are dwindling, that eventually they’re either going to have to change the law or the number of Trappist Beers available are going to eventually go away, potentially, at least with the current Trend. 

>> AMBER: Are monks not allowed to get married? Are they one of those? 

>> STEVE: I think so. I don’t know. I think they…

>> AMBER: So that might make this a less-appealing career option, right? If you can’t get married and have a family?

>> STEVE: So it says, “Pour carefully, leaving the yeast behind in the bottle.” I’m hitting it right from the bottle. Am I going to have digestive issues? Some candida? [laughs]

>> CHRIS: Probably not digestive issues, but if you get a little grit, you know, tipping it back, you’re probably getting some of the yeast that settles to the bottom of the bottle. 

The other interesting thing about these that I learned a while ago is that a lot of these, because they’re associated with the church, these breweries, a lot of them are nonprofit. So the monks that are overseeing this process and that are doing this, they’re not really doing it to make money. 

They’re making the best possible beer they can. And so they don’t skimp on ingredients, they don’t try to figure out how to do it cheaper by introducing subpar stuff into the brew. And so that’s why Trappist beers tend to always be very high quality. And it’s less of a mixed bag. 

>> AMBER: I almost wonder, for them, if the practice of doing it is like a spiritual experience. I mean, I don’t know how much it is now because they probably have a lot of high-tech equipment, but originally when they started doing it, they might have – I don’t know – ground things by hand or spent a lot of time stirring very carefully. 

I volunteered for a CSA, which is Community Supported Agriculture, for people who aren’t familiar. And basically, it’s a farm. And you pay the farm a set amount of money at the beginning of the season and then you just get a share of the produce or the crops the entire season. And if they do well, you get a lot. If they don’t do well, like, that’s just the way it is. 

There’s this one farm in Colorado called Happy Heart Farm [phonetic], and the guy who ran it and his wife, they were definitely, like, a little hippie. But I remember at one point in time, it was an organic thing, and I was there, and he’s like, “We’re going to make this, like, petal-infused water to water the crops with, to help it have, like, the right harmony and balance.” 

And he had these giant barrels of water, and he put, like, rose hips in it and maybe some other flower petals. And then we had this big stick and we had to hand-stir it, like, a certain number of times clockwise and then a certain number of times counterclockwise. And you had to get the right spin on the water to create this cool… I don’t know, to get the right energy out of the flower petals and the water [laughs]. 

>> STEVE: Yes. Definitely, it sounds like some new-age stuff. [chuckles]

>> AMBER: Yes. He was older. Like, he had started this farm in, like, the late ’60s. You know, he’s definitely a hippie in that way. 

So when I think about, like, Trappist monks making beer, that’s what I think of. [laughs] Like, were they, like, getting the spiritual thing into the art of making the perfect beer? 

>> STEVE: Well, I mean, there’s definitely… I mean, humans are made to work, right? And there’s something good for the soul when you work with your hands and keep busy in some way.

>> AMBER: And we can appreciate the fruits of their labor. 

>> CHRIS: There you go. 

>> STEVE: It’s pretty good. 

>> CHRIS: Absolutely. Yes. And, I mean, we all know at this point, our listeners know that Steve’s not a big drinker. So to get Steve to say that a beer is pretty good is actually… Maybe there should be, like, a plaque for that or something we send people. 

>> STEVE: Yes. Well, here’s my official review. So it’s really smooth. It’s real even. It’s just kind of consistent across, and it doesn’t offend much. So what I would say officially, I would say it’s not very beer-y. [laughs] You know what I’m saying? It’s not like, skunky. It’s very smooth. It might be the smoothest one we’ve tried so far, I mean. 

>> CHRIS: Yes. And that might come down to, like, their yeast strain and how many bitter ingredients they add to their brew, like hops and other things, right? But yes, I’ve always enjoyed Trappist Beers. I don’t buy them very often, so I was, like, looking at the beer shop website, and then I saw that they had the Trappist category, and I was, like, “Ooh, I haven’t had one of these for a really long time.” And then I heard the story, coincidentally, about how these are a fading beer, and I was like, “Oh, I have to do this.” 

>> AMBER: Yes. You’ll have to look for that. I don’t know if it was, like, on NPR or something, and maybe we can throw the article or the radio story link or whatever in the show notes. That’d be interesting. 

>> CHRIS: Yes, that’ll 100% be in our show notes. 

So that was Westmalle Dubbel. Everybody liked it at least a little, which is awesome. 

So now we’re going to talk about alternative text. 

>> AMBER: Yes. So I picked this topic. It’s funny because I feel like… Sometimes it’s, like, “Alternative text is so basic; how could you talk about it for 40 minutes?” Except for I feel like there are so many sort of ways to finesse it and, like, different ways to approach, different approaches to it.

I saw this article on a website called Museum Next [phonetic], which is just a website or a publication that is targeted to museums and people who run museums and things like that. And this just came out on March 16th of this year. And the author had spent time talking to people who work at the Amin Carter Museum of American Art about the efforts that they have put into trying to add alt text and the process of, like, how they even decide to write their alt text for their website, which they really started putting effort into just a couple of years ago. 

It was interesting because they had some different things in there. Like, she was talking about the challenges of figuring out how to appropriately describe images featuring people of different races and ethnicities, describing artwork that has disturbing elements in it, or how do you describe a very abstract work of art that has unusual patterns and colors to someone who’s visually impaired?

I saw this article and I thought it was just really fascinating to think about it from the standpoint of an art museum. So I was, like, “This would be a great thing for us to talk about.” 

>> STEVE: Yes.

>> CHRIS: Yes. I mean, where I would start with that is, like, how do you describe a painting or a piece of art and remain completely objective? Like, say some aspect of it frightens you or offends you, or you find it just absolutely stunningly beautiful. Like, how do you accurately describe something without injecting your own, either, bias or just your own interpretation of the piece when it comes to art? That’s what jumps into my head immediately. 

>> AMBER: Yes. So there was a WordPress Accessibility meetup, which actually we released the audio on this podcast earlier. So go back in our archives, listeners, if you want to hear it, with Joel Snyder [phonetic]. And he was talking about doing audio description of movies or theater or other videos for people who are blind that need to see what it is. And one of the things that really stuck with me is that he said, like, a big goal of that is not to provide any sort of judgment. Like, you wouldn’t say, “The character is happy”, you would say, “The character has a large smile on their face” or something like that because you want the person to be able to hear and make their own judgment about what it means. 

So I think, like, with art, that might be the same thing: visually describing without using judgment-based words, maybe? 

>> STEVE: Yes. Without trying to interpret it, right?

>> AMBER: Yes. 

>> STEVE: Yes. 

>> AMBER: That must be really hard for art, though. [laughs]

>> STEVE: Yes. [laughs]

>> AMBER: Even I’ve seen that where we’ve been on websites we’ve audited, and it’s all, like, “An icon of this symbolizing XYZ.” And it’s, like, a blind person can know that symbol. You don’t need to explain why you chose that icon. You wouldn’t explain it to a sighted person, like, “This is what this icon is supposed to symbolize.” [chuckles] You just allow them to assume. So maybe that’s a thing. You have to try and allow people to make their own judgment of why an image or an icon has been selected. 

>> STEVE: Yes. Yes. 

>> CHRIS: So the other article that I think we wanted to shout out a little bit was actually NASA and the work they’ve done on alternative text for some of the images that they capture in outer space. 

Amber, do you want to take us through that a little bit? 

>> AMBER: Yes. I mean, there are a lot of articles if you just Google NASA alternative text, because I feel like this came out towards the end of last year in 2022. If you just go follow them on social media or even visit their website and look at their alternative text, they’ve done a lot to… It would be really easy and cheater to just be, like, “Stars in the sky,” “The milky way galaxy” [chuckles] on every image. 

And every image would have the exact same alternative text, which, of course, is not helpful at all to users. Because they’re, like, “Yes, but what is it?” Or, “Why is it?” Right? And so they’ve done a lot of work to try and be more clear about how it looks. 

I’ve seen one where they describe sort of… I want to use the word “clouds,” [laughs] but I don’t think it’s clouds when it’s in outer space, but how it looks, like, in the galaxy. It looks kind of cloud-like, but then it also looks like a mountain range with different colors, but it’s like in the sky, from a telescope. So I think they’ve gotten a lot of good press for their alternative text and being able to describe things. 

>> STEVE: Right. So one example was like the Crab Nebula [phonetic], right? So they would have a detailed description of its appearance and its significance. Would that be in the alt text, the significance of it? 

>> AMBER: Did they give an example on that one? Is there one you can read? 

>> STEVE: Well, I’ll be honest, the post is behind a paywall, so I just had check…

>> AMBER: Steve, you just have to go into DevTools and turn JavaScript off.

>> STEVE: Yes. 


I had OpenAI tell me what it was. 


>> AMBER: You’re a developer. Don’t you know this? [laughs]

>> CHRIS: Yes, yes. I actually didn’t know that I could do that. 

>> AMBER: I do that all the time. [laughs] Is that wrong? Maybe we shouldn’t say that on this podcast. [chuckles]

>> STEVE: I don’t know if it’s wrong. Is it wrong? 

>> AMBER: I think there’s a BuzzFeed article that is not gated because BuzzFeed makes their money off ads. Although, I think The Washington Post does too, so I don’t know why that’s gated. But yes, maybe we’ll link to the BuzzFeed version and the Washington Post version in the show notes. 

OK. So you can’t see the alt text on that particular one, but yes. I don’t know. I don’t have it open without turning off my JavaScript. [laughs] But I don’t know. That is interesting. Like, the significance, that seems weird. I feel like the significance you would want to surface for everyone, and so that would be in the paragraph surrounding the image or the caption if you’re sharing it on social media, but I don’t know. They’re doing it. 

I think this draws… And I had this lower in our show notes, but I’m going to pull it up because I think this is something… I don’t do any coding, you guys, just so you know; it’s very minimal. But I submitted a pull request last night, which Steve probably got notified of, that I wanted to increase the character count on one of our warnings in Accessibility Checker. 

So we have a warning about long alternative text. And we originally set this to 100 characters. So if your text was longer than 100 characters, then it would be like, “Hey, this is kind of long, you should check. Is this really good alternative text?” But I feel like after looking at different things, either on client websites or websites we audit or, like, reading this article about NASA and seeing the kind of alternative text that they’re using to describe Images, I ended up being, like, “I think it should be about the length of a tweet.” So I went and submitted a pull request that it should be increased to 300 characters. 

Steve, I have no idea if you’re going to approve that PR. [laughs]

>> STEVE: No. No, I’m not. It’s going to be denied. No. 


I mean, I’d always thought that the shorter, the better. At most, like, maybe 125 or 150 characters. Because I think sometimes content producers have a tendency to kind of duplicate what’s in the alt text in the body copy as well.

>> AMBER: Body?

>> STEVE: I mean, 300 is a lot, right? I think if you’re mindful of what you’re putting in there, that it’s catered toward the image and not just a repetition of what’s in the paragraph below or above. 

>> AMBER: Yes. I mean, It’s interesting. So on Twitter, I think you can use 1000 characters in their alt text. 

>> STEVE: Which we’re going to get to later, about the abuse of that.

>> AMBER: Yes. But at the same time… 

>> CHRIS: I’ll go on record and say I think 1000 characters is way too much. 

>> STEVE: Yes.

>> CHRIS: Yes, totally. 

>> AMBER: Well, but here’s what’s weird. Social media is different from a website. Sometimes on social media, people post images of text.

>> CHRIS: Images with text on them. Yes. 

>> AMBER: And on a website, there is literally no reason to ever do that. But on Twitter, you might be, like, “Oh, here’s a Facebook post I like,” or LinkedIn post, and you want to credit that person. So instead of just copying and pasting their text, you screenshot their thing and you share it with a little sentence. 

And then you would have to have a lot of characters in your alt because otherwise, a blind person who came across your tweet with that image wouldn’t get all the text that’s on that image. 

So I feel like that’s kind of an argument for having it really long on Twitter. 

>> CHRIS: No, that’s a good argument. 

>> AMBER: But I don’t think we should ever be doing that. But at the same time, I’ve even thought about this for events. You create an event graphic. And we’ve debated this ourselves with the meetups because we always create a graphic that’s a featured image for the actual event that we can use to share on social media so that at a glance, a sighted person could just see the title, the time and date, who the speaker is, the speaker’s job title. It has a photo of the speaker. It has maybe like how to RSVP or whatever that might be. And if we set that as the featured image on the post, then it shows up in the post. 

So it’s a question of, do we want the alt text to be all that information which is also in the post? Or do we just say, like, “Promotional graphic for event”? “Information in body”? Or something like that.

We’ve used that before where we’ve used the alt text to provide instructions on where to find the actual information because we don’t want to replicate it. I don’t know. I don’t know if you guys have thoughts about that. 

>> STEVE: Yes, I don’t know. I mean, for somebody that doesn’t use a screen reader as my daily driver, it’s hard for me to say. Like, I’d be curious to see what a blind user would think about that. Like, do they not like, you know, “See body paragraph here,” right? I don’t know. 

>> AMBER: Yes, yes, yes. I’ve seen on graphs where it’s, like, graph of this, data falls in table. And I think I’ve seen blind people say they like that, because then they know, “OK, it’s a graph.” But if I want to get this information… Rather than having to hear someone try to explain what ten different bar columns mean. Or maybe even more complex than that, right? All the different data points. Like, it’s way better to have that in a table than, like, description alt text that actually explains what that graph is or how it looks. 

>> STEVE: I mean, that’s a good use case for that. 

>> SPEAKER: This episode of Accessibility Craft is sponsored by Equalize Digital Accessibility Checker. 

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>> AMBER: I know Alex Stein, who, I don’t know if we’ve talked about him on the podcast before, but my friend Alex, he’s on the WordPress Accessibility team. He’s a developer. Maybe he’s a JavaScript software engineer. He works outside of WordPress, but he contributes to WordPress, and he is blind and uses a screen reader every day. 

I know he said before, we’ve talked about this, that he wants all of the information that a sighted person would get. 

So, like, this has come up before. He helps organize WordPress Accessibility Day, and we had a lot of conversations about the photos of the people, and we’re now asking speakers and volunteers to provide an alt text that describes themselves because we didn’t just want to put their name. Because in an instance like that, he’s, like, “It might be useful to know about diversity of the speakers, if you’re trying to decide if this is an event that is of interest to you or if you want to apply to speak at it too –

>> STEVE: I’d be curious, like… 

>> AMBER: – You know? So that way, people can…

>> STEVE: Yes. I mean, you got to think. Like an image, say it’s my speaker photo for my speaking talk, how much information is actually in there for a sighted user like me or like you? Like the color of my eyes, the length of my hair, the color of the shirt I’m wearing. Am I wearing a necklace? How far do you go? 

>> AMBER: Yes. So I think, on that, this is part of why we decided to let people describe themselves, first of all, because I don’t want to guess on someone’s ethnicity or their gender identity or whatever. We’re just going to let people do that. And so in some sense, that allows the person to decide what’s the most important thing about themselves. And they could just say, “Amber is a female, smiling.” Or they could get really descriptive. 

I actually really liked Carrie Dills [phonetic]. I’ve seen a few where they put in personality, and I can’t remember exactly what hers said right now. I wish I had thought to pull this up beforehand, but she mentioned that she was, like, smiling over her shoulder at a concert or something like that. She described the venue instead of just herself. 

And I think that is interesting because that is a diversity thing. It’s not always just about your skin color or your gender. Wearing a necklace or having certain words on your shirt might be important to explaining something about your personality or who you are as a person. That is helpful information. But then it’s, like, eye color, I don’t know how important that is, [chuckles] you know? So… 

>> STEVE: But it’s information. I just broached it for the sake of the conversation. I have mine figured out, right? “Steve, 40-something that looks like a 20-something, super ripped and intelligent.”

>> CHRIS: Yes. 


>> AMBER: There was one person… Everybody should go look at the 2022 Accessibility Day speakers. There was one person, I don’t remember who he was, but he said something like, “Middle-aged, balding, and overweight.”


It’s like the opposite of what you just said. But I laughed so much and I was a little bit, like, I don’t know if I should be worried about his confidence or if I’m, like, “He just is, like, super honest.”

>> CHRIS: Oh, no, that’s the opposite of worrying about someone’s confidence. That dude is owning it. 

>> STEVE: Yes, yes, yes. 

>> AMBER: Yes. [laughs]

>> CHRIS: That dude’s owning it. 

>> STEVE: Just so the listeners know, I have a beautiful, full head of hair. 


>> CHRIS: Yes. Yes. 

>> AMBER: That is short, though. Chris is the one who’s rocking the ponytail. 

>> CHRIS: Yes. I’m business in the front, party in the back. So if I turn my head sideways, you see the ponytail. 

>> AMBER: Yes. Be careful. That’s starting to sound like a mullet. 

>> STEVE: You know, I going to be careful with this, but are we entering man-bun territory yet? 

>> CHRIS: We might be. 

>> STEVE: We might be. 

>> CHRIS: I’m not sure. I think I like mini man bun. 

>> STEVE: Mini man bun. It’s hard to tell on Zoom. 

>> CHRIS: Yes. If I go profile, it’s, like, half way… 

>> AMBER: Well, he doesn’t show the back of his head on Zoom [crosstalk ] 

>> CHRIS: For the listeners, it’s, like, halfway down the back of my head, roughly. 

>> STEVE: Yes, yes. He’s going to be buying a samurai sword real quick soon. [laughs]

>> CHRIS: Yes. Oh, you got the inspiration. 

>> AMBER: That’s what I was going to say. Our kids call it his D&D haircut because we play D&D with our two oldest daughters and they’re like, “It’s like a D&D character haircut.” 


Oh, we have strayed from alternative text. All right, so…

>> CHRIS: No, we just provided the alternative text for my hair, for the listeners.

>> STEVE: There you go. 

>> AMBER: Yes. Yes, yes, yes. [laughs] So I had a few other things that would be interesting to talk about, and I don’t know if we have to go way down the rabbit hole of, like, perfect alternative text. There is actually a really useful WordPress Accessibility meetup that Meg Miller [phonetic] did on this that we can link in the show notes. But there were a few things, like, specific to WordPress and alternative text that are sort of interesting and I thought might be useful to discuss because some people might not know. 

So one of them is updating the alternative text on a post in WordPress doesn’t actually add it in the media library alternative text on the image.

>> STEVE: Yes. 

>> AMBER: And vice versa. If you go to your media library and you edit all your alternative text there, it doesn’t actually add it anywhere the image has been inserted. And I think that was an intentional decision on the core team. And it might be worth talking about that a little bit, like, why does that function that way? 

>> STEVE: I think because your image can be used in different contexts. The same image can be used twice, of course, and it could be used in different ways. 

>> AMBER: So this is what we haven’t said yet, which is that alt text should be context relevant, not just literally describing the image. 

>> STEVE: Yes. So relevant to the text around it, right? 

>> AMBER: Yes. 

>> STEVE: So I think that’s the case. I know, like, years ago, when the goal was just to get something in the alt text field, we would output the image and we would put, like, the image or the post title in the image or something in some fashion just so there was something there. 

Your theme developer can thwart your best efforts sometimes when it comes to alt text, depending on how they’re outputting that image, if it’s a featured image or some kind of custom block that’s been made or something; if they’re not pulling the actual WordPress alt text field, if they’re trying to override that with, like, the title or the…

I’ve even seen the image title output in that field. So you got to be mindful of that. And I think we’ve even fielded some support requests on the Accessibility Checker plugin in regard to that, where the Accessibility Checker is flagging some alt error and they’re like, “Well, I’ve added the alt text, but it’s not showing on the front end. The Accessibility Checker is still flagging it as missing alt text.” And after doing some investigation, we found out that their theme was actually not outputting the alt text field at all.

>> AMBER: Yes. Or they just went through… I’ve seen instances of this where they spent a lot, which is really sucky. They spent a lot of time updating alt text in their media library without realizing that it actually updates any of the posts or pages where that image is being used. 

I feel like it would be actually a really great addition to Core. And perhaps if not Core, maybe a future version of our plugin to have something that, like, if you update it in the media library, it finds all instances of that image, and if there is not already alt text in the post, it would put whatever you’ve put in the media library on the image on the post. But if there is, we wouldn’t want to override it, because, of course, we don’t want to remove accurate alt text that was context specific. 

I feel like that would be a useful feature for people because right now there is not a fast way to just go have alt text. 

>> CHRIS: Yes. So have the media library be like the alt text fallback, and then it could also be defined in specific pages and posts where that image is used. 

>> STEVE: Hmm. Sounds like a new plugin that we’re working on. 


>> AMBER: Are you adding it to our ideas list right now? 

>> STEVE: I’m just making notes. Please, nobody steal our idea.


>> AMBER: Well, OK. So talking of new plugins that are trying to make generating alt text easier, the team at Howard… Is it Howard Design?

>> CHRIS: Howard. HDC. HDC is how I know them. I think it’s Howard Development Consulting [phonetic]. I’m sorry, Rob if we get this wrong and you’re listening.

>> AMBER: [laughs] Rob Steam [phonetic]. What’s his name, Rob Steam?

>> CHRIS: Yes. 

>> AMBER: They released a plugin called EveryAlt [phonetic], which is a ChatGTP or, I don’t know, some other AI-connected plugin that can help you generate alt text. I tried it last night. It’s a WordPress plugin. You have to set up an account on their website. You can get 25 image credits for free. And then I think it was, like, $15 or something for every 1500 images. So it’s not super expensive. So I was, like, I’m going to try this and see what it is. 

I don’t know if you guys watched because I recorded a couple of quick videos, and then I also have this Google Doc where I put in some of the images and what I got back. I could maybe describe a few of them for our listeners. But maybe before we do that… Like, I feel like this is a little connected to, well, the conversation of making it easier, but also what we had with Joost and Marieka about AI-generated content and where that fits in. 

I don’t know if you guys have any thoughts about EveryAlt before we dive into what my findings were.

>> STEVE: So I think, on one hand… You know, we’ve had some internal discussions about this as well, using AI to help facilitate some stuff within our own business. And we’re talking about whether it’s right to use it, if it’s not 100% right, or is our using it contributing to making it better? 

So AI-generated alt text, you know, as Amber will describe, does a pretty good job. I mean, it’s not bad. If it takes the baseline of people adding alt text to their images, if it helps increase the baseline compliance of that just up a little bit, I think it’s worth it.

Can you imagine, like, 40% of the websites on the internet, their compliance in alt text increasing 10% is huge for accessibility.

>> AMBER: OK. This is interesting what you’re saying. I’m going to say it’s not that bad, because I, with this, am leaning towards, I don’t think it helps. 

Let me describe some of these images, and then I’d love to have this conversation with you too, and get your thoughts on whether or not. 

So I tested this on my personal blog, which I have not really updated for years. The vast majority of posts on there have a lot of images. It was like a mom blog, for all of our listeners. So we’re talking 10, 20 images per post, many of which have zero alt text. There are a few when I tested this, which I didn’t know, that actually have, “Image underscore three, one, two,” [chuckles] or something similar as the alt text. So that’s horrible. That’s worse than no alt text. It’d be better if they had no alt text. So it is bad. 

So I was, like, ”Oh, this is a great place to test this”, because if this works, I would probably pay for that plugin, and I would just run it. It would not cost that much money and then it’ll be, like, “I have all that”.

So I’m going to describe some of these, and then I’m curious, at the end, if you guys think I should go do this or not. 

So the first couple of batches I tried on was, I tried one with a sign sitting on the ground, like a sandwich board sign for a garden event. And I got back a sign reading “Garden for victory hanging from a tree…” not correct… “in an outdoor garden, inviting visitors to join NOCO urban homes for a Saturday event from 10:00 am to 03:00 pm.” That is all accurate, and it’s, like, not super clear on the sign. 

So I think the whole “hanging from a tree” is like, “Eh, OK, fine.” That’s an OK mistake that probably doesn’t really matter because it did a good job of getting the text off of the signs. 

But then there was, like, beehives, where I would literally just be, like, “Beehives in a backyard” or something as the alt text. And they were, like, “A wooden house surrounded by lush garden of trees and outdoor buildings and an outhouse and shed buildings.” It doesn’t note that these are beehives. And also, there’s no house in this picture.

>> STEVE: So it confused the subject?

>> AMBER: Yes, it confused the subject, and there were a couple of those. This was all from going on an urban homestead tour. So they were, like, a picture of hops that somebody was drying, because they were going to make their own beer or cider or something. And it said, “A bowl of freshly cooked broccoli sits invitingly on a kitchen countertop.” There’s no kitchen countertop at all in this, which I find weird, and it’s not broccoli. [chuckles]

>> STEVE: OK. 

>> AMBER: And then there’s a few where it did an OK job, like, it was accurate. I tried some of my blog posts from when we lived on Nantucket. I tried one of the Brant Point Lighthouse [phonetic] because I was curious would it know which lighthouse this was? And that one, it says, “The lighthouse stands on the beach with Brant Point light in the background.” So it knew it was Brandt Point Lighthouse on Nantucket, which is good. But I’m also, like, why did it… Like, it was trying so hard to make a sentence when it could have just been, like, “Brant Point Lighthouse”.

>> STEVE: Yes. 

>> AMBER: Or it could have described Brant Point Light. But it’s weird because it says, “The lighthouse stands on the beach with the light in the background.” So it almost makes it sound like there are two lighthouses in this picture. 

>> STEVE: Well, I’ve noticed that with OpenAI. And it’s using OpenAI, that plugin. 

>> AMBER: Is it? 

>> STEVE: Yes. I’ve noticed that in my prompts, a lot of times it just over-explains things when I ask it questions or I ask it to explain an article.

>> AMBER: It’s trying too hard. 

>> STEVE: If I don’t want to read an article, I put in there, like, “Summarize this article simply in bullet points.” So it doesn’t try to basically re-explain the whole article. I was, like, “I could have just read it in the first place.” But it does seem to over-explain things. 

>> AMBER: So there was one that I thought was interesting. You know how Joost had said that he found that it would return things that are plausible, but not factually true? 

>> CHRIS: Yes. I think that he called that hallucinating. 

>> AMBER: Yes. So I have this picture of my oldest daughter. She’s like two, walking on a beach with the Lighthouse behind her and she’s wearing a dress. It says, “A young person wearing shorts and a T-shirt stands on a beach surrounded by sand plants and bright summer sky dotted with clouds.” That all is mostly accurate. Who cares about shorts and T-shirts? It’s not important, right? But then it adds, “Ready to embark on a vacation of hiking and exploration.” 

And I think for it, it’s like it is probably feasible that she’s going on a vacation because we lived in a vacation destination, but that is factually incorrect and makes no sense in this blog post if I were to put this in because we weren’t going on a vacation. We just happened to live there. And this is a picture of her hanging out with me in our everyday life.

>> STEVE: So the question is, is it better to not have alt text, or is it better to have incorrect alt text? [laughs]

>> AMBER: I think it’s better to not –

>> STEVE: To not, right? Yes.

>> AMBER: I think. Because every piece of alt text is something someone has to hear when they encounter it. Now, granted they could get to an image and they could decide to skip it, but they don’t know if it’s important or not. And so it increases the time that it would take to listen to a page and digest the information. And I think it would be better to have no alt text and have the… Assuming there’s an empty alt attribute, the images would just be skipped than to hear a bunch of inaccurate information. 

You know, even on this [crosstalk ] do you see the grey of our team photos? 

>> CHRIS: Amber, we should say, out of fairness… I would say there is the potential for inaccurate information because a couple of the photos had somewhat accurate descriptions. 

>> AMBER: I have a hard time, though. So even if you look at our team photos… Oddly, I have no idea why [chuckles] I laughed so much when I saw Chris’. It’s our old team, but I tried our team headshots. So the females, for whatever, one says, “A close up reveals a smile.” We have two males that are, “A person is smiling for the camera.” One male is, “A person wearing glasses.” And Chris’, [laughs] I have no idea why, but it says, “A person is smiling in a headshot portrait, showcasing their skin, chin, neck, jaw, cheeks, eyebrows, and dress shirt with a collar and [inaudible]” [laughs]

>> STEVE: And man bun.

>> CHRIS: I feel like the AI wants to carve my face off. That’s weird.

>> STEVE: I thought you were gonna say a samurai. 


>> AMBER: It would be great if they said a samurai. [laughs]

>> CHRIS: “A person is smiling. He looks like a total weirdo.” 

>> STEVE: Yes. So…

>> AMBER: He has a chin, neck, and jaw. [laughs]

>> STEVE: I mean, it’s right. It’s not wrong, is it? 

>> CHRIS: No. I believe I have all of those parts on my face.

>> AMBER: Or even the same thing. Like, I tried one picture that was from Chris and my anniversary a few years ago. We went on a trip. And so it’s just the two of us taking selfies. And every image on that, it just said, “People are smiling.” Like, what’s important isn’t even Chris and Amber smiling. It’s probably what’s behind us. “Chris and Amber at the aquarium.” “Chris and Amber in front of a painting.” Like, “Chris and Amber at the beach.” Like, who cares that Chris and Amber are smiling in every picture? Of course, we are. I’m writing a blog post about our anniversary. Are we going to be mad at each other? [laughs]

So I feel like it would be better to have no alt text. 

>> STEVE: I asked Chat-GPT about the disadvantages of using AI to define your alt text, and at least it showed some honesty here. It says, “Accuracy.” “AI-generated alt text is not always accurately described on an image or convey its intended meaning.” I think that’s a big… “its intended meaning.” Because regardless of what’s in the photo, the meaning of the photo could be different than actually what’s on it. 

It says, “Context sensitivity.” “AI may not fully understand the context or purpose of an image, leading to inappropriate or unhelpful descriptions.” Such as, “Chris has a chin and [chuckles] a nose,” or whatever. 

Then finally it says “Over-optimization.” It says, “AI-generated alt text may focus too much on SEO keywords, potentially compromising the quality and the usefulness of the description to the user.”

>> AMBER: So what I will say that I liked about the EveryAlt, on the post edit screen, you have an image block, it adds the button, you can click it, and it’ll generate it. Then, of course, you don’t have to update your post. 

>> STEVE: It’s a starting point.

>> AMBER: You can fix it before you hit “save.” So it might give some people a starting point if they’re not sure what to do. 

What I really didn’t like was their bulk generate feature, which is literally you go and it’s, like, “Bulk generate for all of our images.” There’s no ability to control it. And all it does is update the media library, which maybe they’re going to fix in a future version, but that… Like I had said, “Oh, maybe this would make my blog slightly better,” right? It wouldn’t have, because I have, what, a thousand blog posts or something, because I blogged for a long time as a mommy blogger, sometimes once a day, with no alt text. But it wouldn’t actually go update those posts. 

So it was kind of like what was… And there’s no ability to preview it and be, like, “Yes, I want this.” It’d be great if it generated and, here’s your grid of, like, however many, and then you can edit or approve and then hit a button that’s, like, “Yes,” and then it would go out and save it. Like, It just overwrote it in the media library. And it even overwrote some that already had alt text from a more recent post when I had actually known about alt text. 

>> STEVE: Right. Like, my original statement, in an effort to improve AI, in this context, there’s no feedback loop. 

So if I’m in ChatGPT, and I ask it to write me a function that does XYZ, and it outputs the function, then I can be, like, “No, that’s not what I was asking. You misunderstood. Please modify the function to do this.” And it’ll go, “I’m sorry,” and it’ll rewrite it. But in this context, we’re not giving OpenAI any feedback that, “Hey, this part of your description was right. This part was not right.” So then there’s a feedback loop of improving AI. 

So I would agree in that context, it’s probably not super useful. But, like, from the starting point… I mean, because that’s kind of how I’m using it, right? If I need to know how to do something, you know, “Write me a function,” “Do this,” It’s a starting point, because it’s not always right. Even ChatGPT-4, in a lot of cases, it’s not right or not in a way I would do it, but it’s a starting point. I save time by having it start. 

>> AMBER: Yes. 

>> CHRIS: Yes. With any of these AI tools… And we’re only going to see more of this. But I think treating it as an aid in delivering a solution rather than the end, all solution itself, is going to be the way that we avoid the pitfalls of the inaccuracies and the issues. 

I don’t know that I would discourage people from using EveryAlt. I think it’s a really interesting idea, and I think that type of automation and exploring that kind of automation and trying to improve it is going to be part of the future of web accessibility. 

It may not be there yet. In fact, I think we’ve demonstrated that it’s not, but it could still be a useful tool. 

Amber, thinking through it, if you, for some reason, by next week, had to get all 4500 images on your blog with accurate alt text on them, do you think having a tool like that, if it could go through and generate stuff and then you could go through and quickly edit what it wrote, do you think it would save you a little time versus just starting from scratch on every image? 

>> AMBER: No. Well, one: the bulk feature doesn’t update posts. If it update posts and it updated smartly, so it wouldn’t overwrite any that you’d already added, that would be helpful. And maybe Rob’s team has this coming. But right now, what’s the point in adding alt to my media library that doesn’t fix any of my published pages? So the bulk feature does nothing for you except use your money from your credits. [laughs]

>> STEVE: Yes. [laughs]

>> CHRIS: Are you sure that it doesn’t go out and update anything else? 

>> AMBER: Yes, I tested. Go watch my videos. [laughs] I tested. I tried. Yes, it doesn’t update the post. And maybe that’s a little bit because they haven’t figured out yet how to get it to update only if the alt text is missing because they don’t want to overwrite quality alt text with garbage alt text. But for me, no. 

In all my tests, I think there was really only one or two, and it was, like, The image with the lighthouse.” I didn’t love that it sounded like there were two lighthouses, but I was, like, “OK, it knew it was Brant Point Lighthouse. I’ll give it that.” And the one that had the board or sign with text on it, and it got all the text out of the sign even though it’s, like, written with chalk and not handwritten. I thought those were worthwhile. 

However, the vast majority of it… And there were a few others that I didn’t post in there. Like, I got curious about [chuckles] what it would say about one of my home-birth photos, but I was, like, “I’m not going to post an image for Steve to look at.” [laughs] …Like, where it was just straight up wrong.

Again, I don’t think a blind person needs to go to a team page and hear, “A person smiling.” “A person smiling.” “A person smiling.” “A person smiling.” Unless it could somehow be smart, and you could train it to be, like, “Oh, this blog post is about Amber and Chris. So every photo in this has Amber and Chris in it.” So it would say, “Amber and Chris smiling in front of…” And then it said something about the background, like, you could give it, like, a framework? Like, you can. Like, you could say, “This is the template I want you to use for this post,” maybe. 

But across an entire website with hundreds of pages or thousands of products, I don’t think it’s there yet.

>> STEVE: Well, I will say, just on that plugin side, if it goes through your media library and it adds, in default, alt text for all the ones in the media library… I’m not talking on if it’s right or not, but those posts, if they’re added to a post later, they will come in with that default alt text. 

>> AMBER: yes. So it’s like future-proofing to some degree.

>> STEVE: Yes, to some degree. Now, that’s aside from whether or not it’s accurate or not.

>> CHRIS: The other thing, before this recording, that I was thinking about too, is some of the alternative text on some of the media that I consume, it includes, like, screenshots from abstract video games, like spaceships flying around or, like, top-down pixelated graphics.

I haven’t run generating alt text through its paces for that type of media where it’s not like your typical photo. Or showing it stuff from NASA or stuff from a museum-art gallery. I wonder how it would perform.

>> AMBER: Like, with how abstract it was on most of them, I mean, maybe it could say “The Milky Way.” But I can guarantee you, most of the time, it would just say, “Stars in the sky.”

>> STEVE: Yes. 

>> CHRIS: Yes. 

>> AMBER: So every image on NASA’s website would have the same alt text or a very slight variation. And there might be one or two that have this really weird extra long… [laughs] Like your team shot. I have no idea why. [chuckles] So. 

>> STEVE: Well, I mean…

>> AMBER: For people who can’t see those team photos, we’re all in the same square with the same aspect ratio and the same… So it’s very weird that it just picked that one to be different. I don’t know why. 

>> STEVE: Yes. I’m sort of interested in the ethic behind this. On one hand, we advocate for accessibility out of the gate first, to always think about accessibility. And does this tempt people to say, “All I have to do is click a button. I got to pay for some credits and click a button, and my 4000 photos all have alt text. So I’m accessible.” But they’re not actually accessible. Like, just having text fall within the alt text attribute doesn’t mean you’re accessible. That text means something. 

So I think it could have a negative influence. People think, “I just click that button and I’m good.”

>> AMBER: So some of the lawsuits that I’ve seen against websites for accessibility that already have overlays on them, like, Access EB [phonetic] or UserWay or other tools like that, they list out in their complaints that it has added… 

So, one, it’s added alt text to images that are decorative and should not have alt text, because AI doesn’t always know that. And sometimes it’s correct for there to be no alt text. And two, that it’s added inaccurate alt text or not helpful alt text. And those are listed in the lawsuits as complaints. And that would be part of my concern about ever recommending someone to do this, because how is this any different from what the overlays do? 

>> STEVE: Right. Yes. 

>> CHRIS: Yes. No, that’s fair.

>> AMBER: I love Rob’s team, and I’m sorry. [laughs] It’s brutal, but, like, I tried it wanting it to work, but I just can’t see it there yet. Maybe it will. 

I think AI has to be part of the future at some point. We just have to figure out how to get the technology there.

>> CHRIS: Well, and I think part of getting the technology there is to try to use it. I think it just has to be used responsibly.

>> AMBER: Well, it has to be able to accept feedback. And I don’t think OpenAI can learn. Isn’t that what we talked about last time with Joost? It can give you better results, but it doesn’t save that and learn and distribute it to someone else yet.

>> STEVE: I don’t know if that’s Open… I don’t know if we know what it’s doing when we give it prompts. Who makes this? Is it Microsoft that makes OpenAI? 

>> AMBER: No, OpenAI is its own thing. 

>> STEVE: It’s its own thing. But, like, the human prompts that I give it back, the feedback, I give it back, I think it would be very good for them to use that to make it better. 

>> AMBER: Yes. I don’t think it is, though, right now, because I also think I’ve heard that, like, it’s only trained on websites up to 2022 or something like that. 

>> STEVE: That’s Chat GPT-3.

>> AMBER: Oh, there’s a different version?

>> STEVE: Yes, it goes up to, like…

>> AMBER: So it might depend on what version it’s using too?

>> STEVE: Yes. So, like, I’ve got the paid plan, so you can use four. You can only make, like, 25 requests every hour.

I haven’t really seen a ton of difference with four, in my opinion. Just that I can put more stuff in there. Character limits are larger and stuff, but I’d imagine it’s learning, right? Doesn’t that make sense? I mean, isn’t that the definition of AI? 

>> CHRIS: Yes. It should be able to learn.

Amber So if Open AI is able to learn, then it would be great for Rob’s team to build some sort of feedback loop into this plugin, like you said, where you could set… Like, maybe on each one, there could even just be a button that, like, “Regenerate.” “Regenerate.”

>> STEVE: Right. 

>> AMBER: And it could track how many times you hit “Regenerate.” Or if you type in a new alt instead of what it provided, it could send that back and learn that this is the alt text that we type for this. 

I mean, this is what gets weird too, though on websites, like in Google. I have a cat that’s hanging on me.


I think, in Google Photos or something, you can teach it to recognize people, and it will tag people. But this is an interesting thing. If I want, on my blog, it to correctly label my children, do I actually want OpenAI to be able to correctly label my children everywhere on the web? I don’t know if I do. 

So that’s like a weird privacy thing too with training. Like learning to recognize that this shouldn’t just say, “A person.” This should say, “Amber Hinds.” Or Amber Hinds’s daughter’s name. 

>> STEVE: Right. Yes. I mean, I think that’s a huge discussion. Like, on what’s copyrighted, what should be protected with AI? We could probably do a whole new podcast on that, right.


>> AMBER: Yes, for sure. 

>> CHRIS: Probably we could. 

>> AMBER: I know we’re nearing time. I don’t know if we’ll hit a resolution on the AI, except for I don’t think it’s there. I wouldn’t recommend it yet. But maybe it will be. It’s a cool idea. I loved that they tried it. And maybe they can come back with some really interesting use cases. 

We had talked a little bit earlier about the misuse of alt text and sort of said we were going to talk about it. So I just want to circle back on that before we close. 

There’s an article from the Wall Street Journal about complaints. Like when Twitter surfaced the alt that you could click on and everybody could see, people started being, like, “Oh, this is…” You know, they could put, like, Easter egg content in there and other stuff. 

So I’m curious if either of you have any thoughts about that or tips for people on alt text to make sure it really is what it’s supposed to be for people who are not sighted.

>> STEVE: Yes. On the misuse, I mean, it’s the internet. I think on the internet, if it can be misused, it will be misused in some fashion. So, like, I think in regards to the…

>> AMBER: Yes. I mean, on websites.

>> STEVE: Yes.

>> AMBER: Oh, I was just going to say on websites, sometimes people are, like, “This is how I can add more keywords for SEO.” [chuckles] Right? 

>> STEVE: Well, yes. When I asked OpenAI about the disadvantages of alt text, it said that. Keywords. It tries to prioritize keywords a little more than it should. And humans can do the same thing just to try to get some more SEO juice. 

>> CHRIS: Oh, I used to do that years ago before I knew better. 

>> STEVE: Yes. 

>> AMBER: Yes. Well, so we all want to keep in mind… I guess the summary is we all want to keep in mind that it’s supposed to be context specific. It’s supposed to describe the image to people who can’t see it. Don’t add extra information or anything in there. It’s not like an Easter egg. 

And that we want to really think about conveying the important details to people who can’t see. It doesn’t have to describe everything. You know, maybe it’s more about mood or tone or something that conveys personality. 

>> STEVE: And relates to the context around the image.

>> CHRIS: Yes. 

>> AMBER: Yes. 

>> CHRIS: Cool.

>> AMBER: Well, look at that. We got 40 minutes talking about alt text. [laughs]

>> STEVE: There you go.

>> AMBER: I feel like this is something that comes up very frequently at WordPress Accessibility meetups during Q and A’s. At almost every meetup, people ask questions of our speakers about alt text. So it seems like something that would be easy, but it’s really not as much. So there’s a lot of art to it. Or craft. 

>> STEVE: Craft. There you go. Speaking of craft, the Westminster, I hit this thing right from the bottle and I’ve been burping ever since. 


So I think I ingested some yeast here. [laughs]

>> AMBER: Pour it into a pine glass.

>> STEVE: There you go. 

>> AMBER: Or a Mason jar in my… [laughs] Because I drink out of Mason jars. 

>> CHRIS: So my recommendation to close us out, Steve, because I’m assuming you won’t finish that 750-milliliter bottle by yourself, is whatever’s left, have… 


>> AMBER: He’s, like, “I’m almost all the way done.” 

>> STEVE: No work is getting done for the rest of the day, guys. I got to finish this bottle. 


>> CHRIS: But that would make a heck of a beer bread. 

>> AMBER: Oh, yes. Have you ever made a beer bread? 

>> STEVE: I have not. I mean, I haven’t made any kind of bread in my life. [laughs]

>> CHRIS: Ask ChatGPT for a beer bread recipe.

>> STEVE: All right, I’m on it. 

>> CHRIS: And make some beer bread.


>> AMBER: Yes. There you go. Yes, beer bread is super tasty, and it’s like a quick bread, so it doesn’t really have to rise like a yeast bread. It’s like banana bread, only made with beer and not bananas. [laughs]

>> CHRIS: Yes. 

>> STEVE: There you go. 

>> AMBER: All right. Well, thanks, everybody. We’ll be back soon. 

>> STEVE: All right, see you.

>> CHRIS: Bye.

>> SPEAKER: Thanks for listening to Accessibility Craft. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe in your podcast app to get notified when future episodes release. 

You can find Accessibility Craft on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and more. And if building accessibility awareness is important to you, please consider rating Accessibility Craft five stars on Apple Podcasts. 

Accessibility Craft is produced by Equalize Digital, and hosted by Amber Hinds, Chris Hinds, and Steve Jones. 

Steve Jones composed our theme music. Learn how we help make thousands of WordPress websites more accessible at “equalizedigital.com.”