Common Accessibility Issues: Adding Alternative Text to Images

What are some of the most common accessibility issues? What makes them problematic? And how can you fix them? In this series of blog posts we will address the most common accessibility issues that we have seen on campus and provide instructions and guidance for fixing them.

What is it alternative text?

Alternative text is a short description of an image that assistive technology can access and read aloud to the user. These descriptions are usually very brief, typically 20 words or less. 

Why is alternative text important?

Images and graphics help to make content more pleasant and easier to understand for many people, including those with cognitive and learning disabilities. However, it is important to make sure that these images are accessible to all users, including those using screen readers, speech input software, mobile web users, and more. Alternative text allows users who cannot see the content understand the information conveyed in these images. It also provides all users with richer content and ensures understanding for global students. 

When creating content, keep the following in mind:

  • Provide a text equivalent for every non-text element. 
  • Avoid using text in images as the sole method of conveying information. If you must use the image, repeat the text in the document.

How do I add alternative text to my images?

The following resources will walk you through adding alternative text to images in myLesley, Microsoft Office (including Word, PowerPoint, and Outlook), and Acrobat Pro.

If your image was uploaded into myLesley without a description, Ally will walk you through adding an image description. Once you add the description, you will see your accessibility score increase.

sample Ally accessibility score for an image needing a description
Adding alternative text to an image using Ally

How do I know what to put in my description?

Your image description will vary depending on the image itself and the content of your page/document. For example, you may add an image of a flower to your document. Is your flower there just to spruce up the page and make it visually pleasing? Mark it as decorative. Is your flower there to show an example of some flowers in the park? Write a brief description. Is your flower there to show specific characteristics of the species? Write detailed information that will allow anyone who can’t see the image understand the information being shown.

Here are some basic guidelines for different image types:

Decorative Images: If the sole purpose of the image is to add decoration to the page, rather than convey information, mark your image as decorative.

Informative Images (Pictures, Photos, Illustrations): When using images that represent concepts and information, such as pictures, photos, and illustrations, the text should be a short description stating the essential information conveyed in the image.

Text Images: If possible, it is best to avoid images of text. If you are using text images, the alternative text should contain the same words as shown in the image.

Graphs and Diagrams: Provide a full-text equivalent of the data or information provided in the image.

Need Assistance?

If you need assistance making your content accessible, reach out to You may also check out the following resources:


ARTstor Digital Library: A place of visual primary sources

ARTstor is a digital library full of images for you to use for classroom instruction, especially if you want to integrate visual literacy. Its title can be a bit deceiving but ARTstor’s true focus is less about discipline and more about giving educators online access to over 1.8 million authoritative visual primary sources. You and your students will discover content from a wide range of museums, archives, libraries, and other types of cultural heritage institutions that span various time periods, movements, and cultures.

Check out what collections are available, Some of the collections used with students doing research include:

Not only does this educational technology have visual resource collections, it allows easy integration into your online classroom environments. Some great tech features include curating groups of images sharable in Blackboard, links to share on blogs, and generate of PowerPoint presentations. Any images collected using ARTstor’s image group feature automatically live in the system so you never have to worry about losing them or your image presentation. Please be advised that ARTstor registration is required to use the tool!

If you want to learn how to use ARTstor there are a number of resources that come in various formats ranging from videos, written instructions, and in-person help. Visit the websites below or find help in at the Moriarty Library 

ARTstor Help Resources
Moriarty Library’s ARTstor Help Guide
ARTstor’s YouTube
ARTstor’s Knowledge Base

Contact a Librarian for help!
Kate Thornhill, MLIS
Research and Instruction Librarian for Digital Scholarship
Moriarty Library


Creative Commons: Can I Use That?

Has your class kicked off, but you still need some last minute images to reinforce a certain topic? Do your students need to do a presentation that will involve images or media? Planning to just grab stuff off Google?


Just because an image, video or even PDF is online, doesn’t mean that you can use it or share it in your course. Much of this content is copyrighted and you shouldn’t use it without permission from the owner. THOU SHALT NOT VIOLATE COPYRIGHT. “But what about fair use? I’m using it for my course,” you say. Fair use may cover your situation, but the guidelines can be tricky to navigate and you may want to consult your local librarian for assistance.

Fortunately, there’s another option… a free, completely legal option that doesn’t run afoul of copyright. Creative Commons.

Creative Commons is an alternative to copyright that allows individuals to easily share their work with others and to specify how that work can be used. An author or artist can allow you to use and share their work as long as you acknowledge them, but not allow you to edit it. Other authors may allow you to remix and reuse as much as you wish as long as you aren’t making money from it. Look for the Creative Commons – Some Rights Reserved icon.
creative commons

Click on it to get the details on how you can use the work.

Want more info?
Digital ID has a great, easy to read guide written by an educator, not a lawyer. Can I Use That? explains:

  • what Creative Commons is,
  • how to find Creative Commons content that you can use,
  • how to cite Creative Commons licensed content and
  • how to license your own work .

For a quick overview of Creative Commons, check out their short video below.