Improving accessibility with long descriptions
When it comes to using images within online courses, it is important to remember that we don’t all have the same ability to see or interpret that content. This may be due to visual impairments, low bandwidth, certain learning difficulties or a preference for auditory learning, for example.
Many of us will be familiar with the idea of using alt-text to improve the accessibility of online images. These are short, simple descriptions of images that screen readers can vocalise for the user or which get displayed as text if the image fails to load.
Here at the Business School, it has become increasingly apparent that the images we include in our online materials require more than a single sentence of alt-text to describe. Henley’s online content often features complex diagrams, charts, infographics and other images. Taking guidance from the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative, among other sources, we therefore recently embarked on offering “long descriptions” for such imagery.
This approach involves providing a link from the image to a separate page, where the image is concisely but fully described, focusing on the “take away” message. The long description aims to provide the essential information the student needs to make contextual sense of the image. There is no editorialising – if you can’t see it in the image, it doesn’t get described. The long description is presented on a plain page with minimal formatting, so that a screen reader can make easy sense of it. Since all users can access this page, this approach has the potential to benefit anyone who has difficulty either viewing images or visualising data.
We are currently working on a process to formalise this additional step into our content development process to involve those faculty members who author our online materials and our inhouse editorial team. Ultimately we hope to be able to improve the accessibility of our content in this way for all students who may need it.
Jenny Barron is a TEL Technical Support Officer at the Henley Business School.
"My focus is on developing and supporting technology enhanced learning on Canvas, the platform we use to deliver many of our post-experience and executive education programmes. We put a lot of effort into providing interactive and engaging content within our online courses, and accessibility is a key consideration in how we deliver that effectively for all our students."
1 March 2023