Alternative Tags in Canvas for Accessibility

October 3, 2022

Read this week’s blog to learn about what Alt-tags are and how to use them well in Canvas!

Alternative Tags in Canvas for Accessibility

Alternative tags or text exist as a means for providing information to learners who require the use of a screen reader. Images of all kinds will be detected by readers and without the proper alternative text or tag, your learners who use this technology will be at a significant disadvantage. Read on to learn more about best principles for using alt-tags and how to use them in Canvas.

Principles of Alt-text

Principle 1: Accurate and Equivalent description

Consider the meaning of the content the image is meant to convey by asking yourself what are your learners meant to understand from the image. For example, an image of a maple leaf could be about types of leaves or it could be about the national flag of Canada. A screen reader will not convey the difference between these meanings if it picks up on an image of a maple leaf.  Therefore, instructors must provide meaningful content through an accurate description of the image.

Principle 2: Be Succinct

Consider the context surrounding the image that you use. For example, if you use a graph to show a positive correlation between more hours spent studying and college students’ average GPA in your course, do you offer a textual explanation of that chart just beneath that image? If so, then you do not need to repeat every detail of that graph in the alt-text. While accuracy matters, it would interfere with conveying the meaning of the image.

If you have the textual context that explains the meaning and the image still conveys some important meaning that is not included in the context around the image, then the alt-text must identify the additional important content you are not explaining in the context.

Principle 3: Avoid redundancy (most of the time)

In general, avoid redundancy! Screen readers will identify if an image is an image. So, avoid writing “Image of”, “Graph of”, etc. However, there are exceptions.

Consider the function of the image. Is the image to be used as a button or hyperlink and it conveys meaning? If so, then you would still need to provide a description in the alt-text.

Here redundancy occurs and that is OK! Most screen readers will identify if the image is a link as well but since that image is conveying some meaning then that should be included in the alt-text. The redundancy helps convey that the image has content meaning and it is a link. If the image has no meaning, let’s say it is an icon or an image of a horizontal line then describe the image accurately and select “decorative image” in Canvas.

Applying these Principles in Canvas

Step 1: Identify the content you mean to convey. Is it educational or is it merely decorative?

Step 2:  Identify where you add the contextual explanation of the content. Either it must be in textual explanation by the image or in the alt-text.

Step 3:  Identify the function of the image in relation to the meaning of the content and remove unnecessary language in the alt-text such as “Image of”. If the image is a link and it is meaningful, then include an accurate and succinct alt-text description.

How to add alt-text in Canvas

Screenshot of the Image Options button that appears in Canvas when you hover over an image in the Rich Content Editor.

Step 1: In the Rich Content Editor in Canvas, click on the image to see “Image Options” appear. Click that to pull up a menu.

Step 2: Provide an accurate, equivalent, and succinct description of the image.

Step 3. Select whether the image is decorative or not.

Step 4. Select “Done”.

Applying alt-text to Images for Tests or Quizzes

Alternative text is already important for providing accessibility to learners in general and this becomes paramount when learners need alternative means of accessing an image, chart, or graph on an assessment.

Always use text questions in conjunction with the image for providing the best context possible. The image would still need a description in the alt-text but at this point, your goal is to be accurate and succinct. A few words will work without giving away key terms that you want your learners to recall.


Quick Hits: Quiz Building

Creating Canvas quizzes can seem daunting, but by the end of this walkthrough demo, you will become an efficient Canvas quiz builder. We will discuss question types, how to create question banks, and answer any questions you may have. Facilitated by Axel Ruiz, Learning Technology Specialist.

  • You can watch the recorded session soon!
  • Originally recorded on 09/29/22
  • Contact James Butler with any questions about this recording

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