As a UX designer, I’ve always been passionate about creating digital experiences that are intuitive, engaging, and user-friendly. Little did I know that an encounter with my friend Heather would completely shift my perspective and open my eyes to a problem I had never truly considered before: web accessibility and the importance of “alt text.”

Heather and I had been Facebook friends for a while, and we were both part of a lively WhatsApp group that connected us with close friends who moved out of our state. It was a space for sharing and celebrating our lives, complete with photos of achievements, vacation destinations, heartwarming wedding snapshots, and photos from previous group functions.  It was an online hub of our lives, a place where we connected through visuals and stories.

One day, Heather made a post that caught my attention. She was addressing all the individuals in our group, kindly asking them to describe the photos they posted. It was a seemingly simple request, but it carried a powerful message. Heather explained that she used screen readers – assistive technologies that help blind and visually impaired individuals access online content. She revealed that, without descriptions, the images shared by others were like locked doors to her, shutting her out from the vibrant conversations that revolved around them.

I was taken aback. I had no idea that this was an issue for Heather, or for anyone like her. I realized that I had been ignorant of the fact that not everyone experiences the digital world in the same way I did. My ignorance was a barrier, just like the missing alt text on the shared images was a barrier for Heather. This revelation struck a chord deep within me and ignited a curiosity to learn more about the world of web accessibility.

Until then, I had been living in a digital bubble, oblivious to the challenges faced by those who navigated the internet differently. I had never heard of screen readers or alt text, and I certainly hadn’t considered the significance of making online content accessible to everyone. Heather’s honest post became a catalyst for change in my understanding and my approach to design.

The concept of alt text was like a lightbulb moment for me. Alt text, or alternative text, is a concise description added to images to provide context and understanding to those who cannot see the images. It’s a small yet powerful way to make visual content accessible to screen readers, enabling users like Heather to be part of the conversation.

I dove headfirst into learning about alt text and other web accessibility tools. I realized that these seemingly small adjustments could have a profound impact on inclusivity and user experience. My research revealed that alt text was a crucial tool that gave voice to images, allowing screen readers to describe them to users like Heather, enabling them to be part of the conversations they had been missing out on.

snap shot of alt text section in wordpress. the top is the image, then the box for alt text, image name, caption, description and file url. Man gets a grip on the top tire in the image

About This Image

The  image  provides a visual representation of the “Alt Text” section’s layout. At the uppermost portion, key details such as the date, image dimensions, and file name are displayed. The focal point, the Alt Text box, is where we write a description of the image. Below this, the “Title Section” corresponds to the file name. Adjacent to it are sections for a caption, description, and file URL.  Once everything has been inputed, the image is then either saved in the library or embedded within the document’s page.

The most essential task is completing the “Alt Text” segment; the other sections remain entirely optional.

Heather’s experiences resonated with me so deeply that I decided to take action. I launched the “A2S” website, short for “Access to Symmetry.” This platform became my way of advocating for web accessibility and spreading awareness about the importance of alt text and other accessibility features. Through articles, tutorials, and practical tips, A2S aimed to bridge the knowledge gap and empower designers and content creators to make their work accessible to everyone.

I discovered the incredible impact that designers could have in ensuring inclusivity as I delved into this world.  By integrating web accessibility principles into design processes, we could create experiences that were not only aesthetically pleasing but also welcoming to all users, regardless of their abilities.

Heather’s openness and willingness to share her experiences had changed my perspective forever. She had transformed my approach to design and ignited a passion for making a difference. With A2S, I was not only improving my own design skills but also contributing to a more inclusive digital landscape.

In the end, Heather’s story taught me that it’s our responsibility to ensure that the digital world is accessible and welcoming to everyone. Through simple gestures like adding alt text, we can make profound changes in someone’s experience. Heather’s journey, once filled with locked doors, had become an inspiration for us all to open those doors wide and embrace the beauty of inclusion in every corner of the internet.