Rethink Alt Text — The First Step: A community discussion to improve how we communicate complex graphical ideas and data

Presented at 11:30am in Matchless on Thursday, November 17, 2022.



  • Bevi Chagnon, Designer, Senior Accessibility Trainer,
  • Karen McCall, M.Ed., , Karlen Communications

Session Details

  • Length of Session: 1-hr
  • Format: Lecture
  • Expertise Level: Beginner
  • Type of session: General Conference


Alt Text, which was added to the HTML tag set more than 25 years ago, was never designed to do what's needed for today's ICT graphics.

Current research presented by Karen McCall and Bevi Chagnon at last summer's ICCHP-AAATE 2022 conference honed in on Alt Text's shortcomings and inability to fully convey graphical information to end users.

The authors ask the community: "What can we do to fix it?"

Ditch it?

Fix it?

And if so, how?

Join the discussion at this session!


At the ICCHP-AAATE 2022 conference this past summer, Karen McCall (M.Ed, ADS) and Bevi Chagnon (MBA, ADS) presented their initial scholarly research on what’s needed to portray and convey complex graphical data to all end users, especially those with disabilities who use assistive technologies.

Their conclusion: Alt Text isn’t good enough.

In fact, it sucks.

(We stated it much more politely at the conference, but that was the true conclusion of the research.)

Not only are there no formal, industry-accepted guidelines on how to write Alt Text and what information it should contain, but the Alt Text technology itself is limited in what it can provide. Our websites, apps, documents and other digital media have dramatically changed since Alt Text was first added to the HTML 1.2 tag set in the mid-1990s. It's an antiquated technology.

Screen reader users have few controls over Alt Text. And by its design as an attribute on the or tag, it can’t do a satisfactory job of conveying complex charts, maps, data from GIS systems, info-graphics, or statistical analysis from data-visualization software like Tableau.

It’s time to rethink Alt Text.

Should we ditch it and create a better technology to convey this complex information? Is it possible to fix Alt Text's shortcomings and expand its capabilities? And how do we make these adjustments throughout the industry?

There are a lot of stakeholders in the accessibility industry — The standards committees for HTML, WCAG, PDF, PDF/UA, and EPUB; content creators; assistive technology manufacturers; software manufacturers (like Microsoft and Adobe); and end users themselves.

Join us as together, we (the community) take the next step — brainstorm a strategy that will improve this information and create better options for content creators and end-users. And get it accepted industry-wide.


  1. Present the findings of the authors' preliminary research on Alt Text.
  2. Define what might be holding Alt Text from being more "robust" and useful to end users.
  3. Review of some methods you can use now to improve the conveyance of complex data.

Disability Areas

All Areas, Cognitive/Learning, Vision

Topic Areas

Accessible Course Design, Accessible Educational Materials, Alternate Format, Assistive Technology, EPUB Track, Uncategorized, Universal Design for Learning

Speaker Bio(s)

Bevi Chagnon

Bevi Chagnon has been active in the standards community for 25 years, and currently is a US Delegate to the ISO committees for PDF and PDF/UA. With a long career in publishing, she’s an expert for Adobe InDesign, Acrobat, MS Office, and accessibility. She’s a professional educator, award-winning designer, and former faculty member at Washington DC-area colleges/universities. Bevi is a frequent speaker at industry conferences, and a contributor on many forums, including the Adobe Community Forums where she is an invited Community Expert.

Karen McCall, M.Ed.

Karen McCall, M.Ed. has been working in the field of accessible document design since 1999. She began her career in website accessibility and auditing and moved to accessible Word, PowerPoint and PDF documents in 2004. Karen is:

— A Canadian delegate to the ISO 14289 or PDF/UA (Universal Accessibility) committee and has been for a number of years. — A Canadian delegate to the ISO 32000 PDF committee. — A Microsoft MVP for Word (Most Valued Professional) since 2009. — A Microsoft Accessibility MVP since 2017 when this category of MVP was established.

Karen has written several books on the topic of accessible document design for Word, PowerPoint and PDF documents as well as smaller publications with specific techniques for working with Office applications if you are using adaptive technology and/or the keyboard.

Karen is the president of Karlen Communications.