Revising Alt Text (and video description) Best Practices for a Better Learning Experience

Handouts Media

Presented at 11:15am in Virtual B on Wednesday, November 18, 2020.



  • Laura Ciporen, Digital Content Accessibility Manager, McGraw-Hill Education

Session Details

  • Length of Session: 45 minutes
  • Format: Lecture
  • Expertise Level: All Levels
  • Type of session: Pre-conference


We will discuss the difference between "informational" & "educational" materials and how standard guidelines for writing text alternatives to media need to be adjusted for use in Higher Education (and other learning) materials to take into account cognitive load, informational density, an increased understanding of “context and purpose,” and more.


Images & videos are of critical importance in Higher Ed digital learning materials. Media can add variety & engagement, provide an example without needing an explanation, present massive amounts of information & make it easy to process, & more. But this is only true for those who can perceive the media. Unfortunately, most a11y guidelines focus on videos for entertainment or images in informational online materials such as newspaper articles & standard websites. While the underlying principles defining good alt text & video descriptions are the same in an informational context & an educational one, I submit that there are also fundamental differences. What students get out of our media is critical. Informational density is higher. Cognitive load is a factor. Unpredictable questions come up in a classroom. A description can't give away an answer on a test… We need a refined set of guidelines AND some changes to HTML element definitions, to better meet the specific needs of our audience.


  1. Educational media has different a11y needs than informational media. EG: Captions serve different purposes.
  2. Balancing cognitive load with informational completeness is tricky and of the utmost importance.
  3. Audio Descriptions are insufficient for Higher Ed. videos; a text alternative is needed instead.

Disability Areas

Cognitive/Learning, Vision

Topic Areas

Accessible Educational Materials, Alternate Format, Uncategorized, Web/Media Access

Speaker Bio(s)

Laura Ciporen

IAAP CPACC. JAWS certified. Creating inclusive content (with WCAG-based accessibility) for higher education since 2015.