March 31, 2017
Thoughts on Accessibility Naming and Descriptions – Best Practices
March 31, 2017
Thoughts on Accessibility Naming and Descriptions – Best Practices
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Please note: not following these doesn’t result in failing a 508/accessibility test, it just makes the learning experience less than optimum for those using screen readers

Filling out the “Accessibility Name” Box: the screen reader already identifies what type of object it is automatically – so titling an image as “image: XXX” results in screen reader repetition (“Image. Image XXX.”). Unless you’re using this to call out a slide title or identify a specific, unique characteristic of the object essential to learning the content – it’s probably just clutter.

Filling out the “Accessibility Description” Box: Ask yourself a simple question; Is giving this object a description (or a name) essential to understanding the content being presented in the course, or is it simply a visual cue or  decorative element that aids a sighted learner in a way that is not applicable to a visually impaired learner’s methods?

If you decide to describe it, don’t restate the name or or start your description by saying “This is an image of..” or something similar – building on the example for Accessibility Name above, the screen reader would say “Image. Image XXX. This is an image of XXX.” Again – it passes 508 testing, but it creates unnecessary repetition and detracts from the learning experience.

Don’t over-describe the image – remember your audience. Do you really think the visually impaired user cares about what the person is wearing, or what color hair he or she has if it has nothing to do with the content? If it isn’t related to delivery of the content, it’s not necessary and may even detract from the content.

Using technical and/or formatting terminology (“terms of art”) – using terminology associated with accepted terms used to format documents and tables as plain text names will lead to frustration on the part of a screen reader user.

Screen readers are set up to use keyboard commands to access the embedded tags found in formats to “skim” the headings, subheadings and bulleted lists without being forced to read through an entire document, skipping around just as a sighted user uses the visual cues associated with the format to do so. Using formatting terminology to identify static text boxes may lead to frustration on the part of screen reader users, as they may use the keyboard commands associated with the terms to try and skim or preview what they believe to be accessibly formatted content and are unable to do so. Adobe tags content text using their pdf standards:


Using terms like these, or terms lifted from the style and formatting menus of Word, will more than likely cause screen reader users to access their keyboard shortcuts, assuming you have created a method to preview, review or access content that you really haven’t created.

Focus on delivering the content to your audience effectively and efficiently.

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