How to win at making your blog work for people with disabilities

Stick with me on this one, folks. This post starts off sounding technical, but it’s really not.

A few years ago, I did a fair bit of blogging and a little bit of speaking about how to make your blog more accessible to people with disabilities. One of the biggest issues in accessibility is how to create an equivalent experience for your blog’s readers who, for whatever reason, cannot access some of your content. Images are the most often discussed item, since some people either cannot see them or find that they’re most comfortable browsing the web with images turned off (relevant on some mobile devices as well).

Built into the HTML code for an image is the possibility of adding a bit of description called “alt text” that serves as equivalent content for anyone who isn’t getting the image. This can also be useful on technological fail, when the image suddenly goes missing due to a server issue or something, since the alt text can display in its place.

Alt text can be abused in a misguided attempt to boost website rankings. On the other end of the spectrum, I have seen people use both alt text and an extremely long description of the image in the text of the post – which is duplicative – and also detailed descriptions of the image that are so mechanical that I would find them boring even if I could not see the image. They don’t convey the same experience despite an exhaustive explanation of all the aspects of the image. Those people, though, are trying, so I give them props.

This woman, though? I give her super-props:

What’s Past is Prologue at Smells Like Happy.

I may have never seen such a beautiful equivalent for an image. It’s written for one of her friends who uses a seeing eye dog. The blogger obviously took so much care in writing that paragraph so that it would provide the same sense of surprise, wonder, and fun included in the image itself. I doubt it was painful to write, either, because she was doing it out of love. And it ends up provides extra richness to the post for all her readers.

I’m not saying that every image in every post can be done this way. Purely decorative images often don’t need such treatment. But what if we all acted as though someone we know and care about would be trying to enjoy our blogs? What if, instead of slapping some cursory alt text on an image, we used even a couple of sentences of the post text itself to convey what the image is and more importantly, what it means to us and how it makes us feel? Wouldn’t that lead to better blogging as well as better accessibility?