Alternative Text

Ontario’s Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation (IASR) says that accessible formats of information must be provided upon request. On campus, these requests might come from students, faculty, staff, volunteers or visitors. This tip sheet offers advice for adding alternative text, or “alt text” as it is commonly called, when you or members of your department create printed materials in-house. Alt text focuses on the images, charts and/or graphs within your materials, and is part of the process of creating an accessible version of your Word document.

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What is alt text?
Creating alt text using Microsoft Word

What is alt text?

Alternative text (alt text) describes an image so that the user’s assistive technology may convey what information is being provided by the item. In situations where the image is not available to the reader, the alt text ensures no information or functionality is lost. For websites, documents and lecture presentations to be accessible, alt text must be assigned to all photos, images, multimedia, graphs, charts, text boxes, ClipArt, SmartArt, AutoShapes and WordArt.

Effective alt text:

  • Communicates the purpose of the image accurately and succinctly.
  • Does not repeat the text of an adjacent caption. Screen readers read the caption and the alt text, so avoid having the same details in both.
  • Does not contain the words “Image of” at the start of the alt text. Screen readers tell the user that there is an image and then read the alt text.
  • Indicates “Screen shot of…” if it is an image taken from a computer screen.
  • Indicates “Photo of…” if it is a photo.
  • Contains words that advance the user’s understanding.
  • Requires no text if an image is purely decorative. Simply provide two quotation marks (“ ”) as the alt text.
  • Uses punctuation for full sentences.

Creating alt text using Microsoft Word


The content of this page was created using information resources from Queen’s University and the University of Waterloo.