Accessibility: working with alternate text in FrameMaker

Working with alternate text in materials development is a new experience for me.  I’ve previously only worked with alternate text in the context of the web – mostly focusing on describing images for screen readers so everyone can access the content I share.  However, describing images for training materials involves a different thought process.  There are different levels of descriptive text needed, based on the image’s context and how detailed an image might be.  Sometimes it’s tough to find the right amount of alternate text – text that’s descriptive enough without being excessive, but not skimping on the descriptions so much that it’s hard to determine what’s going on.

I primarily worked with the materials involved in the InDesign to FrameMaker conversion, as they had screen captures added recently and they’ve been a bit of a test bed for trying new things with the materials template.  Some of these materials were also requested by a professor for use in their academic class this fall, so we needed to work to get things out quickly.  For the most part, simple descriptive text was used for the majority of the graphics – for example, if a tooltip popped up when hovering the mouse cursor over part of the interface, that would be the alternate text for that graphic (e.g. “selection tool”, “Make all settings the same”).  For the larger or more complicated images, or those involving arrows that pointed to specific parts of an image, I took a different approach – I ended up describing the image as if I were describing it to someone over the phone who couldn’t see the image.  Sometimes this resulted in lengthy descriptions, but this was often necessary for detailed images.

As a whole, IT Training is still getting used to working with alternate text in our materials, and we’re working to assemble exact standards for creating alternate text.  However, this task came at the same time as a large software update, so some of our learning and experience has been on the fly, learning as we work.  I think this can help us out, though, as we figure out what works as part of the development process and what we should try to avoid.

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