Make Performance Support More Accessible by Adding Alternate Text to Images in Word and Google Docs

There are many things to take into consideration for making training content accessible. Some examples are color choice for contrast, size of elements, simple writing, and more.

We put together a post with more details on all the ways to make Word documents accessible which also includes a free downloadable checklist so you should definitely check that out too.

But this is all about adding alternate text to Word and Google Docs, one of the easiest things you can do to make documents more accessible. Alternate text is commonly known as alt text.

Alt text is essentially a text description of an image that screen readers will read. Alt text is also typically available when images are turned off or if they can’t load for whatever reason.

Training content should be accessible to everyone so it’s important to understand as many accessibility considerations as possible so you can account for them in designs. Alt text is one element and a great place to start getting into the habit of adding accessible features to your training content.

Training content should always be made accessible which offers benefits to everyone, not just those with disabilities.

For any written documents you produce for training, if there are images that are relevant to learning then alt text should be provided. If an image is for decorative purposes, don’t provide alt text. There’s no purpose for a screen reader to read what a decorative image is because it takes away from the important content or could make the content more confusing.

Microsoft Word offers the option to mark an image as decorative only. That’s helpful because screen readers will skip over images with no alt text or marked as decoration entirely. It’s best to mark them decorative rather than leave them blank, though.

Before I get into the details of adding alt text to your document images, there are other accessibility considerations. Let’s take a quick detour because these are important to know.

Other Considerations For Document Accessibility

Beyond the obvious features that a lot of software contain for accessibility, there are things you must take into account yourself. That’s because they’re not features but simply mindful designs for accessibility.

These are some potential types of disabilities that must be taken into account for making training documents accessible.

  • Color blindness
  • Low or no sight
  • Cognitive abilities
  • Physical or motor difficulties
  • Etc.

The list can go on but there are some simple steps you can take to help make training content more accessible to everyone. These steps generally apply to digital training such as eLearning and videos, but some can be applied to in-person training, performance support, or other methods too.

Here’s what you can do to accommodate accessible needs and help others who don’t necessary require accessible content but will benefit from it.

  • Write simple.
  • Use good contrast between colors.
  • Don’t put (many) words in images.
  • Do the squint test (squint your eyes very small to check if things are readable).
  • Make text big enough.
  • Make buttons and links descriptive, large, and easy to click.
  • Use tab order.
  • Include subtitles in videos.

Adding alt text to performance support (job aids, quick reference guides, etc.) is a great way to assist people with screen reading technology. Alternate (alt) text can be read by screen-reading technology in the place of an image.

The best part? When you put alt text in either Microsoft Word or Google Docs and export it to PDF, the alt text will still be included for screen readers.

One last note on accessibility in Microsoft Word in general. Microsoft provides a really handy tool for all their Office applications that lets you check if your Office content is accessible. It also gives you handy tips for fixing non-accessible content.

Add Alt Text In Microsoft Word

Adding or editing alt text in Microsoft Word images is fairly straightforward. If you used a stock image from Word, then the image comes with some basic alt text already. It’s not usually very good, though.

Also, if you’d rather watch a video on this topic then check out the video we put together about how to make Word documents more accessible.

Here’s how you add and edit alt text In Microsoft Word.

Step 1: Right-click on an image or object (yes you can add alt text to objects too).

Microsoft Word Editing Image Alt Text

Step 2: Click on View Alt Text…

Step 3: Edit or type in alt text that describes your image well but is less than 250 characters.

Don’t write person. A better alt text would be a person planking next to a stream on a fall day. Whatever can help someone understand your content better without seeing it.

Step 4: Click the X button on the Alt Text tab to close it.

Microsoft Word Setting Image Alt Text

Option a: If a graphic is decorative and serves no functional purpose in your document, select this box so no alt text is included, and the image will be skipped by screen readers.

Option b: This button can sometimes read a picture and generate alt text for you. It’s probably a good idea not to rely on this feature but it’s there if you do want to try it to start your tag so you can edit it or write more.

That’s it! Now you can go through all your graphics and put alt text in them so they’re accessible to a broader audience.

You can also use these instructions for adding alt text to other Microsoft Office applications such as PowerPoint or Excel.

Add Alt Text In Google Docs

Similar to how you can add alt text in Microsoft Word, you can also do it in Google Docs. These steps will help you add alt text to any image.

Step 1: Right-click on an image.

Step 2: Click on Alt text.

Google Docs Add Image Alt Text

Step 3: Type in a title for the image if it’s helpful or leave it blank if you have no title.

Step 4: Type in a more thorough description of the image that’s not more than 250 characters.

Google Docs Add Image Alt Text Fields

Step 5: Click OK.

That’s it! Now alt text is added to your Google Doc image, and you can continue to do it for other images also. You can also use these steps for other Google applications such as Slides and Sheets. It works the same way.

Wrap Up

Making training content accessible is not only the right thing to do, but for many companies, it’s a legal issue too. Not making content accessible for employees can open up companies to discrimination or other types of lawsuits.

Similar to it being the law that buildings must be physically accessible, content (including training) must be accessible to everyone. With some simple steps, training content can be made more accessible to everyone.

When training content isn’t accessible, organizations risk exposing themselves to lawsuits.

Many authoring tools such as Storyline, Camtasia, and Microsoft Word have many tools built in for accessibility. It’s up to you to take advantage of them to make all training content more accessible. We also put together an easy-to-follow post about how to make eLearning content accessible which is mostly focuses on Articulate Storyline but can also be used for Adobe Captivate or your preferred rapid eLearning development tool.

Now you know how to include one important accessibility feature when using tools like Microsoft Word or Google Docs to design job aids, quick reference guides, or other training documents. Whenever we use these tools to develop performance support, we’re sure to also include important alt text in documents.

If you’re ready to work with a digital training company that knows the importance of accessibility in training, we’d love to discuss helping you with training for your next technical project.

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