Image Description 

Image description is often the easiest and fastest way to provide information about an image to a reader who cannot access it visually. Below are resources developed by the DIAGRAM Center to help content creators provide image descriptions. For information on technical standards related to attaching descriptions to images in digital content, see the Born Accessible Publishing page.

Developed by The DIAGRAM Center, Poet is an open-source web based image description training tool that helps people learn how to describe the various types of images found in digital books including complex images such as flow charts and Venn diagrams. Poet users have access to reference guides and hands-on practice exercises to help cultivate their image description skills and when an image description is appropriate and when one is not needed. It’s free to sign up and free to use so go ahead and give it a try! If you have questions or feedback about Poet, contact us any time.

These guidelines were born from a partnership between the DIAGRAM center and the Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family National Center for Accessible Media at WGBH (NCAM). They are broken up in to two parts. The first part covers description guidelines that apply to any type of image. The second part covers guidelines for describing images within specific types of categories, such as maps. The guidelines are free and can be downloaded as a Word Document or read online in your browser. We are always open to feedback so feel free to email us with comments or questions.

The Accessible Image Sample Book, created by the DIAGRAM Content Working Group, is a free online resource that shows you what some of the many options are for creating accessible versions of  various types of digital images from maps to bar charts.  Each chapter shows a different image in context of the book it came from, along with helpful tips and the code used to provide the accessible image in a digital book. You can download the EPUB version or read it online. Want to learn more? Watch and/or listen to the Accessible Image Sample Book webinar.

How to Describe Complex Images for Accessibility

October 30, 2012
Presented by: Bryan Gould, NCAM

Accessible Images: From Creation to End User

January 24, 2013
Presented by: Geoff Freed, WGBH NCAM; Bryan Gould, WGBH NCAM; Lucia Hasty, Rocky Mountain Braille Associates

Office Hours with the Image Description Experts

October 24, 2013
Presented by: Geoff Freed, Bryan Gould, and Madeleine Rothberg of the National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM) at WGBH

Description Templates for Common Graphics

Written by DIAGRAM community members Lucia Hasty, Yue-Ting Siu, Josh Miele, and Val Morash

Rather than being expected to develop unique prose for each image they are tasked to describe, image describers should be supported to describe according to established guidelines. This will simplify their work, and may reduce cognitive load for readers. This project has created software that prompts describers with image description templates for common types of graphics, based on the NCAM STEM description guidelines. Image describers respond to questions regarding the basic characteristics of a diagram, and are guided through a fill-in-the-blanks process, which generates the first paragraph of an image description. The describer is then free to edit that paragraph and to append additional explanatory language. An assessment program built into the proposed project provides feedback on the consistency and accuracy of descriptions provided by users of the templates.

Survey Links:

Use the participant code: “0”

Teacher Survey on Use of Image Descriptions in the Classroom

In the fall of 2012, DIAGRAM conducted a survey of 60 teachers to better understand their use of image descriptions in instruction. From the summary in the report: “A recurring theme in responses reflected priorities for flexibility in meeting different students’ needs, and to account for the range of descriptions from those that did not need to be described, to those that required supplementary tactile representation. All of the respondents attributed the benefit of image description to enhancing students’ independent learning.”

Ideas that work.The DIAGRAM Center is a Benetech initiative supported by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (Cooperative Agreement #H327B100001). Opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of the U.S. Department of Education.


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