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  3. How to make your media more accessible

How to make your media more accessible

Keeping your learners engaged throughout your module is vital, and the use of media such as images, video, gifs and graphs is a fantastic way to do this. However, when selecting and presenting media to students, it’s important to keep all your learners in mind and take simple steps to boost accessibility for everyone.

Making video more accessible

With videos, you’ll need to do a variety of checks to ensure it is accessible to as many students as possible. There are many permanent, temporary, and situational reasons that video accessibility may be an issue. For example, students:

  • May have a poor internet connection that prevents the video playing
  • May be deaf or have limited hearing
  • May be blind or have limited sight
  • May not be able to watch videos for medical reasons (either for a short time or a long time)
  • May be in circumstances that means watching videos is simply impractical or unviable

 By taking steps to improve your video’s accessibility before the start of your module, you’ll have a better chance of avoiding the need to make corrections and workarounds mid-module where time is at even more of a premium. There are a few key things to check when making media for your module;

There are a few additional considerations if you are choosing a third party video to use in your module;

  • Where the video is hosted – many sites like YouTube are banned in some countries, so if you potentially have international students, this is likely to be an issue.
  • The stability and/or permanence of the video – don’t rely on third party videos to teach your content, they are best used as an additional resource as you’ll have limited control over it.
  • The quality and accessibility of the video – your choice of video is your choice of captions and transcript as different publishers use different tools to create transcripts so the quality isn’t always great but copyright will prevent you from creating and distributing a transcript for a third party video unless you have an agreement with the video owner.

Transcripts are enormously useful for many different people, not just for those who are deaf or have limited hearing. I use them myself to find specific information, especially if I want to quote something, rather than try to find it in the video again.

It is good practice, as an alternative way for your students to access information, to provide a link to a website that has similar information on it with a generic statement such as ‘If you cannot access the video for any reason, you may find this text-based alternative helpful’. The ‘this text-based alternative’ portion of the text should be a hyperlink to the webpage you’ve found.

Making videos

If you are making your own videos, there is lots of information on the Teaching Knowledge Base under Engage your learners with video. One thing to bear in mind though is that your videos should be meeting the WCAG 2.1 guidelines including captions and transcripts, and if you are thinking of exploring virtual reality, there are updated guidelines in the works to help you ensure those pieces are accessible to everyone.

Choosing images

Images are, or can be, much trickier from the author point of view as captions and transcripts are a simple translation of spoken word to written word whereas images are often used to convey information or illicit a feeling in place of words. So, when writing alt text,the first thing to look at is the reason you are using the image, deciding whether it decorative or informative.

Informative images

The most important thing to think about with informative images is what you want your students to get out of the image.

Images may become inaccessible for some of the same reasons as videos – connection issues may cause the image to ‘break’ or your audience may be blind or have limited sight so these images need alternative (alt) text. The contrast within an image also needs to be clear enough for those with limited sight or those who see colour differently to discern the information and this isn’t just down to colour choice though this is a factor.

The A11y Colour Blindness Empathy Test plug in (available on both Firefox and Chrome) is useful for illustrating the issues with choices made in images and whether an image you choose is suitable. Though if you are making your own images, you will want to look at the WCAG 2.1 guidelines  to do that in the most accessible way possible.

Decorative images

Decorative images should not take over the page but are useful for creating visual interest and breaking up the text. These are also the most common kind of copyright free images, so easily found. I would try to make them vaguely relevant so as not to be jarring but other than that it is what you do with the decorative image which is important.

Visually, you expect your audience to skip these so that is what you should instruct screen readers to do and set up your page accordingly. So, in the alternative text area for each decorative image you should type double quotation marks (“ “) this should instruct the screen reader to skip the image. You don’t then want to interrupt the flow of text by adding a caption or copyright attribution so make a section at the bottom of your page to do this.

Writing alt text

Alt text is text your audience won’t know is there unless an image breaks for some reason, or they use a screen reader as it is ‘hidden’ behind the image. Information on how to add alt text to documents can be found here for Word and here for Adobe.

Good practice is to introduce any informative image in the text around it. This helps orientate all students but is especially useful to neurodiverse students and those using screen readers. The key is to focus on the purpose of your image.

Examples of alt text

I’m going to use this image of a baby tortoise to show examples of alt text and how that alt text changes depending on the purpose of the image.

Close up of a Hermann tortoise hatchling on a lawn next to a daisy used to illustrate descriptive points below.
Photo by Sindy Strife on Unsplash

If the purpose of me including this image of a baby tortoise is purely because, though it isn’t particularly relevant to the text, I like tortoises, I would use “ “ and not write a caption for the image. The copyright attribution is at the bottom of this page and the text around the image doesn’t need to introduce the image.

Informative image – biological

If this page was talking about the life cycle of this species of tortoise (I think it is a baby Hermann) and the purpose of the image was to illustrate the size of a hatchling, I might write something like the following:

In text introduction: Hermann tortoise hatchlings are approximately 4cm in length and, as the image shows, shorter in height than a daisy in a lawn.

Alt text: Close up of a Hermann tortoise hatchling on a lawn next to a daisy.

Caption: Photo by Sindy Strife on Unsplash

This example also shows the need for subject matter experts to write alt text of this kind as I know very little about the life cycle of tortoises.

Informative image – technical detail

If this page was about technical specifications in photography and the purpose of the image was to illustrate the results of a particular set up, I might write something like the following:

In text introduction: Camera set up for an image of a tortoise hatchling taken from X distance and at X height on a sunny day with the sun coming from the right hand side should be X, X, X, X.

Alt text: Close up of the hatching show the tortoise and one daisy in sharp focus while the background, with a single daisy, and the foreground, with grass and another single daisy, are out of focus.

Caption: Photo by Sindy Strife on Unsplash

Again, this example also shows the need for subject matter experts to write alt text of this kind as I know very little about technical specifications in photography.

Informative image – composition

For an image where the purpose is to illustrate composition, I might write something like the following:

In text introduction: Composition is often used to show scale as seen in the following image:

Alt text: The hatching is facing the left of the image and is positioned slightly right of the vertical centre line and slightly down from the horizontal central line. The hatchling is positioned on grass between three daisies — one directly in front of where the tortoise is looking, one behind the tortoise as we look at it and one in front of the tortoise as we look at it. Though the daisies are of normal height, they are taller than the tortoise.

Caption: Photo by Sindy Strife on Unsplash

Again, this example shows the need for subject matter experts to write alt text, though I hope I have also illustrated that the purpose of an image will determine the alt-text it needs. I have exceeded the character/word limits and guidelines given by Microsoft and Adobe and I could perhaps convey the same information in a more succinct way but, and here is the important bit, it does the job.

Admittedly this is a fairly simple image, but I have written alt text for technical drawings of construction projects like car parks, hotels and residential houses as they were used in courses I helped develop. It is possible to write alt text for anything as long as you focus on the purpose of sharing the image.

For more complicated images you may also want to set yourself an order in which to describe the image (into a grid or clock face perhaps) and then describe what can be seen in each section. For graphs, remember that they were once tables, so usually the easiest way of describing graphs is to pair the information as it would be in a table.

Finally, if you are having trouble getting started or trouble with a more complicated image, leave it and come back to it. Start with something simpler, even if it doesn’t end up on your page, and build up. The practice is good and it will also help you get in the flow of writing descriptive text in the same way you get into the flow of writing content.


  • Nicola Fordham

    Nicola is a Learning Designer and pedagogy lead in the Content Team at Coventry University Online working with course teams across the CU Group. She has a particular interest in accessibility, inclusion, and belonging.

Updated on May 10, 2022

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