Image Labelling for Accessibility (and SEO)

We live in a visual world. Images are used as shorthand all the time, and since the arrival of rapid internet access we communicate more than ever through photographs, gifs and emojis. Just take a look at your social media feeds and you will see them by the score.

emojis: inaccessible to the visually impaired

So imagine if you couldn’t see those images at all. That’s the day to day experience faced by millions of people with visual impairments. Your use of an animated gif to express surprise or amusement might literally be impossible for someone to understand – or even access.

Some of you might run a website – a blog, or even an online shop. Now imagine the experience of trying to navigate and use your site if every image was just a blank space on the page. That is the reality faced by many users of the internet.

But there is good news! The originators of the internet foresaw the need for inclusivity, and built a series of protocols into the coding behind the internet to support labelling of images. Not only that, but a raft of software has been developed to ‘read’ that code – often literally – for the benefit of visually impaired or blind users.

It is up to all of us to take advantage of this technology to make the world a little bit more accessible.

A happy side effect of taking accessibility into account is that Google’s spider is in effect like a ‘blind’ user of your site. It will take account of image labelling in its ranking of your site – and so it is important for SEO to make sure you follow these guidelines, even if you don’t aim your content at visually impaired people.

How it Works

When a visually impaired user visits your website or social media stream, the software they use is different to that used by the majority of us. In some cases, images are hidden altogether, and only tex

Webbie is the mostly commonly used screen reader

t is displayed – often in a high contrast colour scheme and at a much bigger scale. Too see how this affects the user experience, we recommend downloading WebbIE.

Where the eyesight is impaired to such a degree to make reading impossible however, users might be using screen reading software such as JAWS. This actually reads content aloud, or even try it translates it to Braille through a clever interface.

Before looking at what you do with your images, try downloading some of this software yourself to see how it works and understand exactly how different the internet is when shorn of the visuals so many of us take from granted.

General Principles

Before we get down to how to put text behind an image, it’s worth thinking about what it is we’re trying to convey. The general principle is to explain as much as possible about what is in the picture with clear and comprehensive descriptions that make sense within the context of the piece.

For example, lots of articles use photographs of people simply wearing emotional expressions to add a kind of ‘feeling’ to the accompanying piece: perhaps a pensive-looking man, or a happy couple.

These might not be essential to the content but lend useful context. Descriptions should therefore convey the meaning of these images and reflect this context: “A pensive looking man, reflecting the way in which people are affected by this issue”, for example.

The alt attribute as seen in HTML codeYou do not need to say “a picture of” at the start of the description as the software or user will be able to determine this for themselves.

Some photographs are more specific. A good example would be product photography if you’re looking to sell goods or services. A great description would include dimensions, colour, and function of the product: “The Trabasack Curve. This is an all in one wheelchair lap tray, travel bag and lap desk. It is 30cm wide and 28cm deep. It comes in black with orange trim, and fastens to any surface with Velcro fastenings” for example.

Each case is very different, so it is up to you to spend the necessary time to craft detailed descriptions that would offer the most help to your site visitors.

HTML sites

If you are writing your own code (or have a web developer working on it) then the most of the legwork is handled by two attributes:

  • The Alt attribute
    This is a concise description of the image and should convey everything that a user might need to know about an image . If you are not visually impaired yourself, and don’t use a screen reader, you can see what this is by hovering your mouse over an image. If an alt attribute exist, you will see a ‘tool tip’ style note . Full guidelines are available here.
  • The Longdesc attribute
    While no longer supported by some modern browsers, this attribute gives you the opportunity to link to a longer, more detailed description of the image. Again, guidelines for use are available here.

Social Media

The two major social media sites – Facebook and Twitter – support accessible labelling of images, and you should pay regard to their own guidelines and the tools they have made available for you to deliver great accessible content.

  • Twitter’s guidelines can be viewed here.
  • Facebook’s guidelines are here.

For other sites such as LinkedIn and Tumblr, it is unfortunate that there are no native ways to support accessibility. When posting images on these sites, you should give all necessary context in the text accompanying them.

Can Alexa be a telecare system to listen out when you need emergency help?

Could Amazon’s Alexa disrupt the telecare industry?

Amazon dot a small black disc gadget with blue lights.

Amazon ‘Echo dot’ is now arond £50 and can connect to your mobile phone.

If you need help and can’t reach a phone, Amazon’s Alexa could be a lifeline.

Amazon’s hands-free devices are becoming more and more popular for disabled people who are finding them a boon for enhancing daily life, with an easy interface and voice control of music, books, information  and web shopping. In homes up and down the country, people are using them for everything from ordering shopping online to checking the weather. And now they can call your friends and relatives when you want them, adding a new level of communication and if needed, support. Almost an Alexa telecare system!
Amazon has added a new function to Alexa to allow you to link your mobile phone and call a friend or relative.  You can use it to phone or message anyone hands-free using the alexa family of devices including Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Plus, Echo Show or the Alexa app on android smart phones or iphones, all with no extra cost.

Could Alexa supplement or replace telecare alarms for some people?

The Telecare industry provides peace of mind for people at home who may need help in an emergency and their families, traditionally using push button pendants worn on the body or pullcords installed in the house. The Alexa Echo system means you won’t even need to access those devices to make a call straight to your nearest and dearest, so could provide competition.
On the plus side, there are no buttons to be pushed or cords to be pulled. Only your voice is needed to activate Alexa and get your call made or message sent to your friends or relatives. All they need to do is download the free app onto their phones, and they can be reached instantly whenever you want. It does mean they will need their phones on and charged at all times. It also means that you need to be in voice range of an alexa device and able to call out. You could buy the smaller echo dot (at £50) and put them in each room. There is a voice operated controller that could also be carried.
And it’s not just in an emergency that you can make a call. Alexa will let you stay in touch all the time, with a hands-free calling and messaging system. this could be very useful for people who struggle with the buttons on phones or understanding how to use smart phones. Alexa will let also let you know when someone is calling you and the light ring will pulse green on newer Echo devices. You ask Alexa to answer or ignore the call.

“Drop in” : remote listening by others to your room!

There is also a feature called Drop In that allows selected family and friends to automatically call in to your device and listen to anything happening in range. This has privacy issues but could also be very reassuring to family and can be completely controlled by the owner of the device.

 

Disadvantages of Alexa as a telecare device

On the other hand, Alexa’s benefits are offset by the lack of 24-hour monitoring and support from call centres that are provided by a local Council services or private companies and the device could be affected by power cuts, whereas telecare systems are protected with back-up batteries.
A dark cylinder that houses the gadget Amazon alexa

Amazon echo

 

Old man with a telecare alarm pendant

Alarms needn’t be stigmatising but some people may feel that way. Image from https://www.telecarechoice.co.uk/ who are a private telecare provider

Then there is the issue of cost. Alexa costs £50 for the smaller ‘echo dot’ system but as mentioned above, you may need more than one to provide coverage- and while it offers a whole lot more than just telecare of course, it could be a big cost to pay upfront, compared to the smaller weekly charge, (around £5 or less), for traditional telecare devices.

However, some people may be reluctant to have telecare installed because of the stigma issues of pendants and monitoring. ‘Alexa telecare’ may be much more appealing to younger people or as a stepping stone to more traditional telecare if it becomes needed or as a supplement to offer more options and a ‘less formal’ call for help.

So what else can it offer? Alexa brings a whole world of communication, including downloadable quizzes, podcasts and music from Amazon. You can listen to the news, find out about the weather and “check in” with friends and relatives – as well as order anything online from mail order giants Amazon.
For some it might be a good way to supplement your existing emergency telecare needs; for others, it could even replace it altogether. But it’s worth investigating the device before you make an investment in it.

Learn more about Alexa and Echo here: amazon.co.uk/alexacalling

A service directory of telecare providers is here https://www.tsa-voice.org.uk/service-provider-directory

Abbreviations in Special Educational Needs – what do they mean?

Children in a circle in a special education classroom

A special educational needs setting

One thing you’ll notice about Special Educational Needs is the sheer number of abbreviations and acronyms you have to learn. What’s the difference between ASD and ADHD? What’s an EHCP? Should you be afraid of a COP? This guide should help you navigate…

(note: Where an abbreviation is written in initial lower case, it is usually pronounced as a word, for example it’s Senco, not ess ee en see oh).

 

ABA – Applied Behaviour Analysis is used to help children with autism, it looks at patterns of  behaviour and tries to find causes, and ways of dealing with them or preventing them.

AD – attachment disorder (sometimes attachment behaviour disorder, or ABD). This is a range of conditions believed to be caused by trauma in early childhood, which can lead to behavioural problems in childhood and adult life.

ADHD – attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. This is a range of symptoms including impulsiveness, restlessness and finding it harder to focus than your peers. Because of the setting of school it is most often diagnosed during primary school age.

AR – Annual Review. All children with a statement of special educational needs (now an Education Health and Care Plan) have this provision reviewed once a year, to ensure it still meets their needs, or to see if it is no longer required. If progress is being made and the plan is right for the child without amendments, there may be a No Change Review (NCR).

APD – Auditory Processing Disorder – a child can hear ok medically, but is unable to process the meaning of words. Sometimes they can repeat words but without knowing what they are saying.

AS – Asperger Syndrome. A type of autism that generally involves higher functioning individuals who perceive the world in a way that most people would see as different. It is not associated with the learning delay or disabilities of other kinds of autism.

ASC – Autistic Spectrum Conditions. Many professionals now use the term “condition” instead of “disorder” to promote the idea that autism should not be a barrier to living a complete life, with necessary adjustments. See ASD.

ASD – autistic spectrum disorder, aka autism. This is a different way of perceiving the world around you. People with ASD often have difficulty reading emotions, making relationships or understanding social situations as easily as their peers, as well as a degree of learning difficulty. But as the word “spectrum” suggests, it covers a number of different levels of need, and conditions of varying severity.

ARE – age related expectations. If a child is working Below Age Related Expectations (BARE) they may have special educational needs.

BARE – see ARE

BESD Behaviour, Emotional and Social Difficulties (also known as SEBD or EBD) is a ‘catch-all’ term  used for any condition that affects behaviour, emotions or social interactions. It
is used for a wide range of conditions and children.

BSP – Behaviour Support Plan. These are usually put in place by schools for children who have behavioural issues to assess their progress and outline expectations over a set period of time, for example a school term.

Camhs – Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services.

CIC – Child in Care. A child who is being looked after by (for example) a foster family after they have been removed from their parents by social services.

COP (or Cop) – Change of Provision. This is where a child moves from a special school to a mainstream school, or vice versa, because their needs (or the assessment of them) has changed.

CPAP (Cee-pap)- Continuous Positive Airway Pressure is a fan and a face-mask, that blows air at the child increasing the air pressure to open the airways of the throat. It is used for breathing difficulties such as heavy snoring, asthma, low blood oxygen levels (SATS) and sleep apnoea.

EAL – English as an additional language. This generally means young people for whom English is not their first language, who may speak another language at home.

EHCP – Education, Health and Care Plan. This is a plan to help a child who has special educational needs in school. They are replacing statements and will have entirely replaced them by April 2018. There is a good post here on navigating that process.

EP (or Ed Psych) – Educational Psychologist. These experts help assess the needs of children who may have special educational needs by observing children in their educational setting.

EYFS – Early Years Foundation Stage. This is school or nursery-based education from birth to the end of Reception, when a child is five years old.

G Tube
A Gastronomy tube way of feeding a child who has swallowing or difficulty eating. There is a tube through the stomach wall (known as a PEG) so that food and medicines can go directly into the stomach. It is a longer term alternative to NG Tubes.

HI – Hearing Impairment (or Hearing Impaired).

IEP – Individual Education Plan
An IEP is a plan or a program built to help a child achieve the targets outlined in an
EHCP. It is built around the curriculum that the child is following and uses strategies
tailored directly to the child.

KS – Key Stage. Education in England is divided into Key Stages – KS1 from 5 to 7 years old, KS2 from 7 to 11, KS3 from 11 to 14 and KS4 from 14 to 16.

LA – Local Authority.

LAC – Looked After Child. More common term nowadays is CIC or “child in care”.

LSA – Learning Support Assistant. These education professionals often work one-to-one with a particular child with SEN to develop a relationship and help with their learning, which may be particularly differentiated to their needs. They may also assist with physical needs eg toileting.

MLD – moderate learning difficulties.

NCR – No Change Review. See AR.

Neet (or NEET) – Not in Education, Employment or Training. Young people without qualifications are at risk of being Neet – where their options for work or education are limited.

NG- tube – A thin (often yellow) Naso-gastric tube that can be used short term for emergency food and drink when a child cannot eat. It goes through the nose, down the throat and into the stomach and requires trained use as there is a danger that the tube is in an airway and not in the stomach.

OT – Occupational Therapy (or Therapist). Day-to-day physical therapies for children who have disabilities or who may require recuperation from eg surgery.

Pecs (or PECS) – Picture Exchange Communication System. This is a way of using pictures to represent words, to assist children who have communication issues and autism.

PMLD – Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties. These are children who require the most support in an educational setting.

PRU – Pupil Referral Unit. These are institutions which take “hard to place” children who may have severe SEN or behavioural issues, with the latter resulting in exclusion from a mainstream school.

SALT (or S&LT) – Speech And Language Therapy (or Therapist). These are professionals who help children, especially those with communication difficulties or autism.

SATS – oxygen saturations, often with ‘SATS monitor’ as seen on hospitals wards, they show a percentage indicating how much oxygen in the the blood. They can be small and portable or bigger when used for overnight monitoring. A home sats monitor can be bought here.

Grey box with digital percentage readings

A typical SATS monitor used in NHS hospitals but can also be given to parents for overnight monitoring

SLT – Senior Leadership Team. At a school, this comprises the head teacher and assistant heads (plus principals, if it is an academy).

SEMH – social, emotional and mental health. This is a range of needs that can include behavioural problems and anxiety.

SEN (or Sen) – special educational needs.

Senco (or SENCO, or Sendco, or SENDCO) – Special Educational Needs (and Disabilities) Co-ordinator. These are qualified teachers who organise and co-ordinate a school’s SEN provision by working with other professionals, organising EHCPs and interventions etc.

SEND – special educational needs and disabilities

SWAN – Syndrome without a name
Children who doctors have been unable to diagnose with a specific condition are
often referred to as SWAN. These are usually children with a genetic disorder. A support charity called SWAN is here.

TA – Teaching Assistant. These professionals have a couple of roles: in the classroom they support the work of the class teachers, and they also teach small groups of children, particularly with interventions.

VI – Visual Impairment (or Visually Impaired).

Some of this information was taken from a printable glossary created by the Little Miracles charity which is available to download here

Little Miracles is a charity that supports children with disabilities and their families and siblings in the Peterborough area of UK.

Please suggest any acronyms or abbreviations that you have encountered in the comments.