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Situation

Our product has a messenger where you can upload images. We want our product to be accessible. However, user uploaded photos may not necessarily have alt= tags in them.

What do we do?

Comparisons

Facebook Messenger, Intercom Chat and Freshdesk Chat don't have alt tags on their user uploaded images. Front App chat has an alt tag, which is simply "attachment".

Options

1) Generic alt tag: alt="The image you uploaded"

2) Blank alt tag: alt="". The screenreader will skip over the image entirely.

3) No alt tag at all. The screenreader will read the file name.

Reason for Option 3

Organization is critical to the lifestyles of the visually impaired individuals (references and forum example). I'm assuming the same care goes towards naming digital files. In particular, graphical files (e.g. jpg, png). Meaning they would name their images in such a way that accommodates finding it among other images.

Having the screenreader read out this image title (if no alt="" tag is present` vs. "your attachment" or skipping entirely is much more helpful in identifying which image or file is in the chat timeline.

I'm making this assumption knowing that deeply ingrained habits carry over to many aspects of life. And unfortunately I can't find anything specific about naming file conventions or folder structures on computers/devices for visually impaired users.

Small caveat: For obscure file names (like iPhone's IMG_123514), these will still be interpreted by the user as images from their prior experience with screenreaders dealing with images across the web and on their own devices.

Anyone have any thoughts here, and/or references to look up?

Thank you very much! :)

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In live chats, alt text is not needed for accessibility of user-uploaded images:

  • The participants know each other: the sender will either omit sending images in the first place, or provide an alternative description right away in a chat message.

  • The participants don’t know each other: the receiver (after noticing that an image was sent) can immediately explain that they can’t perceive images, so the sender can give an alternative description right away in a chat message.

In chats where participants might be offline, or in group chats where participants might join at a later time and access the log of previously sent messages, alt text for user-uploaded images might be needed for accessibility. But in this context, a lack of alt text is mitigated by being able, without effort (!), to ask participants to describe an image (when they come back online).

Accessibility aside, having alt text can of course also be useful for other reasons, e.g., if the image is no longer online (but still part of the chat log), or if images are disabled in the browser.

tl;dr

So offering the option to provide alt text

  • can be useful in all cases (image offline, images disabled), and
  • for accessibility it might be needed in some cases (offline chat, group chat log),

but it’s not as important as for normal webpages (because of an already established contact channel).

If you don’t offer the option to provide alt text (or if a user didn’t provide it)

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Yes, you should allow alt tags for uploaded images. You are essentially a "authoring tool", and as such should follow checkpoint 3.1

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