The purpose of this project is to celebrate, collect, and publish alt-text selfies—the image descriptions that accompany self-portraits posted online. The project will collect alt-text selfies into two formats— 1) a chapbook (a small book) and 2) an online archive.
This project is produced by Shannon Finnegan, Bojana Coklyat, and Olivia Dreisinger, supported by CultureHub and Canada Council. Finnegan and Coklyat are the co-creators of Alt-Text as Poetry, an ongoing project that explores the expressive potential of image description.
Who can submit?
Anyone is welcome to submit.
What is an alt-text selfie?
This project takes a well-known practice—the selfie—and approaches it through a disability lens. For this project, we are defining an alt-text selfie as any written description of a self-portrait.
Selfies and self-descriptions are often visually focused, but your alt-text selfie doesn’t need to center your visual presentation or a literal description of an image. Alt-text selfies may also focus on the olfactory, tactile, emotional, sonic, tastes or some combination.
Alt-text selfies can be any length, but for this project we are focused on writing in the one sentence to one paragraph range.
What is alt-text?
Alternative text, or alt-text, is a written description of an image or visual material. Put another way, alt-text is a non-visual text alternative to digital images. Alt-text is an essential part of web accessibility and is one way to create access to visual content for people who are blind, low vision, or have certain cognitive disabilities.
You can read more about alt-text basics on WebAIM’s website.
Why we are doing this project
Description is an important access practice. Visual description—as well as descriptions of sound, taste, smell, and texture—are ways that we can connect across sensory experiences and distance. Like many access practices, description has often been approached in a dry and compliance-oriented way. We’re excited about the possibilities of description that is pleasurable and makes the Internet, in particular, a more engaging and welcoming place for people with sensory disabilities.
Description and self-description are also complex. When and how do we describe cultural background, race, gender, disability status, age, weight, class for instance? How do we name and acknowledge visual (and non-visual) markers of our identities? How we see and name things is anything but neutral. Disabled people, especially multi-marginalized disabled people, have been writing self-descriptions online in thoughtful and inventive ways. To us, it is a vital facet of disability cultures. We are creating this project in order to celebrate this writing practice. As well, by paying closer attention to self-description, alt-text selfies may give us new tools or ways of describing ourselves.
As we explore the medium of alt-text selfies, accessibility will remain our priority with this project. We are not interested in producing work that results in less access for people who rely on alternative text to access digital content.
Alt-text Selfie examples
Here are a couple of self-descriptions that we have encountered online. They give a taste of the breadth of this writing practice.
Nimo Ali via Instagram
a black woman sitting at a picnic table with her hands raised in reverance. 10 bags of 8 kinds of Doritos in front of her.
Amy Berkowitz via Instagram
my orange cat and I both look tired but we’re in good spirits. She’s resting a paw on my knee.
Yo-Yo Lin via Instagram
1) Branches filled with clusters of pink cherry blossoms in the foreground, Yo-Yo wearing a white high collar top and black beret sits on a rock looking contemplatively off camera. There is a neat line of shrubs and a Japanese rock lined garden in the background.
2) A similar wider angle photo this time the pink flowers fill the frame as if a pink polka dot pattern on green grass- a lush tessellation of blossoms.
Candystore via Instagram
Candystore, a trans-y white-bodied lifestyle drag queen is standing in profile, looking at the camera over the rims of white cat eye sunglasses, chin just barely kissing shimher bare shoulder in flagrante. It’s called romantic when one’s shoulders are bare, but there are still poofy champagne sateen sleeves to be had, three-quarter turn, lots of golden hair. It’s called glamour when the sunglasses obscure the tired under eye—who really has time for foundation in quarantine? Besides, the “foundation” is crumbling, my friends so let’s make a new one. Which is why I’ve also slapped on a pair of hot pink python platform heels and some workout pants replete with a neon green thong (aka whale tail) in front of this shelf of old ass books, to stunt and fit my way to @shanfinnegan and @bojana_coklyat’s Alt-text for Artists workshop on Thursday, May 7, at 6 PM EST. To RSVP, follow the link in bio @leslielohmanmuseum or @eyebeamnyc mwah💋 Oh! And I’m reading #PieceofCake by #BernadetteMayer and #LewisWarsh, two faves!
John Lee Clark via his essay Against Access
Short hair of feline softness. Warm and smooth hands. A scent of patchouli. Flutters betray his exhilaration.
Questions and/or access support
If you have any questions or if you need access support throughout the submission process, please contact us at AltTextSelfies@gmail.com. If you would like to arrange an alternate way of submitting your alt-text selfie, please also reach out to us through the email above. We would love to hear from you.
Submission details and instructions
A submission entails a short piece of writing (your alt-text selfie) and some basic contact info. We are not collecting images as part of submissions. You don't need to write something new — if you've posted a selfie online with alt-text before, feel free to use that alt-text!
The deadline to submit to the chapbook is April 13, 2022 at midnight Pacific Standard Time. Selected submissions will receive a $100 USD honorarium and will be published in both print and digital formats.
The deadline to submit to the online archive is April 13, 2022 at midnight Pacific Standard Time, but additional submission periods for the archive will open in the future. At this time, we are unable to provide honorariums for submissions gathered in the online archive.
To submit to the chapbook and/or the archive, please fill out one of the following forms:
- Google Form
- Word Document
Email AltTextSelfies@gmail.com the following information: name, alt-text selfie submission, and please indicate if you would like to be considered for the chapbook, online archive, or both.
You may also send an audio recording of your alt-text selfie in MP3 or WAV format.
- By phone. Call or text us at +1 917-426-4135 to submit your alt-text selfie via phone. You can also email AltTextSelfies@gmail.com to set up a scheduled phone call or Zoom.
For the chapbook, we'll make selections based on including a variety of styles, approaches, and perspectives. For the online archive, we imagine almost all submissions will be published unless we flag something in your submission that seems potentially harmful or that creates access barriers. In which case, we'll email to check in with you about it.
We are aiming to have the chapbook and online archive publicly available in late 2022 or early 2023. Please keep in mind that we are three disabled artists working on this project and the timeline may need to shift accordingly.