Alt Text Selfies


What is an alt text selfie?

For us, an alt text selfie is any written self-portrait. This project takes a well-known practice—the selfie—and approaches it through a disability lens. Selfies and self-descriptions are often visually focused, but to us, an alt text selfie doesn’t need to center visual presentation or a literal description of an image. Alt text selfies might focus on feelings, smells, tastes, sounds, emotions, textures, or some combination. Alt text selfies can be any length, but for this project, we 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 are we making 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 are pleasurable and make the Internet, in particular, a more engaging and connective place for disabled people.

Description and self-description are also complex. 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 understanding and 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.

Who worked on this project?

This project is produced by Bojana Coklyat, Finnegan Shannon, and Olivia Dreisinger. Laurel Schwulst and Taichi Aritomo designed the website. Tristan Douglas created the website audio. Screenreader testing by Jim Bauer.

Big thank you to everyone who contributed a selfie to this project. We love them!!

Our alt text selfies

A selfie of me (Olivia) standing in my living room. I’m using an Instagram filter that envelops my body in CG flames. Because: fiery internal pain. Also because: I am sexy. I hold the phone camera high above my head, my face smiling softly into my phone. I am a young-ish white woman with dark brown hair pulled back into a ponytail.

These days I (Bojana) am going more on memory of my face than what I could see in a mirror. Yet, I do know I recently dyed my hair multiple layers of blond, honey, and maple. My hair is wet from the lake and smells like the outdoors. I’m smiling brightly and am looking straight ahead. My usually peach skin has now tanned into a golden shade. It’s the summer, and I’m wearing a red and white polka dot bikini and white-rimmed sunglasses, which complete the retro look. As I write, I feel a little shy about describing myself as “sexy” in my bikini, even though it is there to see. It fits me well, and I feel and look like a 1950s pin up. Delving back into this moment, I can hear the chimes and the lake lapping at the shore, and feel my skin warming to the sun, a slight breeze caressing my skin.

A selfie of me (Fin). This selfie is not a photo of me. It is a photo I took of a lightning bolt character I found on the side of an electrician’s van. The lightning bolt is me. I’m bright, genderfluid, goofy, and giving a thumbs up. My facial expression conveys a smiling-through-the-chaos-of-life vibe. As I type this at the keyboard, I’m a mid-30s white person with short buzzed hair, sweating in my summery studio.

Who funded this project?

Culture Hub and Canada Council for the Arts.

Want to contribute to this project?

Share your alt text selfie with us, and we'll add it to this collection! We plan to continue uploading selfies to the website on a rolling basis.

Submit your selfie through this Google Form. Or email us at: AltTextSelfies [at] gmail [dot] com

Have thoughts, feedback, or questions? Want to collaborate with us in some way?

The best way to get in touch is via email at: AltTextSelfies [at] gmail [dot] com

We would love to hear from you!