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Improving the quality of alt text on

Ensuring accessibility for Veterans and other users navigating via screen readers is vital. One key aspect is optimizing the alt text for images, making it descriptive, accurate, and non-redundant. The primary goal of this project was to test a prototype designed to help CMS editors craft higher quality alt text.


VA editors bring diverse levels of experience with accessibility to their roles, yet achieving an inclusive experience on is paramount. Ensuring a smooth and informative experience for users employing screen readers across all pages of the environment is a top priority.

After conducting thorough audits of the alt text currently present in the Drupal CMS, it became evident that there is significant room for improvement. Specifically, alt text descriptions crafted by VA editors could benefit from being more concise, accurate (avoiding unnecessary file extensions), and non-redundant (omitting phrases like "image of" or "photo of" since screen readers automatically convey this information).

The challenge lies in bridging the gap between varying levels of experience, knowledge, and comfort among VA editors when it comes to creating alt text. How can we collectively work towards this shared goal of inclusivity, considering these differences?


May - June 2023


Led all UX research efforts including recruiting/scheduling participants, conducting interviews, synthesizing data, and giving a presentation of the findings and recommendations.  


Semi-structured interviews, usability testing


Alternative text (alt text) is a crucial component of web accessibility, as it provides a means of conveying visual content to individuals who are visually impaired or have difficulty seeing certain types of content. However, the creation of accurate alt text descriptions can be challenging, particularly for Drupal CMS editors who may lack prior experience with and knowledge of creating plain and accessible language for the web. This circumstance may be exacerbated when editors have low confidence in using the CMS.

To assist editors with this task, we designed an enhancement to the existing workflow presented during the image upload process: in addition to the inline guidance that currently exists within the flow, we propose to include descriptive error messaging that will provide editors detailed feedback on the success or failure of their alt text.


  1. What are editors’ prior knowledge and experience with creating alt text?

    1. Do editors know where to look for alt text guidance?

    2. What are common challenges and barriers editors face when creating alt text?

    3. How confident are editors in the accuracy and effectiveness of their alt text descriptions?

  2. Are the ways in which we handle error messaging within the prototype satisfactory?

    1. How do editors prefer to receive feedback; i.e., real-time or delayed?

    2. Does the error messaging make sense and provide enough context to the editor to make the appropriate changes?

  3. What aspects of the inline guidance are most effective at assisting editors in creating alt text?

    1. What improvements can be made to the inline guidance to make it more helpful and informative for editors?

    2. How much do editors rely on inline guidance when creating alt text?

  4. What is editors’ overall satisfaction with the proposed alt text creation process?

    1. How easy or difficult do editors find the proposed alt text creation process?


Semi-structured interviews and usability testing

We conducted 45 to 60-minute moderated research sessions via Zoom. Participants were asked to compare the current alt text creation experience on the Drupal CMS to that of a new alt text creation experience, presented via clickable prototype.

Within the current Drupal CMS (we used the training environment), participants uploaded an image and added alt text, narrating aloud their thoughts, confusions, and questions related to the process.

We then moved on to the prototype. The prototype introduced specific, detailed error messages, depending on the best practice violation. For example, participants were discouraged to go over a 150 character limit, use the image file name, and add words like “image of” to their alt text.

Following this, participants reflected upon which experience (i.e., the current Drupal environment or the prototype) they felt better supported them as they created alt text, and what they might change or add to make it even more helpful.


Live on production

Building on positive feedback from our usability testing, we concluded that the proposed design would improve the ability of VA editors to create higher quality alt text. This enhancement was implemented and became active in production in January 2024.


Collaborating with our Drupal developer, we successfully integrated tracking metrics. These metrics allow us to monitor the frequency and nature of errors, identify commonly violated best practices, and analyze the content of erroneous alt text descriptions. This comprehensive approach provides valuable insights into the impact of our feature on enhancing the quality of alt text generated by VA editors.

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