Alt Text: Production and Validation in Large Volume

photograph of an open hand with a post note on the palm reading "how, who, what, when, why and where?"

The UK Publishers Accessibility Action Group meets regularly to discuss and update each other on all things accessibility in this busy market. This group openly shares information about their accessibility practices to assist others in improving the delivery of accessible publications. The September meeting facilitated a discussion on the handling of alt text in larger organisations and the approaches that various companies are taking. It was a lively conversation which continued after the meeting and we thank everyone for agreeing to share their thoughts in this article.

With the European Accessibility Act nearly upon us, Simon Mellins (Penguin Random House) asked the how people were tackling large volumes of alt text. Below is a resume of some of the various thoughts, concerns and approaches that were shared.

How Are Large Volumes of Alt Text Being Produced?

A number of approaches were discussed: alt text is being produced in house, by authors and by 3rd party vendors. Very often the workflow adopted depends on the type of content being published and the size of in-house teams to manage this work.

  • Penguin Random House are working with vendors to rapidly move this issue forward
  • Elsevier are working with old and new suppliers
  • Taylor and Francis use both authors and vendors to generate alt text
  • Bloomsbury have found that difficulties arise in imprints where there isn’t the current capacity to create the alt text in house but there is concern over external suppliers managing or misinterpreting this, especially in Trade divisions. They are currently at the stage of creating the foundations with each division by finalising guidelines, trialling samples both internally and externally until they reach standards internal teams are happy with.
  • Huw Alexander (textBox Digital) recommends the production of style guides for vendors as all publishers have different requirements when requesting alt text. This gives the publisher more control. Simon Holt (Elsevier) asked if anyone in the meeting had samples of these type of style guides that they might be willing to share.
  • Huw also let us know that when he writes alt text, he considers it to be written on a “work-for-hire” basis and the copyright automatically resides with the publisher. If publishers are entering into an agreement with a third-party vendor, the contract agreement should specify that the work is done on a “work-for-hire” basis and that all copyrights/intellectual property in the alt text are assigned to the publisher.


This was identified as one of the major issues concerning publishers at the moment.

  • Elsevier have huge concerns for the time and editing required to correctly validate alt text especially where there is a need for an author to be involved. This is often a necessary requirement when so much of the image relevance is dependent on the teaching purpose and context.
  • Taylor and Francis agree that proofing large volumes of alt text is simply not scaleable so they spot check at the moment on the understanding that their vendors have validation processes in place as part of their workflows. Authors are currently involved in the spot checking but this is causing struggles with time etc
  • PRH is focused on improving vendor alt text quality and building up a rich style guide
  • textBOX Digital advised that some publishers and organisations have very strict guidelines regarding alt text, especially where descriptions of licensed characters are concerned. Vendors have to been very careful and adhere to the rules. The creation and provision of style guides will help with instructing the writers and ensuring accuracy. Trust will build over time and this will help to ease the level of evaluation, validation, and proofing required by publishers as part of the production workflow.
  • Graham Bell (EDItEUR) reminded the group that it’s worth asking yourself; “Why would you treat the alt text any differently from the other content of the book?” That is, it should be proofed by author and publisher.

Complex Titles

  • Medical and scientific books need particular attention with regards quality alt text and both Elsevier and Taylor and Francis ask their authors to be heavily involved in alt text for these images. Errors in these fields could be extremely dangerous.
  • Huw Alexander (TextBox Digital) reminded us that the same is true of cookery books where an error in an ingredient or recipe within the alt text could also have serious repurcussions. Vendors should consider purchasing professional indemnity insurance for themselves.

Artifical Intelligence (AI)

  • Julie Willis explained that as a vendor, Westchester has historically produced human-generated alt text but is currently exploring additional/supplemental options around AI.
  • Taylor and Francis are discussing the benefits of AI for the future but do not consider it reliable or indeed good enough for use at this present time. Brianna Walker did comment that this attitude may indeed halt progress in the long run!
  • PRH noted that pricing models and interfaces are also issues that need addressing with regards using AI in the future. These issues are not always straightforward.
  • Richard Orme (The DAISY Consortium) commented that the current state of art is that AI generated alt text provides the scaffolding to help human production be more efficient. It is not currently being produced for validating. Some AI models are looking at the image context we understand.
  • Graham Bell (EDItEUR) noted that where generative AI is used to create content (text or images), there are ways of expressing this in ONIX metadata – created by AI, or created by a person *assisted* by AI.

Other Issues Identified

  • There is currently no standard for producing quality alt text
  • Legal challenges need to be investigated – Simon Mellins asked about responsibility where the alt text is written by a 3rd party but edited by the author or the publisher. Guidance is needed in order to be able to navigate this minefield. The textBOX Digital approach outlined above might very well solve this question.

Join the Discussion!

If you have contributions to any of these discussion we would be delighted to hear from you.