The International Press Telecommunications Council (IPTC) hopes to make photos more accessible for people with disabilities, including vision impairment. New IPTC Photo Metadata Standards include a pair of new properties to allow screen reading software to describe visual content.

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The new properties are Alt Text (Accessibility) and Extended Description (Accessibility). Photographers and editors can embed detailed descriptions into image metadata, which can be accessed and read by screen reading software. By embedding accessible image descriptions into metadata, the accessibility-friendly information can follow an image across all electronic publications. IPTC writes:

'Web accessibility is mission-critical in our digitally inclusive age. As the number of images added to the web increases every day, the visual gap widens for people using assistive technologies, especially if they are blind. Embedding image descriptions for accessibility into photo metadata promises to be a game-changer, making it possible for software and systems to routinely provide alt text with images, thus giving screen reader software the ability to help readers visualize and listen to image descriptions as they are read out loud. Without accessible descriptions, images are silent for the millions who rely on screen readers to fully access the web.'

Beth Ziebarth, Director of Access Smithsonian said, 'A major milestone in accessibility is realized through the inclusion of embedded alt text and extended descriptions as IPTC metadata for digital images.' Richard Orme, CEO of the DAISY Consortium, adds, 'Up to 250 million people with blindness or moderate to severe vision impairment can benefit from image descriptions, plus countless more people with diverse information processing differences such as dyslexia who use text-to-speech technology for reading.'

The COVID-19 pandemic has made content providers more aware of the need for improved accessibility. As many people, including those with health concerns and visual impairment, have been unable to go out as often, they've been spending more time online to manage their essential needs. Inaccessible websites and applications are a severe roadblock for the visually impaired. IPTC's new standards aim to reduce inaccessibility, which is a universally good thing.

IPTC's new requirements will go into effect on November 4. If you'd like to learn more, visit IPTC.