Alternative text (alt text) allows screen readers to capture the description of an object and read it aloud, providing aid for those with visual impairments. Here’s how to add alt text to an object in Word.
In Word, you can add alt text to some objects, but not others. You can add alt text to images, shapes, screenshots, icons, 3D models, and even text boxes. You cannot add alt-text to SmartArt or charts.
Adding Alt Text to Objects in Word
Though screen readers are incredible technology, they aren’t quite sophisticated enough to understand what an object is without the help of alt text.
To add alt text in Word, open your document and select the object to which you want to add the alternative text.
Right-click the object. From the menu that appears, select “Edit Alt Text.”
Alternatively, you may select the “Alt Text” option found in the “Accessibility” group of the object’s “Format” tab.
Regardless of which method you choose, you will see the “Alt Text” pane appear on the right-hand side of the window. There are a few things you can do here. You can manually type the alt text into the content box (1), have Word generate a description for you (2), or mark the object as decorative (3).
If you mark something as decorative, then that’s what it should be—an object that is aesthetically pleasing but adds no value to the actual content. Office uses a stylistic border as an example of something you might want to mark as decorative.
To mark something as decorative, check the box next to “Mark as decorative.” Once you do, you’ll notice the box in which you would manually enter the alternative text has become grayed out and displays a message letting you know that the screen readers will not pick up the description.
You also have the option of letting Word generate a description of the selected object for you. Select the “Generate a description for me” option to do so.
Word offers “A close up of a logo” as the alt text for our object. While that’s not incorrect, it’s not very descriptive, which is important for someone using a screen reader.
If you’d rather input the alt text yourself, select the text box and type your description. The general rule for alt text is to keep it brief and descriptive. You also don’t need to add the words “image of” or “photo of” before your description, since screen readers announce an object as an image for you.
That’s all there is to adding alt text to your images. If you’d like to prevent Word from automatically generating alt text for you when you insert a new image, you can disable that feature. To do this, select the “File” tab and then select “Options” from the bottom of the left-hand pane.
The “Word Options” window will appear. In the left-hand pane, select “Ease of Access.”
Next, find the “Automatic Alt Text” section and uncheck the box next to “Automatically generate alt text for me,” which is enabled by default. Once unchecked, click “OK.”
Word will now no longer automatically generate alt text for newly inserted images.