Veronica With Four Eyes

How To Access Images Without Alt Text

One of the things that I am most passionate about in the world of digital accessibility is the importance of adding quality alt text and image descriptions to content, so that people with vision loss aren’t excluded from receiving access to visual information. While I like to think that my posts and conversations about alt text have helped to inspire people to add alt text or image descriptions to their content, there are still billions of images out there that don’t have accompanying alt text or image descriptions. Instead of getting into details about why people post images without alt text or image descriptions, today I will be sharing workarounds and tips for how to access images without alt text and get descriptive information when it is not otherwise made available. Of course, having quality alt text/image descriptions provided will always be a better option, but it’s important for people to have other tools that they can use to access images when these things are not available.

Recognizing images with Seeing AI

Seeing AI is a free app developed by Microsoft for iOS/iPadOS that helps people with visual impairments get information in real-time about the world around them using artificial intelligence- which is the “AI” in Seeing AI. One of the features of the Seeing AI app is an image recognition tool that can recognize details such as text, objects, faces, and other environmental items, and this image recognition tool can be used anywhere on the device from the gallery to the web browser to the Twitter app. I have an entire post about Seeing AI linked below for further reading.

How to recognize images with Seeing AI

  1. If needed, download the Seeing AI app to the device if it is not already installed
  2. Choose the image that you want to recognize with Seeing AI. This can be in the gallery, in an application, in the web browser, etc. Images accessed through a web browser may need to be saved to the device.
  3. Open the Share menu for the image (this looks like a box with an arrow pointing upward, or three dots next to an image)
  4. From the Actions menu, select Recognize with Seeing AI
  5. The finished description will display on the bottom of the image, with information from relevant categories automatically displayed

Related links

Google Lens

Google Lens is a free Android app that uses image recognition technology like Seeing AI and uses the same technology as the Google Assistant camera. In the latest versions of Android, Google Lens is a built-in feature that can analyze any image and provide the following information:

  • Translate text in another language
  • Read and copy text from the image (extremely helpful for writing alt text!)
  • Identify objects through image recognition
  • Help with homework/recognizing equations
  • Scan barcodes or identify items and provide information about a product
  • Give more information about dishes on a menu

How to recognize images with Google Lens in-app

  1. If needed, download the Google Lens app or open the Google Assistant camera
  2. Swipe on the bottom of the screen to determine which filter to use, i.e. text, translation, etc.
  3. Within the Google Lens app, take a picture of the item that needs to be recognized or upload it from the gallery
  4. The finished description will display on the bottom of the image, with information from relevant categories automatically displayed

How to recognize images with Google Lens in the Camera app/phone gallery

  1. Open an image in the Camera app/phone gallery
  2. Select the Google Lens icon, which looks like a small camera
  3. To change what is recognized in an image, tap the “Select Filters” button at the bottom of the screen and swipe to select a filter
  4. The finished description will display on the bottom of the image, with information from relevant categories automatically displayed

How to recognize images with Google Lens in Google Chrome

  1. Select an image on a website by long pressing on it
  2. Scroll to the bottom of the Action menu and tap “Search With Google Lens”
  3. To change what is recognized in an image, tap the “Select Filters” button at the bottom of the screen and swipe to select a filter
  4. The finished description will display on the bottom of the image, with information from relevant categories automatically displayed

Related links

Use another visual assistance app

Visual assistance apps, sometimes called visual interpreting apps, are tools that connect users who are blind or visually impaired with people or technology that can help them to get information about something that they would not be able to see otherwise. While each app is different, all visual assistance apps require a user to upload an image or stream video from their device’s back camera so they can get visual information about their surroundings. Some apps like Seeing AI and Google Lens use artificial intelligence to recognize images, while others like Be My Eyes and Aira use human interpreters.

Related links

Alt text bots/accounts

On Twitter, there are several different alt text bots/accounts that can provide alt text and image descriptions when people tag the account in a tweet with an image. Many of these accounts are run by volunteers that want to make images more accessible for others and spend their time writing detailed descriptions in the replies to a tweet or repost images with alt text included. Most accounts specialize in one type of content- some that I have encountered include comics, pictures of members from BTS, food pictures, images from protests, infographics, and more. I recommend running a search on Twitter for “alt text bot” to find the one that fits the content best.

Reverse searching images

If an image was reposted from another source that had alt text, there is a strong chance that the reposted image does not have alt text, since alt text typically cannot be copied/saved with an image. Many web browsers support the ability to reverse search images or to upload an image to a search engine to determine if it has been posted elsewhere. While this might not work for things like a picture of my friend’s dog, it has been helpful for finding images that were used in my college classes where I wasn’t sure what I was looking at. There’s also an option to search for images in different sizes/higher resolution, which is great for users with low vision who can benefit from the increased clarity in addition to the alt text/image descriptions.

Related links

For students- College accessibility offices

For students who are having difficulty accessing images related to their college classes, many accessibility, assistive technology, and disability offices have programs where students/professors can submit images or text files so that they can be converted into an accessible format. This is not an instant process, but it’s incredibly helpful since the student doesn’t have to spend a ton of time making an image accessible on their own.

Related links

Asking people to add alt text to their post

While it’s important to know how to access images independently, many of the people I have interacted with on social media have added alt text or image descriptions to their post after someone requests it. It helps to link a page about how to add alt text on social media or a guide about how to write alt text so someone does not feel overwhelmed with figuring out how to make their content accessible and writing the description itself doesn’t take very long- though it’s worth noting images posted on Twitter cannot have alt text added once they are posted. 

Related links

Summary of options for how to access images without alt text

  • There is no 1:1 substitute for alt text and image descriptions. Content creators should provide quality alt text and image descriptions whenever possible
  • Seeing AI has an image recognition feature that allows users to explore details of images within their gallery, web browser, or applications
  • Google Lens can recognize images in the phone gallery, in the Google Lens app, and Google Chrome browser, providing details such as text, object recognition, and translations
  • Visual assistance apps can give blind and low vision users access to visual interpreters on-demand
  • Alt text bots/accounts provide descriptions and alt text for niche content when tagged
  • For students in college, many accessibility offices can add alt text or image descriptions for academic-related images
  • People can also share links to educate others about adding alt text with their favorite content creators

How To Access Images Without Alt Text. Free Options for blind/low vision users that can help with accessing online images that do not contain alt text or image descriptions that can be read by a screen reader



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