I’ve had the song “Flowers” by Miley Cyrus stuck in my head for a while this week, which inspired me to update my post on how to describe flowers for the blind and visually impaired. Even though “I can buy myself flowers” like the song says, I can’t always see flowers that are posted online super clearly, which is why tools like alt text and image descriptions are super helpful. I’ve learned a lot about floral arts and flower arranging by reading image descriptions for flowers, and discovered some of my new favorite types of flowers as well- though I still consider the Veronica to be my favorite flower of all. Here are my tips for how to write alt text and image descriptions for flowers, and how to describe flowers for people with vision loss.
WHAT IS ALT TEXT? WHAT IS AN IMAGE DESCRIPTION?
Alt text and image descriptions are text-based descriptions of visual details in an image written primarily for people who are visually impaired (inclusive of blind/low vision). If an image fails to load on a website, alt text will be displayed in its place, and alt text is also used for search engine optimization.
Image descriptions are similar to alt text descriptions that are used by screen readers to recognize images, though there are a few key differences between alt text and image descriptions:
Alt text is typically attached to an image metadata or added in the “alt text” box on social media. Image descriptions may be in the image caption, in a text post, or shared in a text link for extended descriptions.
Alt text is usually only visible to screen readers, which read the alt text out loud or display it on a braille display. Image descriptions are “exposed” and can be read by anyone. Twitter is one social media platform that allows users to read alt text whether they have a screen reader or not by selecting the ALT button on an image or gif that has alt text included.
LENGTH OF TEXT
A picture is worth a thousand words, but there may only be room for a thousand characters! Alt text is typically limited to 100-250 characters, though most best practice guides recommend keeping alt text to around 125 characters. Image descriptions can be the same length or even longer, since they are included in the photo caption, in a text post, or text link. I usually recommend people keep basic descriptions at around 280 characters, or the length of a tweet/Twitter post, though this is not a strict limit.
LEVEL OF DETAIL
Image descriptions tend to go more in-depth about visual details than alt text due to the larger character limit. For example, alt text might tell a user there is a puddle on the floor, but an image description might go into further detail and say there is a puddle of orange juice on a white tiled kitchen floor.
It’s worth noting that some people will use the same text for both alt text and image descriptions, which is an accepted practice. However, I prefer to include more detailed descriptions as exposed image descriptions so everyone can read them whether they have a screen reader enabled or not.
Should I use both alt text and image descriptions?
I recommend using both alt text and image descriptions when possible, since image descriptions can also be read in large print or by people who aren’t using screen readers. For video content, I have a guide to writing video descriptions linked below.
- How To Write Alt Text and Image Descriptions for the Visually Impaired
- How To Write Video Descriptions For TikTok
- How To Use Text-To-Speech With Low Vision
- A to Z of Assistive Technology For Low Vision
What to include when describing flowers in alt text/image descriptions
I recommend describing these elements in the order that they appear in this list:
Background or shape of the bouquet
Set the stage for the description of the flowers by sharing where they are or how they are arranged. Are the flowers in a field, or in a pot? Is the arrangement large and sitting on the table, or is it a smaller bouquet that is being held in someone’s hand? Are they in a circular shape, or are they arranged in a different way?
If the flower arrangement is something that can be ordered online or in a store, mention the name of the arrangement and the store/florist it is from at the beginning of the description, i.e “Veronica bouquet from Veronica With Four Eyes.”
How many flowers there are
It’s common to have a dozen roses in a bouquet, but in most cases there’s no need to count exactly how many of each flower there is in a bouquet, unless it is an instructional image. It can be helpful to share an approximate count of how many flowers there are total to make it easier to visualize the size or shape of the plant, such as six wild orchids, three dozen wildflowers, or thousands of flowers planted in a garden.
Predominant type of flower or color palette
Some bouquets or flower images feature one dominant type of flower, such as sunflowers or roses, with other flowers serving as an accent. Other bouquets may have a stronger emphasis on color over specific types of flowers, such as a pink and white bouquet.
When describing colors, use shade names such as cobalt blue, lime green, dark red, or bright orange. No need to worry about describing what the color red looks like- shade names work great for alt text and image descriptions!
Types of other flowers or accent colors
What other flowers are in the image? If there is a predominant flower, mention the other types of flowers that are included by name, and mention their colors when possible as well- since flowers can come in many different colors, I prefer to include color names when possible. For example, my friend received a bouquet of red and yellow roses with green leaves tucked between each flower.
For bouquets that feature flowers that are all the same color or that only come in one color, I would just mention the name of each of the flowers. For example, a monochromatic bouquet of pink peonies and roses was highlighted in a magazine I was reading.
Flower height or other unique elements
Some flower arrangements use height or other dimensions to make the bouquet more interesting, and these should be mentioned in image descriptions as well. For example, a bouquet with sunflowers might be arranged so that the sunflowers tower over the roses or other smaller flowers, or some flowers might spill out over the edge to create a waterfall effect. Other unique details such as ribbons, decorative elements, or other items of visual interest can be included as well- for example, one of the flower bouquets my friend used in their wedding contained a mix of dried and live flowers.
When describing a flower bouquet, I recommend describing elements from left to right and top to bottom, which mimics how someone would look at the image with their eyes.
Should I describe what each type of flower looks like?
I recommend including the name/type of flower over a visual description, because it saves character space and the viewer can look up additional descriptive information on their own. However, if there is something especially unique or unexpected about a flower in the image, such as an uncommon color or pattern, this can be included.
If the describer is unsure over what type of flower is in an image, I recommend using a visual search tool such as Google Lens or reverse image searches.
- How To Create High Resolution Images For Low Vision
- How To Write Alt Text For Color Palettes
- How To Create Image Descriptions For Red Carpet Looks
- How I Use Google Assistant While Traveling
Creating alt text and image descriptions for educational content
Some alt text and image descriptions are written from an educational perspective and will contain more in-depth descriptions, especially for posts with a singular flower or plant. In these cases, it makes sense to write an extended description that talks about identifying qualities of a plant. This can include elements such as the color, texture, and size of leaves, flowers, stems, and other elements of the plant.
While I do not like using automatic alt text for images, something that has helped me with writing image descriptions of plants is to ask Bing AI or ChatGPT “how to describe what (plant name) looks like to someone who is blind.” This can be a great starting point for describing individual characteristics of plants, especially since a lot of visual assistance applications cannot identify individual types of plants.
- Quick Ways To Improve Accessibility For Virtual Learning Materials
- How To Access Images Without Alt Text
More tips for how to describe flowers for alt text and image descriptions
- When posting images of flowers on social media, I recommend including image descriptions in the caption of an image- most creators will place this either as a pinned comment or in the second half of their caption. Learn more about accessible social media in How To Make Your Instagram Feed Accessible For Visual Impairment
- Some alt text or image descriptions will indicate whether the flowers in an image are real or artificial, or if they are a painting, digital mockup, or other type of content. When I look at a picture of flowers, I assume they are live/natural, so it can be helpful for describers to tell me if this isn’t the case.