[community] Best Practices for Describing Art in Alt Text

Shahi, Sepideh sshahi at ocadu.ca
Tue Nov 14 14:27:19 UTC 2017

Pina, things that you are describing are also very interesting to me as a sighted user. When walking to a museum, I’d also like to understand the artist's intention and process for specific pieces.
Andrea, a group of us at IDRC did an audio walk a few weeks ago ‘Passing Through’ by Coffer gallery. It is an audio walk that takes you on a journey of Toronto’s streets, discovering the legacy of their history and innovations for their future. You will walk from the Union Station to St. Lawrence Market, gently guided by an artful, imaginative narration. Although it wasn’t describing art, it was providing a beautiful narration of any sculptors, murals, or urban landmarks on our path. I’d recommend listening to it to see how these narrations are prepared. They included both description of the final product as well as the history and intention of its producer.

Here is a link to this audio walk:



T: 416 977 6000 x3951
E: sshahi at ocadu.ca<mailto:sshahi at ocadu.ca>


On Nov 14, 2017, at 8:54 AM, Pina D'Intino <pina.dintino at gmail.com<mailto:pina.dintino at gmail.com>> wrote:

From my perspective I like the description of the piece as if I were
navigating through it with my fingers or hands, but most importantly to me
is to also capture what the artist was thinking when the piece was created,
what are some of the particulars of the piece. I like to create a mental
vision of the piece in my own mind as it evolved. Because I had sight
before, I can relate to colours and shapes, I can relate  to things it might
resemble. For me describing an art piece is not only about the physical
aspect, it is about what it doesn't always say, what isn't so obvious and
how it came to life.
Often museums will talk about the finished product as an item, something it
stands for, but  the lack of insight into the piece makes it meaningless at
times and loses its impact on the observer.
Just some of my own  thoughts and experiences. I love going to museums that
allow you to customize your experience. I did a project with some friends
years ago at the Bata museum. We were testing  a device that  described the
pieces as you walked by them. The cool thing is that the observer or visitor
could get  a short description of the  piece or shoe in this case and can
also expand the description to include some of the insights or  history.
This was a pilot which I'm not sure if it ever came to life as I have not
been back. For me, that is the experience. I can choose to only know the
name of the piece and artist, or if it captures my interest, know more about
it as I stand and admire or feel the piece. I had a bit of a similar
experience when visiting a museum in St. John's, Nfld when learning about
rocks and   the history of the icebergs.
Hope you find this helpful.

Pina D'Intino, MDes, PMP, CPACC
Accessibility Strategist  and Consultant
t. 416.948.3348
e-mail:Pina.dintino at gmail.com<http://gmail.com>; pina at aequumaccess.com<mailto:pina at aequumaccess.com>
"Together we empower each other to reach our full potential." D. Onley
Supporter of Barrier Free Canada (BFC) - www.barrierfreecanada.org

-----Original Message-----
From: community [mailto:community-bounces at lists.idrc.ocadu.ca] On Behalf Of
Maria Carmen C. Cruz
Sent: Monday, November 13, 2017 3:35 PM
To: Andrea Lamarre
Cc: community at lists.idrc.ocadu.ca
Subject: Re: [community] Best Practices for Describing Art in Alt Text

Hi Andrea, I'm not an artist, but I am almost totally blind. I'll answer
this question the best I can, but other blind people may have different
opinions than mine. I guess it would be harder if you don't know the
artist's intent, but I'd suggest having as much detail about the images
possible, for example if you're talking about a picture of a person, the
style and color of what they're wearing, their facial expression, and what
they're doing. I hope this helps a little. Thanks, and take care.

Maria Carmen C. Cruz
Blog: http://cruzviewz.blogspot.com.
Facebook: www.facebook.com/CruzingMC.
Twitter: @CruzingMC.
My favorite charities: donate online at
Sent from my smartphone

On Nov 13, 2017 3:02 PM, "Andrea Lamarre" <alamarre at uoguelph.ca> wrote:

Hello all,

I am wondering if anyone has come across best practices for describing
art in alternative text? I can find many examples of best practices
for alternative text in general but not for art specifically.

I want to do justice to the art but I am not always sure what the
intention of the artist was in creating the piece, nor am I always
sure myself what the elements of the art piece are. I am trying to
balance respect for artistry and respect for accessibility. My words
about the art will necessarily be coloured by my own interpretation of the

Any thoughts would be very welcome.

Thank you!


Andrea LaMarre

PhD Candidate, FRHD

Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition

University of Guelph

Knowledge Mobilization Coordinator

ReVision Centre for Art and Social Justice

alamarre at uoguelph.ca

519 993 6435
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