May 28



People don’t always realise this, but visually impaired people experience somewhat difficulty, on a personal and professional level, to stay informed at times or interact with different situations, just because vital information is captured in an image format. You don’t have to feel bad, it even happens within my family where they will send invitations as a picture. This problem can be overcome. The main problem, however, is awareness. People do not always take in consideration that a blind or visually impaired person might come across the information or that the information might be relevant to them. Technology went a great way from ten years ago where extracting text from an image document meant a flatbed scanner and expensive optical character recognitioning (OCR) software, to where we are now, where you can simply take an image with your phone’s camera and OCR it with free software. This is, however, a very time-consuming process, especially if you just want to tell a group that you will attend a braai on Friday. I will give examples from personal experience and then I will provide tips to take in consideration when sending or making public any form of information via images.

Recently an organisation, who also deals with visually impaired people, send me an invitation to a function as an image in a Microsoft Word document. About two years ago my faculty posted a revised test time table on Facebook as an image. In text books I often come across examples pasted as an image between the text of the book. A problem I have experienced countless times during my studies, is when lectures upload study material as a PDF file containing scanned images of the text. Another great example is when you search for something on the web and you find screenshots or images containing the information you are looking for. Companies are also guilty. I cannot recall how many times I came across special offers and the leaflet is only a series of images. Sometimes it is not a big deal, but in other instances, the consequences can be quite catastrophic.

This can be dealt with easily. When you posting a document containing an image with information, just copy and paste the text in the caption field. Most social media platforms have a function where you can add a caption with the picture.

University and big companies have corporate licensed software, such as Adobe Reader Pro, which enables them to OCR documents when hard copies are scanned in as images. This function is normally not available with free versions of the software. Therefore, lectures or companies can only OCR the document before making it available to users.

Companies can make available text documents describing the products. The image can be together with the picture of the product, I also came across online stores who put information, such as the size or weight, of a product in the image, and fails to add this information in the description of the product.

Web developers are quite lazy when dealing with images. When a picture is uploaded, a description of the image can be added with the “alt” (alternative text) attribute, making it possible that a screen reader can read a description of the image. For example, an uploaded picture without the alt attribute will only read back “image.JPG”, whereas a picture with a description in the alt attribute will read “image of a Dell laptop on a grey desktop”.

This is minor changes, but it will go a great way in making our blind people’s lives much, much easier.

Let me know what obstacles you have experienced with text within images and how you crossed the hurdle. If you are on the other side of the table and you had trouble making a document accessible for a blind person in the past, let me know if the article was helpful.
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Online, Windows

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