University of Utah

Alternative Text for Images in Higher Education Online Courses with Canvas and Anthology Ally

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Alternative text, often referred to as "alt text," is a crucial component of online course design that ensures images and other non-text contents are accessible to all users, including those who rely on assistive technologies such as screen readers. This article will specifically focus on creating alt text for higher education online college courses within the Canvas learning environment, utilizing Anthology's Ally accessibility platform. We will provide a comprehensive understanding of the alternative text, its importance in creating inclusive online learning experiences, and best practices for implementing alt text in your Canvas course materials with the support of Ally.

Learning Objectives

After reading this article, you will be able to:

  • Define alternative text and explain its purpose in online course design within the context of higher education and the Canvas learning environment.
  • Identify the importance of alt text for accessibility and inclusivity in online college courses.
  • Apply best practices for writing effective alt text for various types of images using Anthology's Ally accessibility platform.

Background Information

Alternative text is a concise textual description of an image or other non-text content, embedded within the HTML code of a webpage. It serves multiple purposes:

  • It provides a textual equivalent for images, making them accessible to users with visual impairments who use screen readers or other assistive technologies.
  • It helps improve search engine optimization (SEO) by providing context for search engine crawlers for public pages.
  • It serves as a fallback when images fail to load, providing context to users about the missing content.

Canvas is a widely used learning management system (LMS) in higher education, which is used here at The University of Utah, and Anthology Ally is an accessibility platform integrated with Canvas to help create and maintain accessible course content.

Best Practices

  1. Be descriptive and concise: Aim for a brief yet accurate description of the image, usually between 5 to 15 words. Focus on the essential information conveyed by the image.
  2. Provide context: Consider the surrounding content and how the image relates to it. Ensure the alt text aligns with the learning objectives and supports the overall course content.
  3. Avoid redundancy: Do not include information already present in the surrounding text, and avoid phrases like "Image of" or "Picture of" since screen readers already identify the content as an image.
  4. Use proper punctuation and capitalization: Proper punctuation and capitalization help screen readers interpret the alt text correctly, improving the user experience.
  5. Utilize Anthology Ally: Take advantage of the Anthology Ally integration in Canvas, which can help identify images that are missing alt text and provide suggestions for creating appropriate alt text.

Examples and Applications

Example 1:

Image: A bar chart comparing the hours of sun per day in two cities.

Alt text: "Bar chart comparing the hours of sun per day in Paris, France and New York City, New York."

Example 2:

Image: A photograph of a historic building on campus.

Alt text: "Photograph of the Park Building, located in President’s Circle at the University of Utah."

Put Into Practice

Review images in your existing Canvas course materials and practice writing the alternative text for each image, utilizing Anthology Ally to identify areas for improvement.

To practice applying these best practices, you can view and edit images with missing alternative text, visit the How do I add alternative text to images in my Canvas course guide.

FAQs and Common Challenges

How do I add alternative text to images in Canvas?

When uploading an image in Canvas, you will have the option to provide alt text in the "Alt Text" field using Anthology Ally. If you are working with HTML code, users can also use the "alt" attribute within the <img> tag, e.g., <img src="image.jpg" alt=" Descriptive alternative text"> for direct embeddings of images not hosted on Canvas.

How does Anthology Ally help with alternative text?

Anthology Ally integrates with Canvas and provides an accessibility report for your course materials. It can identify images that are missing alt text or have poor-quality alt text, and offer suggestions for improvement. Ally also provides an accessibility score for your course and guidance on enhancing the overall accessibility of your content.


Alternative text for images is a critical aspect of accessible and inclusive online learning experiences, particularly within higher education online college courses. By implementing best practices for creating alt text in the Canvas learning environment and using the Anthology Ally accessibility platform, you can ensure that your course materials are accessible to all users, including those who rely on assistive technologies. Remember to be descriptive and concise, provide context, avoid redundancy, and use proper punctuation and capitalization when crafting alt text.

Further Resources

For more information on making images accessible, visit Instructure's support article link below.

For more information on making images accessible, visit Anthology Ally's (previously Blackboard) support article link below.


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