Meet the Web Accessibility Intern
My name is Michelle Liu, and I am currently a senior at Harvard College concentrating in computer science with a secondary in studio arts. This fall, I took the opportunity to work with Poetry in America through the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard as a term-time intern in web accessibility. My goal was to increase the accessibility of the PIA website by providing alt text for eight years of images.
What Is Alt Text?
Alt text, short for alternative text, is a written description explaining the appearance or function of an image on a web page. Alt text is read aloud by screen readers, which are programs typically used by people with visual impairments and low vision. Alt text also has other important uses—e.g. displaying in place of an image when it fails to load, and helping search engine bots to direct traffic.
Creating alternative textual descriptions for images across the Poetry in America website involved both an understanding of the content and context of each image, and due consideration of the best practices in accessibility. For over 1000 images, I aimed to provide a succinct description of the image’s essence, with the goal of improving the user experience for individuals relying on screen readers.
One of the main challenges was ensuring that the prose was neither too sparse, which would fail to comprehensively describe an image, nor overly descriptive, which would create excessive auditory noise. Additionally, because of the backend setup on WordPress, alt tags of images inserted into the content of pages and posts were not updated automatically. This meant that each of these images needed to be reinserted manually. This was a time consuming process, but a very necessary one to bring the existing content of the website to all users, including those who rely on screen readers!
Why Is Web Accessibility Important?
Web accessibility is an essential component for an organization like Poetry in America, to make content accessible and engaging.
Future directions for accessibility and engagement will involve continuous review of accessibility practices, as well as community engagement, to ensure the website serves the needs of its diverse audience. For Poetry in America, this means not only refining the technical aspects of web accessibility, but also maintaining continuous evaluation and updates as web standards and technologies evolve. Beyond technical adjustments, we can also engage with the community by gathering feedback and conducting usability testing with individuals for validation and improvements.
The completion of my internship marks just the beginning of my contribution to a more accessible digital landscape. It’s a commitment to ongoing learning, adapting, and advocating for a web space that is truly open to all. As I look forward to the next steps in my career, I am eager to leverage the skills I’ve developed during my internship. One goal I have is continuing to develop digital platforms that prioritize accessibility. I am particularly interested in roles that focus on user experience design, as I believe these areas are crucial in making digital spaces more inclusive.
Thank you to Poetry in America and the Mahindra Humanities Center for providing me with this opportunity as well as Gideon Leek and Brie Martin for their guidance and support!