Sharing pictures on social media is fun–but did you know that people who can’t see can still enjoy your fun photos with their ears?

Some social media platforms have built-in artificial intelligence that can attempt to detect what is in a photo, but it results in some pretty generic–and often very wrong–descriptions. Plus, it’s more fun to get to describe the photo in your own words. “Dog” or “Two people at a medium distance” leaves a lot to be desired when it could be “Murray, a black lab guide dog in harness looks towards the camera appearing to be smiling” or “Two people at a medium distance ride bikes in a field.”

Basically, why should you enter descriptions in your photos? So more people can have FUN and be included, that’s why.
So let’s get started.

What is alt text?

Simply put, alternate text is a simple description of what’s in your photo (or any other image). Screen readers will read the alt text, but it’s hidden within the code of a website, so it’s not visible to sighted people (unless, like me, they know how to poke around VoiceOver or JAWS).

How to use alt text on Twitter

Twitter window with photo uploaded of a turkey inside a hospital reading turkey inside hsc. an arrow points to the alt button.
  • When you add a photo on Twitter, two bubbles pop up on top of the image – +ALT and a paintbrush (edit).
  • Click +ALT.

Text box to enter alt text is shown. Words typed are Write the things about the photo
  • Describe your picture.
  • Hit Done.

Yep. It’s that easy.

How to use alt text on Facebook

Facebook create post window with a photo of Kerri's office studio with microphone, pop filter, laptop and textbooks visible on a shelf behind. The Facebook text field reads 'say something about this photo...'
  • Upload your photo as usual and hit the … [more] button in the top right.
Same image as above is darkened with a menu above with the options Remove photo, Edit photo, Make 3D, Edit alt text and Cancel

Click “edit alt text” and describe.

How to use alt text on Instagram

Instagram is the least user-friendly of the three social media options I’ll cover today, hiding the alt text in a weird place. But, at least you’ll be able to find it. As well, the Android app may be a little different but it does exist there, too.

Image of a photo upload on Instagram with text typed that reads 'power outage ice cream'. Under account and upload options. At the bottom, Advanced settings is circled by hand in green.

Upload your photo as normal, then hit Advanced Settings near the bottom.

(Yes. I know. This placement is horrendous, give me a direct button, Instagram!)

The advanced settings menu featuring the Write Alt Text option

Scroll to the bottom of the advanced settings menu and hit Write Alt Text under Accessibility.

It’s not that bad, but it’s still clunky.

Image of my friend's dog Abbey who is medium-sized and brown and white, she is gazing toward the camera. Anyways, the whole point here is that I am telling the sighted peoplewhere the Edit alt text button is, it's circled in green.

However, if you’re EDITING a post rather than adding it fresh, this will pop up with a very easy-to-find “edit alt text” button.
Unlike Twitter where you can’t edit anything, you can also add alt text later on Facebook if you forget.

PS. Isn’t my friend Katie’s doggo Abbey cute?

How to use alt text on WordPress

For our last instalment, the platform I’m writing on right now, WordPress.

Image of the field in wordpress where alt text is entered.

Add your image to wordpress and go to Edit or to your Media tab. In the right-hand menu, enter the alt text in the provided field.

Yes. It was indeed that easy.

If like me, you often upload photos to an external source, you’ll have to go into your code editor to add the alt text.

Alt text away!

Okay go have fun while making things accessible and inclusive!

Need help? Tweet me @KerriYWG

(Also yes, somehow all the other images on my blog are broken. I don’t know what happened, but it’s a fascinating irony I guess for all the images to be NOT VISIBLE while writing an alt text how-to, to just underscore how potentially annoying it is to know you are missing part of what is out there!)

A year ago today I went to Costco. We had a birthday party for my grandma’s 85th birthday.

We had four travel-related cases of COVID-19 in Manitoba. Four.

We debated canceling the party, but didn’t. My mom, aunt and I went to Costco, picked up a cake, and saw a guy wearing a full face respirator mask.

I mean. We thought that was a bit overboard. We were just there to check out if they’d restocked all the toilet paper and other stuff that had sold out with people lining up like mad on the infamous Friday the Thirteenth. (They had. It was pretty uneventful.)

I had not really considered that’d be the last time I’d go to the store for a few weeks, never mind a whole year.

First my doctor’s assistant asked if I was self-isolating. I was. Then my doctor told me to self-isolate. She’d semi-revoke that 3 months later, probably realizing the length of the situation at hand was potentially interminable, but it’s been a year and I’m still avoiding the general public, mostly because I don’t have to go anywhere. Severe asthma may not be as big of a risk factor for severe COVID outcomes as once thought, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not one. If I don’t have to go anywhere, why risk it?

It’s been a year of learning, of scientific innovation, and of science finding better answers—sadly causing some to lose faith in science because the evidence changed, or finally feeling emboldened to show their true colours because of widespread “acceptance of pseudoscience and conspiracy theories taking even deeper hold as people lived their lives online. PSA: Science can change our opinions, that means it’s working. Masks help. Vaccines work and help more.

(And if my vaccine has a microchip in it, I just want it to have debit, thanks!)

It’s been a year of outdoor visits with only a few friends. A year of FaceTime, Facebook, and Zoom catch-ups. A year of reconnecting and probably less losing-touch than I’d have thought—aside from a couple people I’d begun to reconnect with, we’d sadly already lost touch. At least we are now rarely at a loss for conversation, with the weirdness of COVID-life always a fallback option. And of course, a year of Guide Dog Murray visits every month or two that really help speed a week along.

I need more hobbies I’ve discovered. I’ve tried jigsaw puzzles thanks to Lana and I don’t hate them like I thought I would. I still haven’t baked any sourdough yet, but I’ve made bread. And cake. And hand pies. And ice cream—a lot of ice cream.

Hand pies made today: National Pie Day 2021

At some point last spring I pulled my Nintendo 2DS out. I tried Animal Crossing: New Leaf, eventually getting a Switch Lite for the full pandemic experience of New Horizons. That held me for about 8 months but I’ve now moved onward to Pokémon, at least for awhile. The video games though have, perhaps unexpectedly, led to reconnection with several people, for which I am grateful.

I’m past ready for the unprecedented to be over. I’m sure we all are. To be a year in and still know going to a restaurant like we did just over a year ago is quite a long way off (at least it is for me) is rather bananas.

It’s been a weird—and in ways wild—year. And there’s at least hope in sight that things may return to some sort of normal during 2021, and more-so, for 2022 when maybe we can see people’s full faces again.

Kerri wearing pink jacket and blue Winnipeg themed face mask

And as always; thanks, science. Thanks doctors and nurses and researchers. Thanks all frontline and essential workers. It’s been a year, and I hope you all know how much we need and appreciate you.

Oh, and I wonder if that guy in Costco with the full respirator is still wearing it or if he’s downgraded to something else.

One thing that’s been keeping me a degree of sane during the pandemic is books (by the way, it’s Day 357). As explored in articles Reading With My Ears Part 1 and Part 2, audiobooks are how I get my reading done, because a bunch of years ago I found out I have some variety of learning disability and my ears are how I get reading done.

Well. This week I found out from a contact at the Centre for Equitable Library Access (see disclosure at end of article) that the Liberal government has slated $4 million in cuts to print disability services in a move toward elimination of these services, which is clearly not good. And if you know me, you know I like writing letters to elected officials—okay well like is strong because generally I write letters when not-good things are happening. Today’s was, thankfully, made easier because my Member of Parliament, New Democrat Daniel Blaikie and his team are who I would call “my people”. 

You know, thus why I didn’t start this letter with “Dear Mr. Blaikie” like I used to. After hanging out in the campaign office and knocking doors during the election and nowadays spending some evenings on Zoom, that’d be weird now. (If I haven’t written about it, political things with the New Democratic Party are things I do now. It keeps me sane when my provincial government repeatedly makes choices without a brain and the federal government does things like this and Liberals vote against national pharmacare when they’ve been campaigning on it since I was a toddler.)

Anyways. Read on to hear what’s going on, and feel free to grab any stats from this to write your own MP to speak out against these cuts and encourage them to take action (more here from CBC). 

Hi Daniel and team!

Over three million Canadians live with a print disability. I am one of them. Through our work together, my learning disability has likely never become apparent: I can “read” just fine–until texts get longer or more complex, and then my deficits in visual memory and other things get in the way. I found out I had a learning disability when I was 21, eight years ago, and nearly 3 full years into university.

I’m reaching out regarding the Liberals intended cuts of $4 million to funding services for Canadians with print disabilities, and to share my experiences with these programs as a constituent. A “print disability” includes any disability that interferes with the ability to read printed text, including visual impairment, physical disabilities that impact a person’s ability to turn a page, and learning disabilities including, but not limited to, dyslexia. An estimated 7% of Canadians affected by a print disability, and the Centre for Equitable Library Access (CELA) and National Network for Equitable Library Service (NNELS) are vial services for those who access them, providing books, newspapers, and even magazines to those who need alternate format reading materials. Written works can be delivered through audio, eText, and Braille, in various formats.

I’d always enjoyed reading, but at some point, my ability to comprehend written work was outpaced by the complexity of content I wanted to read, or that I “should have” been able to read. It’s not that I couldn’t read it—my learning disability testing indicated my vocabulary and writing abilities are a relative strength—but that I was held back by visual memory and working memory issues. I can read it, but my brain doesn’t know where to file it or store the information for later. As such, when I read to enjoy something, I reverted to books for teens: I got lost in the plot of more complex books, and was held back by my visual memory and working memory issues. With my learning disability diagnosis came the recommendation to use audiobooks for school–it helped, but I didn’t know there were options outside of academics. A friend who is blind told me about CELA, formerly CNIB Library, many years ago now. I explored the website, found I was eligible, and submitted an application.

In Summer 2017 I became a member of CELA and Bookshare. Thanks to the reading website Goodreads, I have data about the impact that these services for Canadians with print disabilities have had on my life: in 2015 and 2016 I read 33 and 40 books, respectively, before I had access to CELA. Pretty good, I thought, until I learned what difference having audiobooks and eText delivered by synthesized speech would make. In 2017, my books read total was 115 books. In 2020 I read 175 books. 

It’s pretty clear: when I became able to listen to what I was reading, I was able to explore content on more complex topics: I am no longer limited to teen and young adult books or fiction. I now regularly read—and comprehend and enjoy!—various memoirs, books on politics and world events, national security, and even government reports!

I am grateful for CELA, NNELS, and print disability services at my local library, all of which include book production services funded by the federal government, as well as CNIB donors.

I am even more grateful these services are available for free. Imagine walking into your local public library and only having access to a small fraction of books available on their shelves: this is what Canadians like me face without these services. While resources limit what books CELA and NNELS provide, many titles are dated or only available in certain formats, Bookshare provides access to 957,886 accessible books and is free to CELA members who submit Bookshare’s Proof of Disability form completed by a qualified medical practitioner. In the US, this service costs $50 USD per year—as a person who pays $20/month for an Audible membership, I’d pay this in a heartbeat, but we both know this fee alone could exclude many Canadians with disabilities.

Winnipeg Public Libraries provide access to 1.4 million books. People with print disabilities have access to, according to their catalog, 8737 eAudiobooks, and 7113 physical library materials accessible for people with print disabilities, including audiobooks (CD and cassette), Braille books, and DAISY (Digital Accessible Information SYstem) books. Of course, 15,850 accessible books on their own certainly can’t be seen as an “equitable” library experience. CELA and NNELS, including access to Bookshare, fill this gap and are critical to people in Elmwood-Transcona who use these services—or will in the future.

It goes without saying that literacy is extremely important for all Canadians. And that should be no less true for Canadians who read differently—whether that is, for me, reading through various apps on my phone, a friend who reads articles using VoiceOver on his iPhone, or another friend who reads his kids a Braille picture book at bedtime. Governments at all levels, including the federal government, should be doing all they can to promote literacy and reading to all Canadians. When cuts to print disability services are on the table, they aren’t doing that.

I hope you’ll join me in speaking out against this cut that yet again impacts Canadians with disabilities.

I’m happy to schedule a video call to answer any questions or explore more about how these platforms and associated technologies work to benefit me and my fellow community members with print disabilities! As always—thank you for fighting for all in our community.

In solidarity,
Kerri MacKay

If you, yourself, don’t live with a print disability, you’re welcome to share this article with your MP, get in touch (email/preferably tweet) with me if you’d like to share anything of my story/experience I’ve written here or if you’d like assistance writing a letter.

(PS. Mine is kind of long so be less wordy than me.)

(PPS. You can find out who your MP is here.)

Disclosure: While I’d have written this letter anyways, I occasionally engage in paid contract work from CELA doing accessibility testing. Though my CELA contact brought this issue to my attention, she stated these cuts are not currently expected to impact the small amount of work I do with them—but either way I’d be far more concerned about the broader impact of these cuts. I write this letter and article NOT because of my independent contract work with CELA, but because of the serious life-changing impact CELA and related services have had on my enjoyment of reading as an adult with a learning disability.

Tomorrow marks the final major holiday (in Canada) that we will have celebrated in a degree of lockdown: New Year’s Day.

It’s been more than 7 months since I’ve written here, and more than 9 months since my life looked normal as in going to public places and seeing people without being far away, wearing masks. Since then, vaccines have been approved, and people I know have received them: healthcare workers who for the last 10 months—or more, depending on where they live—have been at the highest risk in this fight to save lives, and for that I am thankful. For the fist time in those 10+ months, there is hope that there is an end to this—and that end is, at least somewhat, in sight, beyond everyone just staying home as much as we can.

Thank you, science, and research scientists, and smart people.

In other years I’ve summarized in my end-of-year blog posts the things I’ve done, places I’ve been, the soundtrack I’ve made, or the books I’ve read (actually, you can see those here). In 2020, I’ve spent 291 of the 365 days this year mostly at home, and other than work, not being terribly productive. The 74 pre-COVID lockdown, pre-physical/social distancing, pre-self isolating days were good ones, though, and one day—even if it is another 291 days—there will be better ones ahead again, too. 

For 2020, I’d aimed to embrace the Yes Theory mantra – seek discomfort, and say yes to opportunities. Then it turned out that in 2020, saying yes to things could possibly wind up killing you or somebody else. I’d made a goal to make new friends this year—and combined with the previous goal, to do things and go places. I made a new friend, Kayleen, early in 2020, and we are so lucky to have gotten to do the things we did, even up to March 6, 2020, which retrospectively became known as The Day We Did Dangerous Things because hell, do not go to an escape room, a bowling alley, a used bookstore, 2 museums (one with lots of tactile exhibits and shared high-touch surfaces), a cafe, and a market, all in the same day, during a pandemic, where I think we encountered hand sanitizer all of once—our first three cases, however, were reported 7 days later, on March 12, which is also the day I took the bus for the last time, saw friends indoors and closer than 6 feet for the last time, went to a coffee shop for the last time, and went to archery for the last time. Oh, I went to a store for the last time on March 14: we went to Costco to pick up a birthday cake for my grandma, where I saw a guy wearing a full-head respirator mask in there, the day after the panic buying of Friday the 13th. Then we went and spent several hours having an 85th birthday party that had nearly 20 people at it, some of whom had just got off a plane, and one who’d find out the next day they may have had a COVID exposure at work. Everything turned out fine, but in retrospect—when it’s been MONTHS since we’ve been permitted gatherings of more than 5 people with physical distancing—it seems absolutely reckless and insane. Remember what we thought was normal just 292 days ago?
And then we spent Christmas on Zoom. 

It’s been “a year”, this 2020. And unlike most “bad years” (here’s looking at you, 2013), I know tomorrow is in no way a fresh start. 2021 may not be quite as much of a write-off, but we know the struggle of 2020 will continue within it.
And even now when it has yet to even start, I’m still saying it:
Here’s to 2022.

Oh, and in case it’s 10 years from now and I find myself reading this (or in case you, if anyone is reading this, want to enjoy), here is a YouTube playlist of Songs to Stay the Blazes Home To (…yeah, remember when the premier of Nova Scotia told people to stay the blazes home? Or when, on April 7, Justin Trudeau said speaking moistly?), featuring of course, the Speaking Moistly remix (and a remix of the remix), undoubtedly one of the greatest Canadian Heritage moments to come out of 2020.

Here I am, twenty-nine.
I’ve not quite moved to “social distancing” proper yet—and I likely won’t for awhile. I’d say I’m still closer to something resembling self-isolating, but given I saw a friend today, outdoors, I’d not say I’m quite there still, either.

The pandemic birthday.
Michelle in Singapore and Elisheva in Israel sent birthday greetings before midnight. On Sunday, Guide Dog Murray came back to visit, so just after midnight I took him outside and we went to bed. I woke up to Murray sniffing my face, to more texts and Facebook posts and messages and tweets (and LinkedIn messages – I love y’all but that’s a weird function of LinkedIn?), and went back to sleep after taking the pup outside.

My aunt, Linda, gave me an ice cream maker last week – she could not wait any longer to give me my birthday present as she’s had it since like January. So I got up eventually, after cuddling with Murray on the bedroom floor (prepared nicely for him with foam puzzle mats, pillows and a blanket), and made ice cream.

Then I groomed Murray and brushed his teeth and made him all fancy puppy to see his Daddyface AKA Steve. 

The people who make it special
But first, lunch with my mom, grandma and other aunt, Karen.
We took Murray for his last visit of the visit (weird?), to have Subway and Jeanne Cake squares in my grandma’s back yard. I mean, Murray wasn’t having Subway or cake. The weather was perfect, though, and despite putting Murray on his long tie down he didn’t really go anywhere except briefly getting somewhat “stuck” (confused) under a picnic table, he didn’t really wander anywhere—as he tends to if he’s on a tie down.
We visited awhile, Murray got his goodbye pats, and then we went to take him home, with a detour to pick up Steve, wearing masks in the car, and going to the park for cupcakes (for Steve and I) and coffee (for my mom and Steve). Amusingly, I handed Murray’s leash back to Steve as we headed across the park, Steve using his cane, and as soon as we sat down he handed Murray’s leash back. Hello, isn’t this dog bored of Small Fry by now?

We ate cupcakes (second cake of the day), watched the geese (note: geese are terrifying), and saw the physical distancing enforcers wandering the park in their vests once. They didn’t talk to us as we sat on either end of a bench and on a lawn chair. Eventually, we put our masks back on and got in the car to take Steve and Murray home, thankful for the visit and having Murray over for 4.5 days to shift my focus from pandemic/work/Animal Crossing to a better set of Murray/work/Animal Crossing (and I think I played less Animal Crossing, honestly – in exchange for playing with actual doggo animal?)
It was one of the most “normal” things I’ve done in the last 3 months, a lovely visit with one of my favourite people and my favourite dog—and still, so, so abnormal. So abnormal I haven’t done those things for months. That I still haven’t gone into a store. That everyone is positioned so strategically, clearly differentiating couples and families and those who don’t live together.

I got home to find a text from Kayleen confirming I was home. At 6:55 – 15 minutes ahead of schedule – a bag from Stella’s Bakery appeared at my door, containing a piece of chocolate tort and a slice of chocolate cake. There was another, yes, another cake in my future so I held off, but damn, does getting cake from a friend delivered to your door make a person feel special! (I hope we are actually able to go places with a more reliable sense of safety for Kayleen’s birthday in August – even if we still have to stay 6 feet apart).

My aunt, Linda (of the ice cream maker gift!) came over for a visit, cake and home-made ice cream. (She also left with homemade strawberry sorbet – talk about a great gift, it’s been used twice already since I got it on Monday!). Cake #3 of the day was Jeanne cake but with strawberry curls. The cake was super cute, but I’ll admit the chocolate ones taste better. Also, a few hours after this I’ve eaten a few bites of cake #4, Stella’s torte, and cake #6, Stella’s chocolate cake, but I am still very full of other cake and also pizza despite it nearing midnight.

Oh yes, while my mother put candles in the cake, there was no lighting or blowing out of candles. Because honestly, why did it take a global pandemic for us all to figure out that eating a cake someone has breathed all over is kind of weird?  

While opening some gifts from my parents, Daryl called. This led to the delightful missed call of Daryl leaving his “lounge lizard” version of Happy Birthday on my voicemail, which I will tomorrow figure out how to rescue out of my phone somehow. Daryl’s mom and I share a birthday, and this year he got to sing for me on my birthday as he did for her for many years which is super special! Of course, this little surprise on my voicemail meant my mom also got to enjoy the recording, exclaiming “You have such NICE people!!”

Yes, I sure do, don’t I?

Looking… somewhere.
So. Twenty-nine.

I’m not at all sure what I’m looking for this year, or what it will bring. I do know twenty-eight led me to many amazing people and things, including Kayleen and working with Deb and Daryl. 

Given the state of the world right now, I’m certainly looking ahead but to an unclear spot on the horizon. I don’t know what this year will bring and I’m not going to try to guess. I hope for more stability. Twenty-eight was a pretty great year, and despite its uncertainties, I hope twenty-nine is similar, bringin friends new and old, new opportunities, and new puppies.
Okay, honestly, I’d be cool with more of the same puppies… or puppy.