Tackling the challenges of enhancing accessibility of Open Education Resources (OER)

A green and beige horizontal banner that says “ALT TEXT: don’t forget about me”.
Digital Vidya. (n.d). https://blog.inkforall.com/how-alt-text-can-be-your-secret-seo-weapon. Released under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial 4.0 International licence.

Written by

Brian Valionis, University of Southern Australia, placement student

Iain Wilson, Charles Sturt University, placement student

Steven Chang, La Trobe University, Coordinator Open Education & Scholarship

Sebastian Kainey, La Trobe University, Digital Discovery Officer

Content Warning.

Please be advised that this blog post references sexual and gender-based violence. If you or someone you know is experiencing violence or abuse, please call 1800 737 732 (1800RESPECT).

Context of student project

The project was part of a library student placement so students could gain “real world experience in contributing to the creation of an OER. It is to develop approaches for implementing alt text(which refers to captions that describe images) for the La Trobe eBureau book Gender-based violence and healthcare in Timor-Leste which is an OER to be published in English and Tetum (the national language of East Timor).

The value of the project is that it gave the library placement students real world experience in problem solving in an ongoing OER project. This was particularly valuable as it connected to Brian and Iain’s interests in how OERs can reducing educational inequalities.

La Trobe University eBureau

The eBureau was launched in 2016 with the goal of providing La Trobe University students (and the wider community) with access to high quality OER textbooks, this works in conjunction with the La Trobe Opal platform which is an Open Access (OA) research depository.

Importance of addressing violence against women in East Timor

The book is specifically for how East Timor health and allied health professionals can respond to domestic and sexual violence, an important resource as an estimated 34% of women in East Timor have experienced violence in their lifetime (Asia Foundation, 2016). It aims to teach health professionals what is sexual and domestic violence, its prevalence within society, how to recognise the signs, and how to appropriately respond.

Seobility. (n.d). https://www.seobility.net/en/wiki/images/4/44/ALT_Attribute.png Released under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International licenve.

Importance of alt-text and accessibility in OER

Alt-text refers to alternative text that explains an image, graph, infographic or other visual information through text. As argued by McGinty (2021) and Huntsman (2022) alt text is essential to enhance inclusion, as readers with a visual or other impairment may not be able to access the information in in the graphical material in the text. Additionally, alt text allows the usage of screen readers – software which uses audio to read out the text. This goes to Universal Design – ensuring that in the case of OERs and other textual works, the consideration of how all users can access the information of the text is a core component in creating it.

Challenges of putting alt-text in OER

These next sections will highlight the challenges that the team faced in creating alt text, through an honest discussion of the challenges faced the team hopes that others can see and learn from their problem solving.

Decorative images – alt-text required?

In alt text terms, decorative images refer to graphical components that do not contain relevant information, for example an image background or stock images. The design of the book is based upon engaging East Timorese reading culture and specifically includes images to break up the text into readable components. This means that not all images are going to provide relevant information, as such the decision was made to selectively provide alt text based on its relevance to the content.


In normal circumstances alt text would describe the key and relevant information of a graph as per this example. However, in analysing the book the team noticed that the text already described the relevant data from the graph, so the approach was taken to describe the graphical aspects in relation to the key information.


The challenge in creating alt text for infographics is attempting to reconcile technical limitations of screen readers which can cut off after 100-150 characters, to that of any accurate description being substantially longer than that limit. The team had advice from Nikki Andersen, Open Education Content Librarian at the University of Southern Queensland, to make alt text a separate section to accurately describe the image and the information that it contains. Nikki also provided the team with examples of how alt text could be created for infographics.

Specific example – infographic

In this book the infographics visualise critical components of key information. One example is the image below which shows the domestic violence cycle from page 27 from the book. As such it was highly important that this information be included and accessible to all readers.

Characters are depicted each stage of the cycle of domestic violence: honeymoon phase, tension building phase, threatening phase, angry explosion phase, remorse phase, pursuit and reconciliation phase

This is a proposed alternative text for the above image “Characters are depicted each stage of the cycle of domestic violence: honeymoon phase, tension building phase, threatening phase, angry explosion phase, remorse phase, pursuit and reconciliation phase”. This isn’t the final alternative text but rather an example of how the team made proposals in the drafting process.

Reflection and conclusion

The key lesson from this project was how alt text needs to be relevant and in context with the greater focus of the resource. As this example from Harvard demonstrates, even a relatively simple image will have differing focuses and meaning depending upon the subject of the greater text. In this case the focus in creating alt text was very much upon keeping the information relevant to the key goal of providing information about sexual and domestic violence for health professionals in East Timor.


The team would like to express their utmost gratitude to Nikki Anderson, her assistance and advice was invaluable to the team and the greater project. Nikki has edited an OER, “Enhancing Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA) in Open Educational Resources (OER) – Australian Edition”.

The team would also like to express their gratitude to Adele Walsh, Senior Coordinator, Community Programs and Engagement who organised the placement and learning opportunities for the students.

Reference list

Andersen, N. (Ed). (2022). Enhancing Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA) in Open Educational Resources (OER). University of Southern Queensland. https://open.umn.edu/opentextbooks/textbooks/1247

Asia Foundation. (2016). Fact Sheet 4. Sexual Violence against Women in Timor-Leste. Asia Foundation. https://asiafoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/eng-FS4-2016-05-04-screen.pdf

Huntsman. S. (2022). An Image for All: The Rhetoric for Writing Alt-Text. 2022 IEEE International Professional Communication Conference (ProComm), 61–52. https://doi.org/10.1109/procomm53155.2022.00012

McGinty. J. (2021). Accessible Digital Learning Materials for Inclusive Adult Education. Adult Learning., 32(2), 96–98. https://doi.org/10.1177/1045159520961470

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