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This question relates particularly to SE Biology, but has aspects that impinge on other Stack Exchange sites. It concerns insertion of images and their viewing by users who use screen readers.

  1. Is it, or can it be made, official policy that posting text as images only is not allowed?

  2. Can better technical support be provided so that text descriptions can be associated with complex diagrams in a form that is best suitable for screen readers?

It seems to me that the answer to the first question should be simply “Yes”. I often comment to lazy posters who photograph some homework question (that is probably off-topic anyway) saying this is against SE Policy, but I am rather whistling in the dark. I haven’t seen it stated explicitly.

The second question requires practical changes in SE. I do not use a screen reader so do not know what is technically required, although I have been involved in designing websites and following guidelines on accessibility for the visually impaired. I do use diagrams frequently in my answers on SE Biology, and find them often indispensable for a good explanation to sighted readers. I hope that they complement my text explanation, and sometimes when they don’t I have written a summary for screen-reader users, but it would be better if there were a pop-up box associated with adding an image so that this could be done in the best manner.

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    Related to (2): meta.stackexchange.com/questions/231949/… – Isaac Moses Oct 30 at 16:37
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    It would be helpful for ELL to have official guidance we can easily point people to when they post images of text – ColleenV parted ways Oct 30 at 16:42
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    There are several posts on MSO about this: meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/285551 I often post the comment "please do not post text or code as images; they can't be searched, copy/pasted into answers, or read by screen-readers for the visually impaired" and add a link to one of the MSO posts on the subject. – m69 ''snarky and unwelcoming'' Oct 30 at 16:43
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    This should already be policy for every SE site and for purely practical reasons: we want to be an archive where you find answers and a picture of text cannot be indexed by a search engine, so a picture of text falls short of the basic mission statement already, even for people with perfect eyesight. – nvoigt Oct 30 at 16:46
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    Thanks to those who mentioned previous posts on this topic. They appear to bear out @DKBose as nothing has been done. But I would say that it is time SE was made to address this real issue of accessibility. Perhaps the threat of legal action might concentrate the mind. – David Oct 30 at 16:48
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    As to (1), my view is that it is already the policy at Biology.SE to not allow text in images (and this is one of the suggested useful comments in Bio.SE meta and references the SO meta). It can be more difficult to adapt more complex diagrams and such, unfortunately, and so far we have not done anything to address that. – Bryan Krause Oct 30 at 16:54
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    @David the way to make it policy is to post a question on meta, detailing your views on why text as image is a bad thing and then wait for enough upvotes to call a consensus. Then, you can simply point users to that meta. I have done this on both Unix & Linux (posted when I was a mod) and Ask Ubuntu (posted before I became a mod). – terdon - stop harming Monica Oct 30 at 17:58
  • @terdon — Well posting here was the first step of trying to get things done. However it appears that there are enough posts about text as images that I was unaware of (I did a search, but obviously used the wrong terms). The second point, which I should separate, is actually a feature request — a change in what happens when you start uploading an image. I'm not sure how best to bring that to the attention of the SE owners who would be legally responsible if anyone sues them under accessibility legislation (not necessaryily in the US — think EU). – David Nov 1 at 15:22
  • @BryanKrause — Thanks. I agree it would be more difficult to implement my second proposal and do not know whether it would be possible for an individual SE such as Biology to request a new technical feature. Perhaps I should check out the W3C advice on this topic so I can suggest a specific outcome one would want to achieve. – David Nov 1 at 15:32
  • @David oh, sure. Sorry, I didn't mean to imply you did anything wrong. I just happen to have been in your shoes and can report that a regular user posting on a local meta and getting support is enough to make it into a policy. – terdon - stop harming Monica Nov 1 at 16:04
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The policy and conventions you desire already exist.

It is not permissible to post images with loads of text, since it has a knock-on effect on the quality of the question or the readability of the content. This is not just true with technical sites (since reading images of code is the definition of purgatory), but it can also pose an issue in other contexts.

There are two issues to this, though.

  • Stack Overflow Inc. doesn't curate the content themselves; they leave this to the community to do it. That is to say, while the tooling exists to make images more accessible (such as alt text), if an end user chooses not to do it, then there's really not much anyone can do about it (except edit it themselves).

  • There are some cases where images do need to be shown. In the context of movies or ancient scripts in foreign languages, it would make some sense to have a picture of that if that's all you have at hand, and can't transcribe it.

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    Well, there are many other cases where an image is very important: I am active on the electronics site, and a large number of posts require a schematic. On the ux site, you often need images. Same for photography, obviously. Etc... It is not "very rare". – dim Oct 30 at 18:29
  • It is very rare for those images to have an appropriate alt text. – Luuklag Oct 30 at 19:16
  • Do you have a link to reference the convention you mention? – Renan Oct 30 at 20:11
  • @Renan: A link for use of images on Stack Overflow. – Makoto Oct 30 at 20:45
  • Thank you. From following links to various other meta discussions it would appear that a general consensus / large majority on not posting text as graphics does exist, although unlike other SE policies, I cannot find any statement from Stack Exchange or even advice on asking questions in individual SE sites such as Biology. I am happier to continue helping monitor this issue knowing I have the support of mods on the site I frequent. I should therefore restrict myself to the second part of my question on necessary images — shows you shouldn't wrap two questions in one. – David Nov 1 at 14:55
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World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) already has extensive guidelines in-place for images that could be adapted by Stack Exchange with technical measures in place for enforcement:

  • Images of Text - should be accompanied by the text as an alt attribute so that it can be read by screen readers and accessibility software.
  • Complex Images (i.e., charts, diagrams, maps) - should be accompanied by two parts. One that identified the image (ex., "Network Diagram") and a second that provides a long description of the essential information conveyed.

Generally, highly trafficked sites should strive to do their best to be in compliance with these guidelines and can pretty much be adopted verbatim for Stack Exchange sites.

  • I am aware of W3C advice on visually accessible web pages. The problem is that facilities do not exist for users to mark up their answers accordingly, and the vast majority would not be able or willing to do so. What I am proposing is that SE adds something to their interface to make this easy, just in the same way I need only click on an icon to embolden text. Thus if there were a pop-up text box in which I could write a brief description of the image, this would be marked up in the appropriate tags for visually impaired users depending on screen readers. – David Nov 1 at 15:01

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