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Reading Images: Coyote, an A11Y Initiative

by Sheila Majumdar

A coyote sits amid tall yellow grass that almost blends *in* with its tan fur.

The name Coyote comes from an old Hopi story about how the coyote got its yellow eyes


After realizing the extent to which our website—which relies heavily on images, like any art museum website—excludes those who are blind or have vision impairment, we decided to create an open source toolkit called Coyote for producing image descriptions. With the help of Sina Bahram and his team at Prime Access Consulting, we have been able to make our website an engaging space for visitors who would otherwise be prevented from accessing our visual resources. We believe these image descriptions will ultimately interest anyone who wants to learn more about contemporary art, even works they already know.

Our goal is to provide descriptions for every image on our website. (We've got our work cut out for us!) Below is an example of alt text being read by a screen reader as well as a few descriptions of artworks in our collection. Over the next year, we will post the most interesting Coyote descriptions we craft for the MCA and other cultural institutions. And as we receive feedback, hone our descriptions, and master the new software, we will share what we learn along the way.

Kris Martin, T.Y.F.F.S.H., 2011

A red, white, and blue fabric canopy presses against the walls of room. Portable fans blow air into the room through a doorway.

Ana Mendieta, Untitled (from the Silueta series), c. 1978

In the photograph you seem to stand in a small clearing sparsely populated with flattened weeds in the fore and middle grounds and with an uneven arc of wild grass two-thirds up the image. An impenetrably dark row of trees fills the horizon. The photograph is black and white and strongly lit, so that each blade of grass and clump of dirt casts an intense shadow. At your feet lies a short, crudely dug trench, whose excavated soil remains, forming a rim around it. The shallow slit, dug from bone-dry earth, lies in the middle of the image and tapers at the end nearest you. From the trench’s pitch-black interior, a blast of opaque, white smoke streams out, billowing directly up and off the photograph’s top edge.

Kenneth Noland, Springs: August Light, 1961

You see a beige, square canvas with a slender, dark wood frame. A large, dark orange circle nestled within three concentric rings occupies the bottom center of the painting. The innermost circle is a solid, yellow-orange, resembling the yolk of an egg. The next ring is thin and white, uniformly encircling the center. The next ring is also the largest; it is bright yellow and broad, almost the width of the center circle’s radius. It is an imperfect ring, with a small, rounded bite missing at the 11 o’clock position. A fourth ring, slightly darker beige than the canvas, appears faint and transparent; the effect is less a shadow than a secretion spreading from the paint. The circles are vivid and immediately draw your eye, but they show no illusion of depth, and the overall effect of the painting is very flat. As you look closer, you notice a tiny dot of bright yellow floating to the upper left of the circles, like a planet orbiting a many-ringed sun.