The legal writing community often does not recognize the need for or include captions or alternative text when pasting images in their complaints, motions, briefs, or court-authored opinions. Image understanding becomes inaccessible for some audiences. And unnumbered images can make for messy and confusing record cross-references.
While many court rules fuss about font type and size, line spacing, and word count, the need for ensuring that pasted/inserted images are consistently accessible and become part of the court record is never mentioned.
Good in-practice examples are rare, unfortunately. Or inconsisent. Consider, for example, how SCOTUS Justice Sotomayor included “Figure” labels and captions in the many Prince images in last year’s Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts, Inc. v. Goldsmith opinion. But Justice Kagan did not in her dissent.
This week, however, legal writers witnessed effective image captioning and alt-text writing when the U.S. Department of Justice released its Critical Incident Review: Active Shooter at Robb Elementary School.
All legal writers can—and should!—apply the same practices when including images in their writing.
How can legal writers apply the same practices?
Save The COPS Office Editorial and Graphics Style Manual: Guide for Authors. Pages 8–10 instruct how to place and create captions for figures, tables, and photos.
Appreciation to the Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services for showing us how to make our legal writing better and more inclusive, especially for those with low vision.
Now if we can just get courts to incorporate the same principles and expectations into their court rules and style guides!
Florida had tried through two vehicles: court rule and its accessible court filings webpage
Florida’s court rule generically requires:
Any document that is or will become a judicial branch record, as defined in rule 2.420(b)(1), and that is transmitted in an electronic form, as defined in rule 2.525, must be formatted in a manner that complies with all state and federal laws requiring that electronic judicial records be accessible to persons with disabilities, including without limitation the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 508 of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 as incorporated into Florida law by section 282.603(1), Florida Statutes (2010), and any related federal or state regulations or administrative rules.Fla. R. Gen. Prac. & Jud. Admin. 2.526
Florida’s “Accessible Court Filings” webpage more specifically lists that electronically filed documents MUST include:
2. Images and/or non-text elements must include alternative text (alt text) descriptions.
3. Charts and graphs must have either an alternative text description or provide a description in the text in the immediate proximity of the chart or graph.Florida Accessibility of Electronic Information and Information Technologies
[Something is better than nothing, but I bet we can use these examples to imagine ways to do it better!]