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Skin Tone, Gender and Age

Only describe Skin Tone, Gender and/or Age if it is important for the reader to know in the context of the image. This is an extra detail and does not go into the first sentence of the image. The first sentence summarizes the image, and each additional sentence drills down to more detail.

Skin Tone

We as humans tend to shy away from discussing ethnicity, race, gender, disability, and age for fear that we would misjudge and use the wrong language. Remember, that whether you want to or not, you can immediately see these characteristics when you look at a photo. This is information that people with print disabilities should get as well so that readers can make their own interpretations.

In order to be objective, we suggest using the following terminology to describe skin tone:

  • Light Skin Tone
  • Medium-Light Skin Tone
  • Medium Skin Tone
  • Medium-Dark Skin Tone
  • Dark Skin Tone

This is the same system that is used to label emojis with different skin tones. You can also use terms such as Black, White, Asian, Middle Eastern, etc. but only if it can be determined in the surrounding text.

The above image is a good visual guide to help you see the difference. Starting from the left it goes from light, to medium-light, to medium, to medium-dark, to dark. Remember if it is clear in the book what ethnicity they are you can use it, but only if it is clearly stated.

This technique is based off of the emoji system. So someone with light skin would be pale (or white), someone with medium-light would be light brown/golden skin tone, and then it gets deeper brown as you go down the list. If the person is clearly identifiable as a light skin tone (i.e. white) with a tan, do not describe them as medium-light or medium skin tone. Describe them as having a light skin tone with a tan. When in doubt ask on the Alt-text Q&A
If it is a book that clearly has all one skin tone, for example a book about Russians and everyone is white, you can put in a Producer's Note that states that everyone photographed in the book has a light skin tone unless otherwise stated (or whatever skin tone applies). If there is a variation, then describe the variation. This should help cut down on some repetition
If you have any questions, post your question on the Alt-Text Q&A


You can identify the subject as male or female, man or woman, only if it can be clearly identified. Try to describe the physical characteristics and avoid using the terms “masculine” or “feminine” since it is more interpretive than descriptive. There is a delicate balance to strike between inclusive language and robust description; do your best, and ask for opinions from others if you need to.

If you have any questions, post your question on the Alt-Text Q&A


Avoid describing age by prescribing a number or the decade because someone could appear young, but actually is in their fifties. Instead, use terms such as:

  • baby
  • toddler
  • teen
  • adult
  • middle-aged
  • young
  • old, etc.
When it is not clear the age of a person, write appears. For example, the man appears to be middle-aged. or the girl appears to be a teenager or young adult. It is okay to be a little more subjective here if it is not clear.
For examples, see Examples: Skin tone, Gender, and Age
If you have any questions, post your question on the Alt-Text Q&A

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public/nnels/etext/images/skin_tone_gender_and_age.txt · Last modified: 2022/10/17 13:29 by rachel.osolen