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Digital images that are displayed on the web are not natively accessible to people who have vision disabilities. To remedy this, images that contain important, non-decorative information must be sent to users’ browsers with an accompanying text-based alternative that describes what is presented visually. Although Alternative Text is not displayed on a user’s screen, it can be accessed and read aloud by screen reading software, which is often used by people with vision disabilities.
While alternative text is one of the simpler accessibility concepts, writing effective, descriptive, and concise alt text can be a difficult skill to master. The correct approach depends on multiple factors: the complexity of the image presented, the context in which the image is presented, and the type of image that is displayed. Alternative text is appropriate for photographs, icons, and most other common image types.
Images that are purely decorative and do not provide any meaningful content do not need to have alternative text added. The alt text entry box (more info below) for decorative images should be left blank.
The WordPress Content Management System provides a straightforward method of checking for and adding alt text to images. When an image block is added to a page, and the image is selected, a text entry field labeled “Alt text (alternative text)” will be available under the “Image settings” dropdown of the “block” tab in the right sidebar. Right sidebar → Image settings → Alt text entry field.
In the following example, the image has alt text reading “Professor Steve Sheehy instructing students in the Computer Science Lab”
Once the image is added to the page, a content manager must:
Complex images such as charts, graphs, and maps can be significant hurdles when writing alternative text. Often, a suitable description of the information provided in the graph or image will not fit into 125 characters. In this case it is necessary to provide a short alt text describing the purpose of the image, and also a description of the content of the image elsewhere on the page. This best practice provides equal access to all users, including those who can see but may not fully understand the complex information in the image.
For complex images, content managers have two options:
For the example below, we would include alt text stating: “Worldwide browser market share in 2021” as well as a caption reading: “A pie chart showing the worldwide market share for web browsers in 2021. Chrome is used by 64.04% of web users, Safari by 19.23%, Edge by 4.19%, and Firefox by 3.9% of users. 8.64% of people browsing the internet use a browser that is not included in this list.”
Images of text should be avoided whenever possible. There are several reasons for this:
If using an image of text is absolutely necessary, content managers must ensure that the text either:
The only exception to this rule is logos, which often include text and images together. Logos can either be noted as decorative (no alt text), or the alt text can say that the image is a logo, e.g., “Eastern Oregon University Logo”.
Content managers must manually verify that there are no images of text on pages. If an image with text is found that cannot be removed, ensure that the text either: