Usage of `alt` attribute and text descriptions when using img elements
4 min read
A few days ago, I was reading some accessibility guidelines regarding the usage of images in web applications, and I learned a few interesting things which I wanted to share with all of you.
But before we jump to the topic, I must say that the more I read about accessibility, the more I am convinced that
accessibility is not an option, it is imperative.
As the famous saying goes:
A picture is worth a thousand words
But there are people who will need those thousand words because they can't see the picture partially or completely.
We all know that images are a core part of every web application, but oftentimes, images are not made accessible which may affect a lot of users of your application.
For most cases, making images accessible is pretty simple
While using images in our web applications, generally we don't realize that images fall into certain categories/types based on the use cases, and we should handle each use case differently.
Types of Images
The following are the most commonly known types of images used in web applications.
Let's take a look at each of these types briefly and how to make images accessible in each use case.
These are the images that represent a concept or a piece of product information, e.g., pictures of people or places, or illustrations.
For such images, the
alt text must be descriptive enough to explain the image completely.
Please take time for this and write a proper description for users that use screen readers or assistive technologies, to understand the context.
These are the images that are only used to add visual decoration. They don't convey any information and they are not required to understand the page, e.g., icons, styling elements, images with adjacent descriptions.
alt="" for such images.
🚫 DO NOT omit
alt attribute in any case.
Sometimes we use images as links or buttons. These are called functional images.
alt text for these images should properly explain the functionality, e.g., "Click to submit the form" or "Click to open abc[dot]com in new window".
There are situations where a group of images is used to represent one piece of information, e.g., a star rating where a few star icons are used to represent a rating.
In such cases, set the
alt text of the first image to describe the entire collection and set
alt="" for the rest of the items.
Ideally, we should NOT use readable text in images. This is similar to the
Informative use case, but more text content in the image.
But some use cases are pretty common where we present text as images, e.g., logos and article banners.
For logos, the
alt text should be the name of the organization or product that the logo represents.
For use cases like banners, the
alt text of the image should contain the exact text as that of the image.
6. Image Map
If you decide to use an image map, which means a single image divided by using multiple clickable
area elements, you should make sure that the main image has a descriptive
alt text that explains the overall context, and then each
area should have its own descriptive alt text.
These are the most tricky type of images. Graphs, charts, diagrams, bigger illustrations, maps are all examples of complex images.
You will need 2 pieces of description for such images, one summarized and the other detailed.
Let's see the options we have.
alt text with summary and use the
aria-describedby attribute to point to an element with detailed information.
alt text with summary and use the
longdesc attribute to point to a URI or section of a page with detailed information.
figure element with
role="group" to wrap the image and use a nested
figcaption element to list down all the details.
alt text with summary and add a link to complete description or actual description beside the image, based on the situation.
Last but not least, DO NOT use words like "image", "photo" or "picture" in the alt text, e.g.,
image of a dog. The screen readers will infer the
<img> and read something like "image image of a dog". This is definitely NOT what your user will like.
As seen in all of the above use cases, there is absolutely no way that we can omit the
alt text. In fact, we must use it with proper and meaningful descriptions.
I hope you enjoyed this quick tip and learned something. I would love to hear your valuable feedback.