What is Non-Text Content?

Published August 10, 2022

Most websites are designed to be visually appealing and provide a user experience delivered through sight.

It's estimated that 285 million people live with blindness or visual impairment.

Without assistance, your site is inaccessible to this group of consumers.

Assistive technology resources are prevalent for people with low vision or blindness to help navigate technology - including your website and digital documents. Assistive technology such as screen readers must be able to read and therefore "translate" pictures into words that it can speak to the user.

In order for this to occur, all non-text content on your site or in your documents must have alternative text (alt-text).

Non-text Content Criteria

Non-text content criterion falls under “Guideline 1.1 Text Alternatives” and is Level A criteria under Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the lowest level of accessibility compliance. 

Criterion 1.1.1 requires that websites make information conveyed by non-text content accessible through a text alternative. 

“Non-text content” means anything on the site that isn’t text; generally images, videos, audio, charts, maps, and other content that requires interpretation but would not be read aloud by a screenreader looking for text. 

This criterion asks site developers to provide “text alternatives,” commonly referred to as alt-text or image descriptions for any site's visual elements like pictures or videos.

Non-text Accessibility

When assistive technology interprets a block of code, it uses preprogrammed rules to validate the code and convey the information to the user. In the absence of context given in a text format, assistive technology cannot correctly interpret images, buttons, charts, or video and audio content.

Any alt text offered should “serve the equivalent purpose” of the original content. This means that the alt text provided to describe the image or video should give a non-sighted user the equivalent experience of a sighted user. Imagine standing next to a blind person in an art museum. The alternative text is how you would describe what you are seeing to that person.

For example, you wouldn't just describe it as a "painting". You would describe the painting in detail so that the non-sighted individual can understand exactly what is in front of them. The same holds true for your digital content. "Image" is insufficient as alt-text. You must concisely describe what is in the image.

Captioning videos, providing audio descriptions as needed, including a text transcript of audio and video content, adding alternative text to images, and providing names for users' controls and input are all examples of non-text content. 

Processes intended to confirm that a user is a human by relying on images or sounds, like CAPTCHA tests, are also included in this criteria. If using a CAPTCHA test on a website, ensure that there is an alternative audio option.

There are exceptions to the non-text rule, such as decorative content like a graphic divider added for visual purposes. In these instances, the non-text imagery does not need an alternative description.

In conclusion

Users need to know what they are trying to understand on the page. Assistive technology can read text aloud, present it visually, or convert it to braille.

Websites should not exclude information that images, videos, audio, and buttons convey from people with visual or hearing impairments. Additionally, text alternatives support the ability to search for non-text content and repurpose content in various ways, making the content more search engine friendly.

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