Determining Whether an Image or Icon is Decorative

Visual Inspection

  1. Remove the image/icon from the content
  2. Does the content convey the same meaning without seeing the image/icon?

Using a Screen Reader

  1. Close your eyes
  2. Use the arrow keys to navigate through the content
  3. Does the content convey the same meaning without hearing a description of the image/icon?
    • If you answered Yes to either of these questions, then your image/icon is decorative. Alternative text is not required.
    • If you answered No, then you must consider creating alternative text or a meaningful label for the image/icon.

Taking It One Step Further

  • Even if you answered “yes” to the question of whether the image is decorative, you may be missing out on an opportunity. If you are working with or are in fact a diligent designer, you are including images that convey a distinct message or convey a mood. If your image falls into this category, please consider the intention of the image. Many times, content producers who are new to this type of work will merely describe the literal composition of an image, and though this may meet the technical requirement, it misses the purpose of providing the descriptions.

Potential Alternative Text for this Seemingly Decorative Image

  • “Our new enhanced checking account will take you to the top of your goals and beyond.”


  • Though it has been said, “A picture is worth a thousand words…”, this may be only true in context. For most of us, we’re reading hundreds of these descriptions daily, and conciseness improves our understanding and helps us to be more productive. Generally, use under ten (10) words. If you feel that the description needs ore detail, you may need to consider using a long description element or an alternative technique for providing the detailed information.

Wrapping Up

  • Images can be considered decorative or meaningful to people with disabilities.
  • When an image is decorative, we can hide it from assistive technology like screen readers
  • When an image is meaningful, we can add alternative text to the image tag to provide descriptions that add context
  • Though an image may be considered technically decorative, adding a description may enhance the experience for users navigating with assistive technology like screen readers
  • In writing your description,, consider the intention of an image over the literal composition
  • Writing efficient descriptions can greatly enhance the experience for an assistive technology user

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