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Digital Accessibility

Decorative Images

In the rare instance where an image adds absolutely no additional information to the screen's content, you can mark it as "decorative" and skip writing alt text.

When can you skip writing alt text?

There are only two situations where an image can be considered decorative and therefore not need alt text.

1. The image provides no important information or context.

If an image conveys absolutely no important information necessary for the user to understand the page content, it can be considered decorative because its only function is to enhance the appearance of the page.

2. The information in the image is repeated nearby on the page.

If the exact information communicated by the image is available in an accessible, easily found format nearby on the same screen, it can be considered decorative because it provides no new information and would be redundant to include.

These instances are RARE. You will almost never have an image that does not need alt text. When in doubt, it's always better to give more information than not enough.

Stock Photos

Stock photos are not automatically decorative. You will need to write the alt text yourself for any stock photos that do not already have it.

Finding Images with Pre-Written Alt Text

Some royalty-free stock photo sites provide pre-written alt text. You will still need to check that the alt text is accurate and descriptive before using it. 

Unsplash in particular does a good job providing ready-to-go alt text for images.

Is your image also a link?

If your image is a link, it cannot be marked as decorative. You'll need to follow the practices for linked images instead.
Linked Image Instructions »

What to Do with Decorative Images

Just because an image doesn't need alt text written, it does not mean you can publish the image and do nothing else. You still need to mark the image as "decorative" so screen readers know to skip the image when reading out page content. 

Platform-Specific Instructions

The way you'll mark alt text as decorative varies depending on the tool or platform you're using to publish digital content.


Google Docs & Apps

Google does not currently support marking images as decorative. You should write alt text for each image you share via a Google app, even if you would normally mark it as decorative.


Example: Image Used Only for Decoration

  • A linked header says Scholarly Communication followed by a short description: Find support for the creation, evaluation, dissemination of your research and other scholarly works in both traditional and emerging formats. A decorative image to the left shows white gear-like shapes on a blue background, adding no additional information or context to the content.
    This abstract image with a blue background and white hexagonal shapes does not provide any visual information that will help someone understand the content. Since the image is only next to a link and is not a link itself, it can be safely marked as decorative.

Example: Text Repeated on Screen Near Image

  • A banner with the text “Oktoberbest 2019” and the subtext “A Celebration of Teaching” is followed by a heading that includes that text and subtext, as well as a paragraph that lists the full title of the event, the date, and other relevant information, making the image decorative.

    Although this Oktoberfest banner image conveys text that a screen reader cannot recognize, it does not need alt text because that same information is available right next to the image on the screen. Text on the page repeats "Oktoberfest: A Celebration of Teaching" and its date in 2019. It can safely be marked as decorative. 

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