What are Alt Text, Long Descriptions and Decorative Imagery?

What is alt text?

Alternative Text (alt text) is a short text description that can be digitally attached to figures or images to convey to readers the nature or contents of the image. It is used by systems such as pronouncing screen readers to make the object accessible to people that cannot read or see the object due to a visual impairment or print disability.

All figures in Taylor and Francis publications require an alt text description (unless they are purely decorative, which is generally discouraged). This includes visual resources hosted in instructor resources, image banks, companion website downloads and author-hosted websites (all websites should be fully accessible in line with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines).

Video and audio content will require the equivalent for alt text, which is at the very minimum, a transcript. You can read more about creating transcripts on the W3C website.

Why is alt text so important?

Alt text is a key aspect of accessible publishing and its inclusion in our content ensures Taylor and Francis meets its key moral, ethical and legal obligations to customers by recognizing their challenges and responding appropriately to their needs. A digital “accessible” text is one that provides equal opportunity to all readers, including those with visual or print impairments. Taylor & Francis is committed to the supply of accessible content, ensuring as many readers as possible have access to the content we publish. Alt text is also beneficial to search engine optimization as the alt text is indexed by companies like Amazon and Google. Implementing alt text will ensure your titles reach the top of these search results.

Alt text will improve customer experience, but there are also legal challenges which require publishers to create more accessible products and services. European Union Member States will have to adopt and publish the laws, regulations and administrative provisions necessary to comply with the European Accessibility Act by 28 June 2022. Member States will then have to apply the measures from 28 June 2025.

Therefore, if Taylor and Francis sell any eBook after 28 June 2025 then that eBook must comply with the accessibility requirements of the Act, even if it the eBook was created before 28 June 2025. We will be unable to retrospectively create alt text for all of our 150,000 backlist eBooks, plus cater to new titles requiring alt text creation. If your title does not contain alt text now, and you expect it to still be in print in 2025, we may be unable to sell it into the European Union from that point forward.

In the United States, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (Americans with Disabilities Act) protects the rights and interests of customers. Under Section 508, agencies must give disabled employees and members of the public access to information comparable to the access available to others. US-based universities cannot receive federal funding unless the titles they adopt are ADA-compliant, so ensuring your book is accessible is one way to safeguard your title for adoptions.

What are Long Descriptions?

Long descriptions are needed for information dense images where alternative text cannot adequately describe the details within 100 words. Long descriptions can be as verbose as needed and may include other methods of presenting information such as tables, equations, and lists. This makes it easier to organize very complex descriptions for the reader. You can view some of our Long Description examples in the Medicine subject category within this site.

What is Decorative Imagery?

  • Alt text and Long Descriptions are not required for purely decorative imagery.
  • Purely decorative images include visual enhancements, decorations, or embellishments that convey no useful meaning or information to the reader and exist only to provide an element of visual interest within a book. Examples include the use of thumbnail images, border flourishes, or special images used in place of bullet points in a list. Taylor and Francis discourages the inclusion of purely decorative imagery, unless agreed in advance with your Editorial team. These images do not require Alt Text submission. Instead, the decorative images should be marked as 'decorative' in the Alt Text submission file so that assistive technology screen readers skip over them.
  • Further to this, there may be cases where the caption or surrounding text describes an image or figure completely. This is not standard, as most images will require a caption and Alt Text at least. A caption my contain a brief explanation or a substantial piece of text running over one or more paragraphs accompanying the image. Where the caption does describe the image or figure sufficiently to convey the meaning to the reader, the image can be considered 'caption-sufficient'. In these cases, Alt Text will not be required and the image should be marked 'decorative' in the Alt Text submission file.