Why WCAG 2.0 Encourages Use of Images to Replace Text

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0

At level AA of WCAG 2.0 it has become much easier than WCAG 1.0 to justify the use of images instead of text (at level AAA they are prohibited though).  The following is quoted from the WCAG 2.0 Quick Reference :

Images of Text:

1.4.5 If the technologies being used can achieve the visual presentation, text is used to convey information rather than images of text except for the following: (Level AA)Understanding Success Criterion 1.4.5

  • Customizable: The image of text can be visually customized to the user’s requirements;
  • Essential: A particular presentation of text is essential to the information being conveyed.

Note: Logotypes (text that is part of a logo or brand name) are considered essential.

It sounds like there are only a few exceptional circumstances where images of text are allowed, sensibly including logotypes. Actually, the guidelines do become very liberal here though and the word essential can mean almost anything you like, including circumstances where a font the developer wants to use isn’t available. Whilst that is good from a freedom of design expression point of view, it does mean that anything outside the dozen or so fonts that are generally available on most operating systems is allowed to be used by replacing text with an image of text. It could be justified because the developer doesn’t have permission to use the font other than within images (perhaps an antisocial behaviour order (ASBO in the UK) prevents them!). Then to top it all, a developer can use text within an image if they aren’t sure that browsers will antialias the font correctly.

Difficulties in Accessibility Testing

In terms of accessibility testing, the only time I can fail a page against this checkpoint is if I can be reasonably sure that an image contains text using a standard widely available system font (very difficult to prove objectively).

The checkpoint seems to have become so watered down (possibly as a result of the length og time it took for WCAG 2.0 to be agreed) that it doesn’t seem worth having it at all (not at level AA anyway).

Please Comment

  • Is this so important in the grand scheme of things?
  • Are images of text fine so long as there are text equivalents?
  • What do you think?

Please comment here and keep the conversation going.

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5 Comments

  1. Posted May 30, 2010 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

    I agree with your central point. If I understand correctly, you are saying that this is mostly a redundant checkpoint that is seldom used because “essential” is difficult to measure. But I am not sure I would take the next step, that WCAG2 “encourages” the use of images of text. There is still a trade off here.

    People with low vision, for example, comprise a large percentage of people with visual impairments. While equivalent alt text is an elegant solution for blind users, mobile users and others who entirely remove or bypass images, for those with low vision there can still be issues with images of text. I believe the intent of this checkpoint is just that – a checkpoint, an invitation to consider that text is still the most easily personalized and reconfigured means to convey information. There are, as you noted, some good reasons to choose images over text, but I guess I would say that if WCAG2 is encouraging anything it is to think twice about it.

  2. Posted June 3, 2010 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    What I am trying to say is that WCAG2 is wrongly encouraging use of images of text. It is doing this passively rather than actively. By allowing too many exceptions it is far too easy to ignore this checkpoint for the wrong reasons. I prefer antialiased text but I wouldn’t be justified in replacing text with an image of it purely because I could then guarantee it would appear the same in all browsers.

  3. Posted July 12, 2010 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    Richard,
    That WCAG 2.0 checkpoint is acceptable. In special case, I think, users with cognitive disabilities are more easy to learn education comic-style rather than full text page.

  4. Posted September 11, 2010 at 12:18 am | Permalink

    I couldn’t agree more. Its guidelines/checkpoints like this in WCAG2 which are so vague in their language used, and thereby so open to interpretation in multiple contradictory ways, which is if anything undermining the standing of the guidelines themselves. Of course, beyond that it does just seem to be advocating replacing text with images of text, which is just a nightware for so many aspects of adaptive technology. Not only blind, but dyslexia and its important to remember that true enough most ‘blind’ people are visually impaired, but a huge proportion of them will use speech, whether to co-exist with magnification or just on its own..
    I’ve become increasingly of a mind to just pick those bits of WCAG2 which add* to WCAG1 and use this hybrid combination of the two to attempt to make some sense of the badly drawn up 2.0 guidelines.

  5. Posted June 14, 2013 at 2:44 am | Permalink

    A case in point I can share is our project creating a Drupal based WCAG 2.0 (AA) level site with form input type=”text” and suffix’d descriptions – in Drupal 7 FAPI – '#description' => ('info', 'http://www.example.com'),. For the output is
    Estimated income *

    info
    . The UI required an ‘i’ for information icon be used adjacent to each input field and this was another case where visual (img) replacement of the ‘info’ text inside the was a valid treatment.

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