Complex Images

Most images can be made accessible using using alternative (alt) text descriptions. But more complex images require more description than the limited one or two brief sentences that may be used in the image alternative text attribute.

Text-based Description

Listed below are techniques on how to provide additional description to complex images (including graphs, maps, diagrams and charts.) 

What information should you include or exclude from alternative text descriptions? See the DIAGRAM Center's alt text resource.

Use a caption

For Web Pages: Your caption must be associated with the image, so make sure to properly add a caption using the 'figcaption' html tag. (Requires HTML editing.) Example code:

<figure> <img src="johnson-birthplace.jpg" alt="" width="400" height="290" /> <figcaption> <em>Karen at President Lyndon B. Johnson’s reconstructed birthplace <br /> in Stonewall, TX</em> </figcaption> </figure>

See video on how a screen reader reads a caption

For MS Word and PowerPoint: Right clicking on the image and select Add Caption.

Describe the image in surrounding text

If it is adequately described in surrounding text (including text-based tables), just add a short alt text label or description, so it's clear what the image is and the student can correlate the image with the description.

With HTML based images, you can provide further clarification by using the aria-describedby property to tie that description to the image. (Requires HTML editing.) Example code: 

<img src="johnson-birthplace.jpg" width="400" height="290" alt="Karen at President Lyndon B. Johnson’s birthplace" aria-describedby="johnson-birthplace" />

See this example of a screen reader reading the surrounding text and how to use the aria-describedby property.

Link to a webpage with a long description

If the image cannot be adequately described in one or two brief sentences of alt. text, and it cannot be described sufficiently in the surrounding text, use the 'longdesc' attribute. Requires HTML editing. Example code: 

<img src="johnson-birthplace.jpg" alt="Karen at President Lyndon B. Johnson’s reconstructed birthplace in Stonewall, TX" longdesc="" width="400" height="290" />

Here's a video on how a screen reader reads a long descriptions.


Description Resources

Tactile Representations

Sometimes touching a model or a tactile graphic is the best way to describe something.

Tactile graphics

Tactile graphics have different sized raised dots to show variation in graphs, charts and maps. The American Publishing House for the Blind has a tactile image library where you can purchase tactile images. The Adaptive Technolgoy Center can help you create tactile graphics for your courses. Please contact them at or 615-904-8550 for more information.

Indicate if a model is available

If you know where a 3D model of the image is available, indicate that in your image caption or on the same page as the image. The Adaptive Technolgoy Center can help you create 3D figures for your courses. Please contact them at or 615-904-8550 for more information.

Audible Representations

Sounds can sometimes be used to differentiate variation in slope.

  • Desmos: This is an exciting tool that provides accessible and audible graphing tools.
  • MathTrax: a graphing tool that works with screen readers.
  • IVEO: tactile graphics with audio description
    • Please contact the Adaptive Technolgoy Center at for more information.

Additional Resources

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Information for this page was adapted from PCC's website and is based on the Creative Commons license.