WCAG Guideline 1.1.1 Non-text Content Explained

What is Non-Text Content?

Part of making a website ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant is ensuring all elements adhere to WCAG 2.1 guidelines. Level A Section 1.1.1 addresses accessibility and non-text content. Examples include any images on a site, charts, graphs, videos, audio and animation.

Non-disabled users take for granted their ability to see, hear and interpret all elements on a page. However, disabled users will not be able to enjoy the same experience if they have problems accessing any non-text content.

What is Non-Compliant Non-Text Content?

Most content that isn’t text or purely decorative must be interpreted in an alternative manner so disabled users who rely on assistive technology can navigate a page effectively. If the information for those elements is missing, that non-text content is inaccessible to them.

Here are three examples of non-compliant non-text content:

  1. A podcast that has no transcript of the audio. Without it, hearing-impaired users can’t share in the content being presented.
  2. Visually impaired users rely on screen readers to interpret any images on a page. If a page presents a promo code in an image and that code isn’t text on a page, it won’t be picked up by a screen reader unless there is an alt tag that provides the code.
  3. Colorblind users won’t be able to interpret charts and graphs that convey content exclusively through color-coding. Note that one of the most common types of colorblindness is not being able to distinguish red from green. So even if you spell out what the red or green bars represent, it won’t matter to users with this type of colorblindness.

Common Failures of 1.1.1 Non-Text Content

Some non-text content failures are more common than others. The following show up often, regardless of the type of website involved:

  • Missing alt tags in images – Images with no alt tags don’t allow visually impaired users to navigate a website like everyone else. If there are no alt tags, their screen readers can’t describe all elements on a page.
  • Using vague or inaccurate alt tags – Sometimes, the alt tag is so vague or wrong that there might as well be nothing there. Alt tags that read “image.jpg” or “photo of person” provide disabled users with little to no information.
  • Missing captions on a video – Captions help hearing-impaired people understand the content of a video. Even users who prefer reading instead of listening to content, of which there are many, benefit from captions unless of course, they’re missing.
  • Missing transcriptions of audio – WCAG Level A guidelines require audio transcripts for pre-recorded audio on a website. Live audio, however, doesn’t need to have a transcript.

Exceptions to 1.1.1 Non-Text Content

There are a few exceptions to 1.1.1 non-text content and accessibility. These include:


Captchas are tests that attempt to identify whether the user is human or not. It’s safe to say no one really likes them, but they’re particularly controversial within the disabled community for good reason. They often test a user visually or through audio. Captchas don’t need to be accessible, but WCAG guidelines do suggest:

  • Not using CAPTCHAs at all
  • Giving registered users direct access to a website
  • Having a customer service phone number for disabled users to call instead.


Certain tests aren’t valid if they’re made accessible. For instance, a hearing test can’t be made accessible.

Decorative elements

Elements that are used on a page purely for aesthetic reasons don’t need to be accessible. A decorative border along the top of a page made up of paintbrush strokes can be ignored by assistive technology.

Invisible content

Elements that are invisible to all users do not need to be compliant.

Content meant to provide a sensory experience

Certain types of music and art are meant to create a mood. These can be hard to verbalize. Examples include untitled instrumental music and some forms of visual art.

Does Your Website Fail Guideline 1.1.1 Non-Text?

If you want more information about auditing your website for accessibility compliance, we can help. Our in-depth website audits will uncover issues with the 1.1.1 guideline and all Level A and Level AA guidelines.

Visit our WCAG Audit service page for more information on how we can help your website become more accessible.

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