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Long Descriptions accessibility options

The debate over the longdesc attribute has raged for years. It was introduced as an alternative to the “D” link strategy, which was the letter D in an anchor tag beside the image with a link to a long description on a separate page. (Probably only the oldest of us in this industry remember this). The longdesc attribute was never well implemented in the mainstream, and browser support and AT support  was inconsistent. It was deprecated in HTML5 but a void existed for a viable replacement and WCAG still required a long description be provided for complex images. Subsequently, the longdesc attribute was resurrected as a W3C extension, and as of this writing it is waiting on a decision about whether it will proceed with a formal objection against it from a major vendor. We will not enter into the longdesc debate, but rather look at options that are available to meet the WCAG requirements for long descriptions.  Contenders are:

  • Simple link on page to a long description (5 Votes)
  • In page descriptions referred to in the image alt, (1 Vote)
  • The html5 figure element wrapped around the image and it’s long description (0 Votes)
  • Expandable collapsible link used to hide the description on the page. (20 Votes -Winner)
  • Longdesc (0 Votes)


Feel free to comment on Twitter @davidmacd

Author information:

David MacDonald is a veteran WCAG member, co-editor of Using WAI ARIA in HTML5 and HTML5 Accessibility Task Force Member. Opinions are my own.


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