Closing the gap between image content accessibility and experience


This is the content of my 2020 dissertation submitted to the MSc User Experience Design. It was graded poorly, which I think reflects the struggle to write it part-time and through the personal and professional trauma experienced during the Covid-19 outbreak.

And it remains relevant.

The study aimed to create a comparable user experience of cartoon and infographic images. It uncovers more than one reason why in 2020 and on the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disability Act (1990), we may still fail to provide an equitable user experience of visual content for screen reader users.

A slice of our industry’s ableism and visual-first education and economy is revealed: the enablement of visual design to omit accessible practice. By example, 50 websites featuring cartoons are found inaccessible to screen readers. Image accessibility is meant to be the most simple part of inclusive design!

  • Perhaps the W3C‘s Alt Decision Tree is too complex for design practioners working without knowledge of HTML engineering?
  • Maybe the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are less content focussed, too engineering focussed, or only too difficult to follow and to test?
  • Has User Experience design become so saturated by visual design bias that practioners simply don’t know how to make content accessible at the engineered level?

I had an agenda to improve the inclusive UX of a cartoon strip or infographic. It should have been simple. It wasn’t. Here’s the dissertation with warts and all.

Note. The layout is modified in places for digital presentation and improved readability for screens in places. 


This study’s focus is on the inclusive user experience (UX) and access of what the BBC (2017) Mobile Accessibility Guidelines label the image’s editorial intent.

Accessibility is a basic human right: online content must be designed inclusively (United Nations in Nomensa, 2006, p.8; European Commission, 2015). Images add to the visual experience while excluding people using Assistive Browsing Technologies (ABT) (Pickering, 2016a; Smith, 2016).

Ableist approaches to UX creates discriminatory barriers (Boudreau, 2018; Noury, 2018). Inclusive design enables access in different scenarios (Chen, 2019). Alternative text attributes are the simplest accessibility recommendation to apply (Sydik, 2007), and a litmus test of attitudes toward accessibility (McEwan & Weerts, 2007).

Within this study, an analysis of 50 webpages featuring cartoons found alternative image content strategies ineffective in 49.

This study’s design and engineering of two inclusive image content strategies perform better. User testing emulates the experience of screen reader users for visual users. Participants visit webpages that conform to most accessibility guidelines and where their images fail to display. Participants’ performance and perceptions of accessibility and UX are improved significantly by up to 300% before images are made available.

Apple’s VoiceOver becomes an essential persona and collaborates in a content-first approach that closes the gap between ableist visual design and effective engineering identified by Pickering. The inclusive strategies, formed from between-the-lines guidelines and available technologies, enable the creativity of designers and the wider team to be experienced by the widest range of users possible – as legislation and guidelines intend.

In agreement with Horton and Quesenbury, (2013), Pickering, (2016a), and Sydik, (2007) this study concludes that designers are not required to be engineers and must lead the inclusive UX design of web-based technologies.

Key Words

  • Accessibility
  • Design
  • Editorial intent
  • Experience
  • Image
  • Inclusive

Research Question

Can the editorial intent of complex cartoon and infographic images be communicated accessibly within an inclusive user experience?


This project hypothesises a gap between accessibility (research, guidelines, and education) and the inclusive design required for image contents to meet the needs of all users.