Accessible SVGs

Adam Bailey • November 9, 2021

accessibility learning


How to make sure screen readers process your SVG image.

What is an SVG?


Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) is an XML-based vector image format for two-dimensional graphics with support for interactivity and animation. The SVG specification is an open standard developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) since 1999.

SVGs allow for creative use of imagery and text which can be dynamic and animated. They are very popular for web pages which require the use of beautiful imagery to guide the user to certain areas, or direct attention to various elements.

Unfortunately, their use can leave a disabled person unable to read the page or understand where to direct their attention. With the proper accessibility standards applied, your site can help with screen readers or even basic navigation for certain individuals.

Testing accessibility

Of course each browser will have its own little quirks when rendering and determining accessibility. For the purpose of this article, I am using Chrome dev tools. You can find its "Accessibility" tab next to the "Style" tab, and it includes all the details necessary to ensure your HTML element is accessible.

SVG in an img element

If you are applying an SVG in the form of an image, it's fairly straightforward. Simply supply an alt attribute describing the use of the image:

1<img src="https://your.svg" alt="Descriptive text!">

Inline SVG

If your SVG is supplied as an <svg> element, it can get a little trickier based on the usage of the SVG.

When the SVG only has a <text> element within it, often this static (or dynamic) text can be enough to understand its purpose:

2 <text>This is pretty descriptive.</text>

The Chrome dev tools "Accessibility Tree" will end up looking something like StaticText "This is pretty descriptive.".

However, If your SVG includes some imagery along with your text, It can be helpful to include the role attribute, in order for the screen reader to know it is an image with text:

1<svg role="img">
2 <path d="blahblah.blah"></path>
3 <text>This is pretty descriptive.</text>

If your SVG does not have a <text> element, we still want to make sure its purpose can be understood by screen readers. For this we can generally use the aria-labelledby attribute along with a <title> and a <desc>:

1<svg role="img" aria-labelledby="title-1 description-1">
2 <title id="title-1">Image with coordinates!</title>
3 <desc id="description-1">This is a better description of the image.</desc>
4 <path d="blahblah.blah"></path>
5 <path d="coo.rdina.tes"></path>

For this, the Chrome dev tools "Accessibility Tree" will end up looking something like SvgRoot "Image with coordinates! This is a better description of the image.".


This is clearly a very high level explanation of how to handle only a couple examples of ways SVGs can be accessible on the web. There are many other situations to consider for people with disabilities, including never having excessively flashy animations, or avoiding long-running animations.

I hope this gives some people even the most basic understanding of what might be necessary to make sure your SVG images are accessible.

To dig deeper, check out the html element role mappings, as well as this very informative article by Carie Fisher.

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