Throughout this chapter (and for the most part throughout this book), we've been talking about creating equivalent text alternatives for nontextual material such as images, sounds, video and animation, scripts and applets, and so on. It is not particularly difficult, technically speaking, to include these text alternatives, which work across many platforms and browsing devices as well as many assistive technology devices. WCAG 1.0 and the Section 508 standards share this emphasis on text. But before we leave this topic, it's worth thinking for a moment about situations when text might not be the answer.
Reading is difficult for many people. In some cases, the difficulty is due to a learning disability or other cognitive impairment. In many other cases, the reading difficulty arises from the fact that the natural language of the text is not the native language of the person reading it, who may well be in a different country than the author. Among the people whose native language may be different than that in which the page is written are many deaf people, whose native language is the national sign language of their native country. (This is especially true for people born deaf; late-deafened people are more likely to be comfortable with text and less likely to be fluent signers.) In some cases, there may be nonliterate people using your pages.
Supplementing text with graphical and auditory equivalents to facilitate comprehension is only a Priority 3 item (Checkpoint 14.2) in WCAG 1.0, and it's not even mentioned in Section 508. But where maximum accessibility is concerned, it's important not to limit ourselves to thinking only in terms of text as the alternative to images and sounds. Meeting the needs of all our users may mean including visual and auditory material as equivalent alternatives for text.
This might mean different things in different places. For example, it might mean not replacing a graphical representation with text but instead providing both graphical and textual versions. In other cases, it might mean adding illustrations, appropriately captioned or transcribed audio explanations, or described animations of complex concepts and processes. This is yet another way in which it's important to remember that a commitment to accessibility doesn't mean giving up multimedia. On the contrary, you can create accessible multimedia and use it to provide accessibility!