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Re: The alt="" attribute

From: Matt Morgan-May <mattmay@adobe.com>
Date: Tue, 26 Aug 2008 12:59:48 -0700
To: Ian Hickson <ian@hixie.ch>, <public-html@w3.org>
Message-ID: <C4D9AEC4.D5F1%mattmay@adobe.com>

I will agree with Steve that the current whatwg.org draft text is actually
very good on @alt, _until_ it gets to the latest proposal text.

On 8/26/08 1:17 AM, "Ian Hickson" <ian@hixie.ch> wrote:
> There has also been disagreement about exactly to
> what extent we should allow people to write Web pages when making them
> perfectly accessible would be what they consider undue effort.

There is no "perfect" accessibility. At some point, at some level, to some
group of people, a message will fail to be communicated. And, as I have
said, all forms of refactoring existing content degrades the message
somewhat. Framing the debate as what is required for "perfect"
accessibility, then, is consigning it to failure.

> Are there cases where the image is lacking good alt text that wouldn't be
> covered by one of the following?:
>  - title="" attribute on the <img> itself
>  - <legend> of the <figure> that contains the <img>
>  - heading of the section that contains the <img>
> F. We could say that for these "key content without alt text" cases, we
> have the alt="" attribute omitted, but there must be at least one of the
> above, and the first of the above that is present must include sufficient
> information to orient the user.

Doesn't this seriously complicate validation? How would this requirement be
expressed in a DTD, or RELAX NG, or Schema? And if it's inexpressible, or
difficult to parse, then isn't it just dancing around the core message that
@alt is optional?

It also breaks existing assistive technology, which (rightly, still) treats
missing @alt as failure.

> On Mon, 18 Aug 2008, David Poehlman wrote:
>> accessibility is right not privilige.
> Nope, sorry, accessibility is a privilege. Indeed, _not_ providing
> accessible markup is a human right (freedom of opinion and expression,
> UDHR article 19).

You're quoting a 60-year-old document with only theoretical relevance. And
anyway, my reading of article 19 (which includes the right to _receive_
information) contradicts yours.

The UK Disability Discrimination Act, the Australian Disability
Discrimination Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act _do_ establish
access to information, among other things, as a right. In numerous and often
mystifying ways, the EU and its member states are also more or less in
agreement on this.

If you want to get the lawyers involved, I can find some who will be happy
to correct you in explicit detail. But I will say that you are seriously out
of your depth here. You're a smart guy, but that doesn't afford you the
ability to determine what is and what is not a human right.

> On Fri, 22 Aug 2008, Al Gilman wrote:
>> If the agent putting the markup together really doesn't have a clue (not
>> the Flickr case) then I don't really have a problem with it being absent
>> and non-conforming.
> By definition if it is non-conforming we are saying we have a problem with
> it. Sites aren't allowed to make non-conforming pages, that's what
> conformance means.

I'm not sure by what authority you'll ensure that sites won't make
non-conforming pages. They're free to ignore the spec and any other guidance
that goes along with it. After all, it's not like Yahoo is coming to the
HTML WG pleading for some way to make Flickr compliant.

And so far, for all this hand-wringing, I see nothing in all these proposals
that would give them any more security than what is in HTML 4.01, WCAG 1 and
ATAG 1. After all these attempts to change the state of alternate content at
the language level, I don't see how the current proposal improves the state
of things.

> When a restaurant has a picture hanging on the
> wall, do you require the restaurant to describe the image to you, or is
> the image of no consequence to you?

As has been mentioned before, comparisons to the physical world are quite
often irrelevant. There has been a lot of work done over the decades on
talking signs, for example, using directional RF and specialized receivers,
but the infrastructure required to make it universal is prohibitively
expensive -- in the trillions of dollars, at least. The cost of putting @alt
on an img, by comparison, in infinitesimal. There is always a cost-benefit
analysis done on accessibility work, and in this case, at least, it is
absolutely clear-cut. Adding @alt is one of the simplest and cheapest
accessibility remedies, ever.

> If people do want to do actual research here, I would love to see more
> usability study videos of blind users using the Web without guidance, to
> see how they actually interact with images. I think that that is the level
> of research we need to really make more informed decisions.

The plural of "anecdote" is not "data". I've run numerous usability tests,
and they can help an organization make good guesses about what they should
do next. But they're just guesses. I wouldn't use the results of usability
testing or focus group-style polling to settle a bar bet, much less a
specification debate.

Received on Tuesday, 26 August 2008 20:00:39 UTC

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