W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > public-html@w3.org > July 2010

RE: Change proposals for ISSUE-31 and ISSUE-80

From: John Foliot <jfoliot@stanford.edu>
Date: Wed, 21 Jul 2010 13:59:51 -0700 (PDT)
To: "'Aryeh Gregor'" <Simetrical+w3c@gmail.com>, "'Jonas Sicking'" <jonas@sicking.cc>
Cc: <public-html@w3.org>
Message-ID: <01e401cb2917$a82a1d30$f87e5790$@edu>
Aryeh Gregor wrote:
> In what sense is alt so successful?  It's true that a lot of websites
> specify alt text, but in my experience, it's rarely any good.

Which of course begs the question, what is your experience?

I don't ask to be malicious or antagonistic, but if you are like most 
sighted users, you likely don't think about alt text as part of your daily 
surfing experience, as you are seeing the image instead. Equally important 
is that it is *your* experience, which we all know can never be assumed to 
be *the* experience or even the predominant experience: it is the aggregated 
experience that we must glean facts and trends from.

Since alt text primarily (but not exclusively) benefits the users of screen 
reading technology, it would be a logical next step to also suggest that 
users from that user-group would likely have a more realistic assessment of 
'experience' than those who do not use AT on a daily basis. Is that a fair 
statement? If yes, and you are not yourself a member of that community, then 
your experience would likely be less informed than those who do use AT 
daily. This is not to judge your experience, but to put it in perspective.

Also, we need to factor in the types of content you are accessing: somehow 
Aryeh I don't envision you as a daily user of Yahoo!'s homepage - instead, I 
suspect that your web surfing is as much influenced by your work (and strong 
association to the tech industry) and perhaps to your personal hobbies and 
outside pursuits. With billions of web pages out there, I suspect that your 
personal sample rate and selection is also going to be biased.

> In
> fact, most alt text I see is probably no better than just the
> filename, which could be added automatically by the screen reader.  It
> seems to me that authors who use alt text overwhelmingly do so just to
> shut up validators, and I can't see how this helps anyone.

Again, this observation is based upon what exactly? While it might seem this 
way to you, how does it relate to other's experiences? It is by its very 
nature a biased observation - likely relevant, but certainly not universal. 
I suspect that it also does not take into account the long-tail factor of 
accessibility education: 10+ years into WAI/WCAG we are *still* teaching 
people about what makes good alt text. It's actually harder than one thinks, 
as it requires stepping outside of a box many people are unaware even 
exists: they cannot imagine what it is like to rely exclusively on alt text, 
and so getting to that mind-space is difficult (and sadly, a problem that 
cannot be solved using technology alone). The very real problem is one of 
quality, which is something that must originate from the author, and must be 

> It's a
> clear case of hidden metadata.

You state that like's a bad thing. Is it? Not everyone thinks so.

The need requirement is clear: how do you convey visual data information 
(i.e. an image) directly to a non-sighted user? Consistently, and under all 
conditions (including design considerations that mandate other "look" 
requirements)? Until a better means emerges, then it is the best we have: if 
the 'problem' of hidden metadata is so horrendous, then please develop a 
better mechanism that solves the need requirement; the accessibility 
community by and large want improvements to what we have today as well. 
However, to date, no credible replacement has been proposed - we have seen 
alternatives that go in the right direction (ARIA labeledby for example), 
but there are problems and issues with those 'solutions' as well.

> What data is there that directly demonstrates that alt text as
> actually used on typical websites is helpful to blind people in
> practice?  If you took a typical web page and removed all the alt
> text, and maybe reconfigured the UA if its defaults for missing alt
> text weren't great, would it be much less usable in a screen reader?

I don't think hard, analytic data actually exists (I am not aware of any), 
any more than hard analytic data that suggests that "bad" alt text is 
"harmful" to end users exists. It's something we grok based not on empirical 
data, but rather via inference: accessibility specialists can gauge that 
overall the use of @alt has continued to improve both at the author end, and 
as a result to the end user. We make that assessment because those of us who 
focus on accessibility are exposed to that feedback on a more regular basis 
than those who do not work in the field.

Anecdotally, we know that the amount of, and quality of, alt text with 
images in 2010 is better than it was in 2005 (which was better than 2000, 
etc.): we *are* seeing exponential improvement, but sadly not as quickly as 
many would like. It's a problem, and we know it is.

As someone who spends each day as an accessibility specialist, I also know 
that @alt is the gateway attribute to the broader topic of an accessible 
web. As such, there is a huge political currency to @alt that at times has 
nothing actually to do with any given web page. It is important for the 
engineering community to both understand and accept that perspective: @alt 
is our poster-child. And if history is to teach us anything, there is a real 
danger in introducing "New Coke", when everyone expects "Classic Coke": 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Coke so messing with @alt, no matter how 
well intentioned, can have negative side effects as well.

Received on Wednesday, 21 July 2010 21:00:25 UTC

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.1 : Thursday, 29 October 2015 10:16:03 UTC