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Give @alt is not given due consideration in ARIA

From: Leif Halvard Silli <xn--mlform-iua@xn--mlform-iua.no>
Date: Thu, 16 Sep 2010 02:32:23 +0200
To: public-pfwg-comments@w3.org
Message-ID: <20100916023223761713.2e12a0ff@xn--mlform-iua.no>
These are some comments to the status of @alt inside ARIA 1.0 as per 31 
of Agust 2010's working draft, 

Please *do* read my message to wai-xtech as well:
I will not repeat all that is said there, here.

I will however rephrase the summary of that letter, as follows (mostly 
identical). Please note that my main focus is on how @aria-label, 
@aria-labelledby and @alt works on the <img> element. Howeer, as I 
wrote al this, I also tested role="img" on other elements, so it is not 
without relevance for other elements than <img>.

1) GENERAL. @alt is under-mentioned and under-specced in ARIA. The 
underspecification of @alt has lead to differing  implementations. Bad 
for authors and users! Examples if the lack of attention to @alt: 

Section 5.2.7 on the accessible name calculation algorithm  mentions 
many attributes as example of "author" values - amongst them it 
mentions HTML @title, @aria-label and @aria-labelledby. But it does 
*not* mention @alt, which is the most important author provided content 
of HTML4 ... 
Likewise, when it comes to the definition of @aria-label, then @title 
is mentioned as its HTML parallel. Does that mean that @aria-label is 
not need in HTML, since it has @title? Isn't @alt a more natural 
Going back to the section 5.2.7, then @title is only mentioned at step 
2D, after the text node content has been considered. How can 
@aria-label, with it high priority, be considered similar to the low 
priority @title attribute? Please rather compare aria-label with @alt.
@alt is mentioned under the last list item of step 2A, and the text 
says that aria-labelledby if present should have highest priority, then 
comes aria-label if present and finally @alt if present. In practise, 
for <img>, then ARIA supporting ATs first considers the role of 
	In most AT, the default role of <img> is affected not only by the 
presence of @role but also of whether @alt is empty or none empty. 
	* Thus, in practise, many AT consider if @alt is empty or non-empty 
	* if non-empty then they prioritize aria-label - if present, else they 
prioritize @alt's content. 
	* If @alt was emtpy, then they may not consider whether @aria-label 
nor @aria-labelledby (AT differ on this)
	* but if @role="img" is present and alt is empty, *then* and only do 
they look at @aria-labelledby
Thus, it is all very convoluted.

2) What is supposed to happen if aria-labelledby points to an element 
whose only content is located inside @alt, @title or @aria-label? 
  AT differ in what they do: OSX10.5's VoiceOver and Jaws11+Firefox 
consider @alt as the content, Jaws12+Firefox consider aria-label as the 
content, NVDA consider both. I don't see where in the spec this 
explained. (I think most authors will expect that aria-label points to 
an element whose text node contetn will be used.) It is clear that 
author provided values, such as aria-labelledby, has priority over the 
element's own content text node. The question is what if 
@aria-labelledby points to an element whose content author content 
only, or a mix of author content and text node content?

3) ATs generally give @alt higher priority than ARIA says, and most of 
them ignore @labelledby if @alt is non-empty.

4) For <img>, then ATs in practise links a double meaning to the empty 
@alt: aria-labelledby generally only work as expected when the @alt is 
the empty string. At the same time HTML5 says that empty @alt means 

5) A consequence of the fact that aria-labelledby is ignored when @alt 
is non-empty (see 3) and 4) above)  is that it is impossible to get an 
aria-labbelledby which points to <img> itself (<img id=A alt=FOO 
aria-labelledby="A B">) to work, despite that ARIA says it should work. 
(This might work better for <div role="img"> tha for <img role="img"> - 
please check.)

6) The algorithm doesn't say what role it plays that the @alt is or 
isn't the empty string. Which is just an example of how ARIA doesn't 
incorporate the semantics @alt. But while ARIA doesn't take it in, it 
is clear that AT in various degrees take it in. E.g consider the 
convoluted way AT prioritize between @alt, @aria-label and 
@aria-labelledby. (I don't claim that AT do it correct and tha ARIA do 
it wrong - proably both AT and ARIA need fixing ...)

A really important point to me is that AT should see the @alt as the 
content of <img>. Perhaps ARIA should consider @alt more like text node 
content than author content? Or, when I think about it: perhaps, that 
is what you do - and perhaps that's the problem! Because, for other 
elements, it doesn't matter for the element's semantics whether it is 
empty or non-empty. Whereas for <img>, the <img alt=""> and <img 
alt="non-empty"> are considered different beasts. 

Sorry, a convoluted response to a convoluted problem.
leif halvard silli
Received on Thursday, 16 September 2010 00:32:58 UTC

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