W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > w3c-wai-er-ig@w3.org > January 2000

RE: null alt-text, spacers, etc. etc.

From: Bruce Bailey <bbailey@clark.net>
Date: Thu, 6 Jan 2000 08:39:32 -0500
Message-ID: <01BF582D.44F765E0.bbailey@clark.net>
To: "'Leonard R. Kasday'" <kasday@acm.org>, Wendy A Chisholm <wendy@w3.org>
Cc: "w3c-wai-er-ig@w3.org" <w3c-wai-er-ig@w3.org>
On Wednesday, January 05, 2000 5:19 PM, Leonard R. Kasday 
[SMTP:kasday@acm.org] wrote:
> Bruce, I've got to take issue with your statement that
>> Some of your examples for alt content for bullets and lines are counter
>> indicated.  There is no other way to say this but that 
<Q>alt="bullet"</Q>
>> and <Q>alt="horizontal rule"</Q> are just WRONG.  Perhaps these should
>> even be treated as suspicious?  ALTernative text should capture the
>> intent/function and not be solely pseudo-descriptive.  Using a value of
>> "---" for ALT is infinitely better than using "bar".
>
> This question keeps coming up.  When I did a "survey" a few years ago
> "bullet" got the highest ratings.  See
> http://astro.temple.edu/~kasday/web_access/surveys/alt-text.html
> I put "survey" in quotes because there weren't many responses.  Also the
> difference in preference between "bullet" and an asterisk is not
> statistically significant.

If I read it right, their were only ten respondents?  If these ten were all 
sophisticated and experienced web surfers who just happen to be blind, I 
would say that you had something that was really representative.  I 
regularly work with folks with a variety of computer experience and a 
variety of physical and sensory abilities.  My clear impression is that 
folks like Curtis Chung and David Poehlman strongly prefer accessible sites 
over "text-only parallel versions" and brief alt text over verbose 
descriptive alt text.  Newbies (and this includes some folks with political 
influence, but limited computer experience) have the opposite bent.  Since 
the newbies will quickly gain experience, I don't think we should be 
designing (nor creating rules) for them -- except for maybe special purpose 
sites.

A formal survey (that took measure of user experience) would be very 
valuable.  Has the NFB or ACB (or a non-USA equivalent) posted a short 
reference on writing alt text?  The question becomes more interesting as 
support for longdesc improves.

> Now we can take a more philosophical approach and argue that "bullet"
> describes appearance rather than function.  However, this is inconsistent 
> with recommending "----"  which also describes appearance, using ASCII 
art
> no less.

Your survey, even with the small sample, did a nice job of capturing the 
reasons people preferred one style over another.  One good reason for not 
using alphanumeric for decorative IMGs is that "read punctuation" is a 
toggle feature available in virtually all screenreaders.

I would argue that "----" is a more function than ASCII art.  72 hyphens 
would be for appearance over function.  Alt like "divider" or "end of page" 
for a horizontal rule just seems silly to me.  Maybe a single dash is more 
in keeping with my argument!

> Furthermore, even though "bullet" describes appearance, it has acquired 
the
> meaning of  "list item" in at least some subcultures.  In the AT&T
> subculture, for example, we would say things like
> "I have a comment about the third bullet"
> In fact, the Cambridge Dictionary
> http://www.cup.cam.ac.uk/elt/dictionary/
> has the following definition:
> "A bullet is also a symbol, often a small black circle, used in printing
> and sometimes in writing either to show the beginning of or to separate
> items in a list. "
> Note that it says "often a small black circle". So they are implying that 
> appearance may vary.  So they are defining it semantically, not by
> appearance.  I therefore think it's a good choice philosophically as 
well.
>
> I move therefore that we recommend "bullet".

I respect your reasoning and opinion, but I disagree entirely!  I use the 
rule of thumb that ALT represents how I would read a page out loud.  If you 
were reading a web page to a blind individual, you would say something 
like:
"And there is a bulleted list.  January, no activity.  February, we had a 
rally.  March, our annual dinner..."
You would NOT say:
"And there is a list.  Bullet, January, no activity.  Bullet, February, we 
had a rally.  Bullet, March, our annual dinner..."
The first is what is what HT markup L denotes with <UL> <LI> ...

With a horizontal rule, you would probably skip over it entirely, or maybe 
just pause.  For a long document (that uses <HR> or graphical bars) between 
section, a human reader might include verbiage like "end of section" -- but 
this is what HTML does with <DIV> and horizontal rules (of any type) are 
really just eye candy.

More complex images follow the same "philosophy" for ALT text.  A human 
reader might say:
"And there is a photo of people at the dinner."
If the blind person asked for more details, the human reader might say:
"There are twelve people, seven men and five women.  They are all older and 
big grins on their faces.  They are standing around a table at what appears 
to be a catered dinner at a restaurant."
This again mirrors what an HTML author provides first with ALT text and 
then with LONGDESC (or maybe a D-link).

I would love to see some consensus on these points.
-- Bruce
Received on Thursday, 6 January 2000 10:05:10 GMT

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