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ALT text survey

From: Colin F Reynolds <colin@the-net-effect.com>
Date: Tue, 10 Feb 1998 12:42:38 +0000
Message-ID: <mQ4h4eC+sE40EwsB@the-net-effect.com>
To: w3c-wai-gl@w3.org
Cc: Leonard Kasday <kasday@att.com>
[cc: "Kasday, Leonard" <kasday@att.com>]

In article <F9AE637AED42D01187B400A0C913772E8F9870@mailsrvd.ho.att.com>,
"Kasday, Leonard" <kasday@att.com> writes
(in a message posted to w3c-wai-ig, reposted here since Daniel
Dardailler says this is the correct forum for ALT text discussion)

>       There are differing opinions on ALT text.  About a year ago
>today I sent out a survey to several listserv's asking for people's
>opinions.  The survey contained both general questions and specific
>questions about e.g. bullets and horizontal lines.
>       The results showed that while some blind individuals preferred a
>purely function approach, others said, quite emphatically, that they
>wanted to know what was really there- just so long as it was brief.
>I've attached some of the results of the survey to this email.
>       These were the basis for the alt text guidelines now mandatory
>on the AT&T web site.  These guidelines are listed at 
>       http://www.att.com/style/alttext.html
>       (this will need to be updated to reflect the availability of

In the "Requirements for New Pages" section specific recommendations are
made for the pixel sizes of images in an (admirable) attempt to provide
minimal legibility.

When this page is viewed with the latest Netscape Navigator browser
(4.04/Win95/1024*768 resolution) (with image loading turned off) _no_
ALT text is displayed on my system[1] for _any_ of these images,
demonstrating the futility of such precise instructions when authoring
content for the WWW.

In the "Recommended Guidelines for New Pages" section 3, the use of such
ALT text such as "bullet" for bullet images is recommended; this is
something which I (and others) feel is totally inappropriate. Quoting
from Alan Flavell's study[2] of the use of ALT in IMG:

 So we get to read (or blind readers get to hear): 

        Large Yellow Bullet Introduction
        Large Yellow Bullet The Problem
              Small Red Bullet Historical Analysis
              Small Red Bullet Current Situation
        Large Yellow Bullet The Solution

I recommend Alan's collection of "howlers"[3] to anyone involved in
making decisions as to IMG ALT content - whether from the HTML authoring
or browser design side.

About the survey itself:

>I received 11 responses, eight from people who described themselves, 
>explicitly or by implication, as blind or visually impaired, and three 
>sighted individuals experienced in this field. 

[detailed survey analysis snipped]

My reponse to this is

Firstly; just 11 responses is far too few upon which to base any
meaningful conclusions

Secondly; although I don't dispute the need to cater for sight-impaired
users where feasible, surely the emphasis, for optimal accessibility,
should be geared towards two far more numerous minorities:

  + those who choose to use (or only have access to)
    a text-only browser,

  + those who choose to use a graphical browser
    with auto-image-loading disabled
Build wheelchair ramps, by all means: but don't construct bollards to
hinder normal pedestrian traffic!

[1] Except as tooltips - but then this browser is <A
HREF="http://www.the-net-effect.com/bad-tooltips.html">BAD</A> in this
respect. (Also, since entities are allowed within ALT, the ALT string
"AT&T" is displayed without the ampersand, but with the second 'T'
underlined: the ALT text here should of course be "AT&amp;T").

[2] http://ppewww.ph.gla.ac.uk/%7Eflavell/alt/alt-text.html

[3] http://ppewww.ph.gla.ac.uk/%7Eflavell/alt/alt-text.html#howlers
Colin Reynolds, The Net Effect (World Wide) Ltd
Tel: +44 (0)1246 450 901
Fax: +44 (0)1246 450 902
Received on Tuesday, 10 February 1998 08:20:02 UTC

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