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Re: ALT text survey

From: Alan J. Flavell <flavell@a5.ph.gla.ac.uk>
Date: Wed, 11 Feb 1998 12:24:28 +0000 (GMT)
To: Colin F Reynolds <colin@the-net-effect.com>
cc: w3c-wai-gl@w3.org
Message-ID: <Pine.OSF.3.96.980211112514.21469B-100000@a5.ph.gla.ac.uk>
On Wed, 11 Feb 1998, Colin F Reynolds wrote:

(quoting, I believe, an extract of the AT&T alt text standards)
> >       "Include color or description of bullet if it has meaning, e.g.
> >if red bullets imply higher importance than blue bullets. "

First, let's make a general remark, to avoid potential misunderstanding. 
ALT texts are useful in many situations, and I would hope they would be at
least as useful to blind readers as they can be to users who are browsing
in text mode for their own good reasons, or to indexing robots. So I'm not
trying to design an ALT text _specifically_ as an aid to blind readers,
although it's certainly one important criterion.

Blind readers justifiably want to know a lot more about the page, since
they have no choice in the matter.  That is why the D-link was introduced,
and now the LONGDESC, I presume.

Now to address the specific point.  Rather than the example that has been
chosen in this thread, I feel that it's even more instructive if we refer
to a different one of the "howlers" in my modest collection, "Academic
departments are indicated by green bullets". 

The remedy here is not to patch up a botched design by describing the
bullets as green (for the users of monochrome terminals just as much as
for blind readers), but to re-cast the sentence so that it will work
seamlessly in these various situations.  My suggestion for this case was
to use a small mortarboard logo (identifiable even in monochrome), with a
distinctive ALT text, and to re-cast the explanation so that it says
"Academic departments are indicated thus:" followed by a specimen of the
marker.  Then it works for _any_ browsing situation - whether on screen,
by pop-out, or by speaking - as long as the browser doesn't suppress the
marker entirely.

> In any case, why do you want to use coloured bullets to indicate
> importance? 

Fair comment for that specific matter, but it's not unreasonable to use
coloured bullets, in situations in which they are available, to indicate
_some_ feature of the various entries. 

But if you were re-editing your article for a (non-colour) book edition,
you wouldn't spell out the colours of the bullets, you'd re-cast the
design, surely?  And that's how I'd suggest to use the ALT texts in this
kind of situation.  I think I can understand a blind reader's wish to know
just exactly what was "on the page" - but _which_ page?  HTML is
polymorphic, it marks up content, not appearance.  And if the blind reader
does demand such a detailed description of the (graphical morph of the)
page, I'd say the D-link or LONGDESC are the place to do that, leaving the
ALT text to be what it says it is, "alternative text".

> But that's just the point: catering exclusively for the needs of one
> minority (eg blind people) disenfranchises another group (eg those who
> choose to browse with image loading turned off).

In this sense it's a compromise, and if the ALT text were the only handle
available, it would be a poor compromise.  But we have TITLE, there is the
D-link convention, and now we have LONGDESC.  Let's not confuse these with
the "alternative text".

all the best
Received on Wednesday, 11 February 1998 07:25:18 UTC

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