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Re: alt to text

From: Anne Pemberton <apembert@erols.com>
Date: Thu, 03 May 2001 18:35:15 -0400
Message-Id: <>
To: A.Flavell@physics.gla.ac.uk
Cc: WAI Guidelines List <w3c-wai-gl@w3.org>

	I think there need to be a variety of examples of this given to authors. 

	Would I be correct to assume that if a newspaper published a story about
Bill Cosby, for example, or the Queen of England, that the usual publicity
photos available for such use should be given a null alt tag?

	My understanding is that the null alt tag is to be used only for spacers,
not for graphics that are part of the content. 

	I do hope that this discussion can lead to some clarification in the
guidelines as to what and how to use the alt tag (positive, not negatives,
of course) in something approaching the wide range of types  of graphics
and illustrations that web authors will be using if they are doing good sites.


At 10:54 PM 5/3/01 +0100, Alan J. Flavell wrote:
>You have asked me directly, and I shall therefore offer you my
>best answer in the circumstances.  But as I said before, it's my
>opinion that the best choice depends on the author's purpose.
>To my way of thinking, what an author is providing in a web page is
>not a pre-programmed presentation, designed for a particular kind of
>user (that isn't feasible, as there are groups of users who have
>mutually contradictory requirements): what the author is providing is
>content, in this case in textual form, to be interpreted by whatever
>"assistive technology" is being used.  I put that phrase in quotes,
>since for some users the "assistive technology" might be nothing more
>than an ordinary text-mode browser such as w3m or Lynx.
>On Wed, 2 May 2001, Anne Pemberton wrote:
>> In the case of the "Picture of George
>> Washington", the title, which followed the picture on the same line was
>> "George Washington in the French and Indian War" ... the purpose of the
>> picture was to illustrate the "who" of the content ...
>Let me try to set out my train of thought.
>The picture is of G.W, and your title, which you say is part of the
>normal text, already says so.  So, there seems no need to repeat that.  
>The purpose of the picture is to visually identify the person; but
>we're dealing with a situation where such a graphical presentation is
>unavailable, and the text already has identified the person.  
>Naturally, if you want to supply additional information about what the
>picture contains, you have longdesc/D-link for doing so, but that
>isn't the immediate issue here.
>Since I understand you to say that there was no particular content in
>the picture which you wanted to bring to the reader's attention, aside
>from reinforcing the identification of G.W., then if it had not been
>for your title/caption, I would have recommended considering an empty
>ALT text.  Had the picture, on the other hand, contained important
>information or been of particular artistic interest or merit, a
>different recommendation would have seemed appropriate.
>(As an aside, I have the feeling that there are benefits in making
>picture captions be a complete sentence, so that they can stand alone
>as if they were side-notes, without seeming to dangle.)
>As it is, that dangling title would seem to call for some kind of
>marker to justify its presence.  ALT="[Picture]" is hardly ideal, but
>I guess serviceable in such a situation.
>> In the case of the
>> "Illustration of an ideal web page", the picture is followed by Checkpoint
>> 3.2 ... The function is to illustrate the componants of a ideally
>> accessible web page. 
>Now this is harder, isn't it, because if the picture contains vital
>evidence to support the checkpoint, then merely announcing to the
>reader that this is a picture of vital evidence, without telling them
>what that evidence was, would be pure frustration.  Does the text
>already contain that evidence?  If not, then a long description would
>seem essential - if the evidence can be summed up in a few pithy words
>then the ALT text could state it directly - butI guess that's not
>feasible in this context.
>Let me illustrate what I mean by taking a different example.  Suppose
>the picture were a plot of an endangered species, then I have seen ALT
>texts such as "Plot of population against time".
>Well...?  The text-mode reader wants to know what happened!  The ALT
>text should rather say "Plot shows population fell dramatically
>through 1980's until fishing moratorium imposed", or whatever it is
>that the plot is showing.
>To some extent I'd submit that the choice may depend on whether the
>illustration is vital to your purpose, or was merely meant to be
>illustrative or reinforcing of some main theme.  In the former case
>then you may have no alternative than to hit the reader with the fact
>that there was a complex picture here, and get them to read the
>supporting long description (the notorious "thousand words") to get
>the best out of it.
>In the latter case, that approach runs the risk of distracting the
>text-mode reader with much detail over something that was only
>intended to be a visual side-note reinforcing the main theme; then it
>would seem better to wrap up the same message briefly in a piece of
>text, slip it in ALT text as if it were a side-note, and pass on,
>without bothering the reader with the fact that there was a picture
>that they can't see.
>This is my personal opinion, nothing more. 
>As I say, in my estimation it's up to the author to consider what the
>purpose of their image was, and then to purpose some text "to serve as
>content" (that quote from the HTML4 specification again).  In other
>words, to be a best-value alternative (equivalent, replacement,
>"substitute") for the purpose of the image.
>best regards  (and do feel entirely free to pick these suggestions apart).
Anne Pemberton

Received on Thursday, 3 May 2001 19:05:44 UTC

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