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Re: ALT and TITLE Clarification

From: Andrew Kirkpatrick <andrew_kirkpatrick@wgbh.org>
Date: Fri, 07 Jan 2005 14:38:36 -0500
To: Chris Ridpath <chris.ridpath@utoronto.ca>
Cc: WAI WCAG List <w3c-wai-gl@w3.org>, jim@jimthatcher.com
Message-id: <B95D16F6-60E3-11D9-B607-0003937B30FE@wgbh.org>

>> ...the information in the title attribute is not reserved for
>> accessibility and therefore the types of usage can be
>> expected to be highly varied...
> This is the same for the alt attribute but we seem to use alt for
> accessibility alone. Placing information in the title attribute 
> regarding
> the purpose of the element seems much more correct than placing it in 
> the
> alt attribute.

The HTMl 4.01 recommendation includes:
<!-- To avoid problems with text-only UAs as well as
    to make image content understandable and navigable
    to users of non-visual UAs, you need to provide
    a description with ALT, and avoid server-side image maps -->

It doesn't specify whether a description is describing the image or the 
effect when it is linked, but the description alone doesn't make it 

Also from the recommendation:
While alternate text may be very helpful, it must be handled with care. 
Authors should observe the following guidelines:
	 	Do not specify irrelevant alternate text when including images 
intended to format a page, for instance, alt="red ball" would be 
inappropriate for an image that adds a red ball for decorating a 
heading or paragraph. In such cases, the alternate text should be the 
empty string (""). Authors are in any case advised to avoid using 
images to format pages; style sheets should be used instead.
	 	Do not specify meaningless alternate text (e.g., "dummy text"). Not 
only will this frustrate users, it will slow down user agents that must 
convert text to speech or braille output.

This sort of information will make your proposal an uphill battle (as 
opposed to now!).

>> Of the image or the purpose of it?  For example, on the prototype WAI 
>> home
>> page (http://www.w3.org/2004/09/wai-nav/Overview.html), should the 
>> image
> of
>> the plus on the left have alt="+" or alt="expand getting started 
>> section"?
>> I vote for the latter, and therefore not always descriptions for alt.
> The latter is the way things are done now and it removes the 
> description of
> the image. In your example I suggest that the alt text should be "+" or
> "plus sign". The text "expand getting started section" should go in the
> title. User agents can give the user "expand getting started section" 
> and
> also "plus sign" if the user wants to know what the image looks like.

On the url I sent, this is the way it is now, with the "+" as the alt 

> Why remove the description of the image when we don't have to?

Why include the description of the image if it is not relevant?  
Sometimes it is, but not in this case.

>> Generally, yes, but always? Often there are images with text that are 
>> also
>> decorative (e.g. http://www.btyahoo.com/internet has the building 
>> blocks
>> image).
> In this example I suggest the alt text should be "building blocks with 
> text
> that says 'added security', 'customize your internet', 'greater 
> contact' and
> 'optional extras'". The title attribute would say "BT Yahoo features 
> and
> extras".

I can't agree with this.  This is inconsiderate of user's time when 
reading this page.  This image does have some text in it, but it is for 
all intents and purposes just decorative.  There is no additional 
semantic value added to the page for the user by adding that alt.  If I 
were to design the page, I'd specify the image via CSS and we wouldn't 
have this problem, but is the user deprived by this lack of 
information?  The information should be the same whether I lay the page 
out one way or the other.
>>>> - TITLE attribute must be empty
>> Why?  Using title on an image doesn't cause any problems, does it?
> We're still discussing this issue and it may resolve that you can use 
> the
> image title. I've adopted this position (image title must be empty) 
> until we
> resolve the issue.

Unless the XHTML/HTML recommendation is changed, people will 
undoubtedly use the title attribute, and for varied purposes.  If image 
title needs to be empty, then the XHTML recommendation should not allow 
it - I don't see this happening.

>>>> INPUT element (with TYPE of "image")
>>>> - TITLE attribute describes purpose of form (e.g. search or find)
>> I'd leave this out.  Alt is required here, and for this purpose.
> I argue that we keep the image description in the alt text - don't 
> dump it.
> A better place to put the form purpose is in the title attribute.
> I propose that the text for a form submit button should describe the 
> purpose
> of the form (e.g. search or find). In earlier messages others have
> disagreed. Until we agree, I'll keep calling form submit button text a
> "description of the purpose of the form".

But inputs of type=image are submits and don't have text, except what 
is provided via alt or title.  This issue is the same as for any linked 

>> It would be easier, but I think that there is a need to be able to
> identify
>> more than a description of the image (unless I'm asuming incorrectly 
>> that
>> you mean more than "what the image looks like").
> I mean "what the image looks like" should go in the alt text. Shouldn't
> everyone have access to this information? Any extra information goes 
> in a
> title attribute.

Sure.  I don't object to information be available.  "Green arrow 
pointing to the right" may be useful in some circumstance, but you 
won't see images coded this way very often.  I'm not sure that it 
consistently adds enough value to convince pro-accessibility 
developers, let alone resistant ones.

>> Developers will use title for lots of different types of information 
>> - do
>> you feel that it can be claimed for accessibility?  Am I overstating 
>> your
>> intents?
> We're already claiming elements and attributes for accessibility. I'm 
> just
> trying to clarify their use.

No, the recommendation indicates the use of alt, referencing access 
purposes.  Not so for title: "This attribute offers advisory 
information about the element for which it is set."
> This proposal means that we would use alt and title a bit differently 
> from
> what we do now. It's a minor course correction that would mean user 
> agents
> would eventually have to make small changes. The long term gain is 
> that we
> keep the description of all images.

I'm not worried about keeping the description of images.  Images that 
need description for use should get it.  If you really feel that the 
description is important you should advocate for decorative images to 
have non-null alt also, right?


Andrew Kirkpatrick
WGBH National Center for Accessible Media
125 Western Ave.
Boston, MA  02134
E-mail: andrew_kirkpatrick@wgbh.org
Received on Friday, 7 January 2005 19:39:41 UTC

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