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RE: Use of ALT texts in IMGs

From: Leonard R. Kasday <kasday@acm.org>
Date: Mon, 22 Nov 1999 15:52:14 -0500
Message-Id: <>
To: "Steven McCaffrey" <smccaffr@MAIL.NYSED.GOV>, <rich@accessexpressed.net>, <bbailey@clark.net>
Cc: <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Re the ALT text

ALT="The Pines Hotel, a fine old stone building in extensive grounds."

The picture gives two pieces of information it seems to me.

1. There are extensive grounds, presumably for walking around, something of
interest to anyone, sighted or blind.  Maybe particularly interesting for a
person with a dog.

2. It's an old stone building which suggests other amenities that may also
interest people
   blind or sighted.  E.g. quiet rooms to chat, unhurried meal service
(although of course it's no guarantee.  The inside may have been gutted and
replaced with some ghastly substitute).  Also, those surroundins may be
attractive to a sighted companion.

A sighted viewer of the page gets that info immediately, right at the top,
without scanning any further down the page.

Now, suppose that information is nowhere else on the page, or buried way down.

Should the ALT text be included?  


At 03:18 PM 11/22/99 -0500, Steven McCaffrey wrote:
>I am now totally blind but had 20/200 (borderline legally blind) vision in
one eye only up  until 1990.  From my perspective as well, I am only
interested in alt text if it is relevant to me understanding whatever the
purpose of the picture is.
>That is, in the extreme case of, say, an art exhibit on the web attempting
to give comparative analysis of artists' techniques and/or an historical
perspective, I would want enough alt text to determine what the
similarities and differences are.  So this would include comments about
colors, lines, shapes etc. in enough detail so I can understand these
similarities and differences.  I am not interested in descriptions of
decorative graphics.
>I think I do agree with Alan just about all the time.  He seems to be
saying what to me seems to be common sense: "Why did you put this picture
on this page?"
>If this particular picture conveys a particular idea, mood, piece of
information to a sighted viewer, try to provide  an alt text description of
that (the idea , mood, or piece of information) in as concise a way as you
>On the other hand, if your site or set of pages on your site is really
there for the sole purpose of saying to your visitors "Here is a collection
of nice looking pictures, I hope you find them enjoyable to look at too." ,
I don't think I would be offended if alt text was not provided.  I would be
happy just to hear "This page consists of a collection of nice looking
pictures." so I can move on to another site!
>personally, for purely (What do I say here? educational/pedogogical
reasons), I think everyone should think a little bit why a particular thing
(whether picture, audio file, poem, set of links, etc.) was chosen.
>Steve McCaffrey
>>>> Rich Caloggero <rich@accessexpressed.net> 11/22/99 02:18PM >>>
>[Comments are embeded in the text below]
>On Saturday, November 20, 1999 10:53 AM, Bruce Bailey 
>[SMTP:bbailey@clark.net] wrote:
>> I recently came across this gem from Alan Flavell.   I don't think it is
>> that new, but it was last updated 25 October 1999.
>> "Use of ALT texts in IMGs" at URL:
>> http://ppewww.ph.gla.ac.uk/~flavell/alt/alt-text.html 
>> In particular, he says I am wrong when I use code like:
>> ALT="Photo of building" and ALT="DORS logo".
>> His closest counter example is <Q>ALT="Picture of Hotel"</Q> which he
>> suggests should be replaced with something like <Q>ALT="The Pines Hotel,
>> a fine old stone building in extensive grounds"</Q>.
>> I don't think there is a need for me to be more descriptive.  Alan might
>> say this is because I have not given enough thought as to why the
>> picture is there.  Do I want, for example, people to appreciate that the
>> building looks new and modern and inviting?  Um, I just have pictures
>> (where I can get them) for visual interest.  I have taken care to make
>> sure they are small (< 20K), so this "eye candy" should not be too much
>> of a hardship.  I guess I figure people might recognize the building the
>> building if they happen to drive by.  Alan seems to argue that, since
>> (as the author) I feel the pictures are primarily decorational, I should
>> use ALT="".  Is he right?
>> In my opinion, unless the site is about "pictures", this description is 
>too verbose. I certaily won't recognize the building in a drive by... Looks 
>like a great candidate for a null descriptor!
>> On a similar vein, I try never to use the words "picture" or "image" in
>> my alt text, since the term is ambiguous.  I prefer "photo" or "drawing"
>> or "logo".  Alan argues that this is wrong and that, for example.
>> <Q>alt="ACME Corp logo"</Q> should be replaced by either
>> <Q>alt="ACME"</Q> or <Q>alt=""</Q> depending on circumstances.  I
>> disagree with this, since the addition of one or two more (short) words
>> gives additional information to the text-only browser.  Am I misusing
>> ALT?
>Again, I don't care whether the image came from a photo, a crayon drawing, 
>an oil painting, etc. If there is any relevant info there, just tell me 
>with as few words as possible. If the logo is echoed by a title which is 
>already present in text, then just make the alt tag null. For example, if 
>you have your "ACME Corp logo" image above a title "ACME Corporation", then 
>in your representation you would hear "ACME Corp logo ACME Corporation", 
>which is redundant. I've seen this type of thing out there more than once.
>Disclaimer: I'm totally blind, never having seen anything at all in my 
>life, not even light. My perspective may thus be quite different than 
>someone who has seen or can see some at present. Please do not take these 
>comments as other than simply my opinion. I'd sure like to know what others 
>think, however.
>					Rich Caloggero
Leonard R. Kasday, Ph.D.
Institute on Disabilities/UAP, and
Department of Electrical Engineering

Temple University
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Received on Monday, 22 November 1999 15:51:06 UTC

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