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Re: Creating accessible tables for layout and data: alt attributes

From: <kynn-eda@idyllmtn.com>
Date: Thu, 31 Jan 2002 08:35:05 -0800 (PST)
Message-Id: <200201311635.IAA16706@garth.idyllmtn.com>
To: ward_joel@bah.com (Joel Ward)
Cc: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org (WAI List)
Joel wrote:
> However, I feel user is the one who should decide whether to read or ignore
> the information.  If the author can add simple alt text to an image to
> convey what's in the image, then user has the option whether to interpret it
> or not.

Right, but it's also possible to overdo things. It's possible to add
complex alt text to all images which could ultimately distract from
the purpose of the page.

> If the author feels only visual users deserve to know about their images,
> then I feel they may be discriminating.  

I think that's a very loaded term -- I don't know where you are from,
actually, but at least out here a claim of "discrimination" is very
serious.

Therefore I think it's important to look further at what we are talking
about and determine to what degree it is discrimination.

For example, let's say that I'm writing a column for an online web
zine. Along with the column, there's a picture of me. The question
now is how do you label the picture of me?

Is it important that I'm a white man? That wear eyeglasses? That I'm
slightly overweight? That I have a goatee? That I have blue eyes and
blond hair? That I am 6'2"? That I am wearing a suit or a sweater or
a tie or no tie? Does the color of my tie matter? What if I'm wearing
a pin which can't be made out clearly but it's obvious that I'm
wearing one? What about my age? What about my probable ethnic
background and possibly even social class? What about the lighting
where I am, and the background?

This is all information which _could_ be conveyed in the visual
image. The question then is "what needs to be represented, either in
alt text or in a long description?"

There are two approaches:

* The _important_ information needs to be conveyed, where the
  importance is determined by the author's knowledge of the page's
  purpose.

* All possible information from the visual graphic needs to be
  provided to the user, because otherwise it's discrimination.

I'm obviously on the side of the first; the second is much too
absolutist and ultimately reaches absurdness. If you leave out the
fact that I am wearing a tie, then you're denying information to
users who can't see the picture -- is that discrimination?  Within
the context of the page, which is meant to offer up a column of
information, I would say clearly not. 

> Since it's easy enough to add alt text, why not just add it? 

Because too much content can weaken the message of the page. The
question isn't whether to use alt text, it's whether or not there's
additional information that _should_ be conveyed which isn't getting
conveyed.

> And like I said before, if the image isn't
> important enough for alt text, why include it at all?

Down that way lies madness. As long as the content is accessible in
other ways, _or_ is unimportant to the purpose of the page, there's no
need to make that information accessible. And removing it, even if it
will help other users understand the page, is an even worse idea.

--Kynn
Received on Thursday, 31 January 2002 11:27:59 GMT

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