W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > w3c-wai-ig@w3.org > January to March 2002

Re: Creating accessible tables for layout and data

From: Charles F. Munat <chas@munat.com>
Date: Thu, 31 Jan 2002 09:59:08 -0800
Message-ID: <3C5985EC.3090103@munat.com>
To: W3c_Access <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Steve Carter wrote:

 > ...so you might want the ALT text to read "Ducks on the lake on a
 > warm summer day."

Reply:

Note: While this is written in reply to a comment by Steve Carter, it is
not directed at him personally, but to those on this list who persist in 
misinterpreting the function of the alt attribute. Can we please lay 
this issue to rest?

I'm not sure why people have so much trouble with this simple idea, but
I expect it has something to do with not being blind. I imagine that
many of the non-visual users on this list are supremely frustrated by
the resistance so many people have to this very simple idea:

Alt attributes are NOT FOR DESCRIPTIONS. Ever.

I'll say it again:

Alt attributes are NOT FOR DESCRIPTIONS.

"Ducks on the lake on a warm summer day" is a DESCRIPTION of the image.
This makes NO SENSE as alt text.

The alt attribute text should flow with the rest of the text. After all,
that is how it will be read. What sense does this make:

"... There are four residence halls on campus. The biggest is Big Hall,
located at the northernmost point on campus. Ducks on the lake on a warm
summer day. The next biggest is Middling Hall..."

It is a *non sequitur*. It interrupts the flow of the text and is
jarring to the reader. It creates confusion. What is this random
sentence doing in the text? This is certainly not the effect of the
image on a visual user.

Now, suppose that this lake with ducks is right next to Big Hall, and
that the function of the image is to give visual users a sense of what 
life is like in Big Hall. Then an appropriate alt text might read: "Big 
Hall overlooks Campus Lake and its duck denizens."

Here is how this flows:

"... There are four residence halls on campus. The biggest is Big Hall,
located at the northernmost point on campus. Big Hall overlooks Campus
Lake and its duck denizens. The next biggest is Middling Hall..."

Now the text flows easily. The alt attribute makes sense in context. The
purpose of the image is captured for the non-visual user.

This is *not optional*, except in the sense that developers are free to 
be wrong. Forgive me for shouting, but I've really run out of patience 
with non-disabled developers deciding on their own what is best for 
people with disabilities. The arrogance of this behavior should be 
readily evident.

That the alt text is not for descriptions is not a matter of personal 
opinion, subject to the whims of the individual developer. It is the 
consensus of those in the accessibility community, based on the input of 
people with disabilities (and others who use non-visual user agents). 
These are the people who are affected by the use of alt text. They are 
the ones who must decide how it should be used.

Since it is the consensus, it is also the *definition* of alt attribute
text. It is not open to reinterpretation by individuals. If there is a
problem with it, then the accessibility community should re-examine the
issue and decide whether or not to change the definition.

Imagine that you came to my house for dinner. I know you're a
vegetarian. But I serve filet mignon because, well, in my opinion, it's
what you really ought to eat.

Your audience is like a guest at your house. Why would anyone invite
people over and then dictate to them how they should behave?

Charles F. Munat
Seattle, Washington
Received on Thursday, 31 January 2002 12:58:08 GMT

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.2.0+W3C-0.50 : Tuesday, 19 July 2011 18:14:00 GMT