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RE: What now ALT?

From: John Foliot <foliot@wats.ca>
Date: Mon, 8 Oct 2007 12:19:38 -0700
To: "'Jon Barnett'" <jonbarnett@gmail.com>
Cc: "'HTMLWG'" <public-html@w3.org>, <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>, "'advocate group'" <list@html4all.org>
Message-ID: <007801c809e0$2bb1dc60$ae3142ab@Piglet>

Jon Barnett wrote:
> Things like this should not affect the decisions of this working
> group.  Universality and accessibility are still design principles of
> this group, and those design principles will affect the decisions of
> this group.   

Fair enough, but they are also working on a principle of avoiding "bloat",
and of "paving cowpaths".

We now have a real world situation (cowpath) that is suggesting, from the
perspective of accessibility, that having images with *no alt text at all*
will be deemed inaccessible, and quite possibly, illegal.  Exactly why
should those considerations not be taken into account?

The current specification is suggesting that images, under certain
circumstances [1] can exist without an alt value, and still be conformant.
Yet, if the law suggests that this is illegal, we will have a possible
scenario that, while technically conformant, will never (should never?)
exist, for fear of legal ramifications.  So why bother?  Who is going to
take advantage of this? (If Target gets whacked hard, do you really think
that Flickr isn't going to sit up and take notice?)  It becomes a
non-solution, and still leaves the existing "problem" in place.

I have floated the idea of a reserved value for alt (I suggested alt="_none"
[with the underscore]) as one possible alternative for instances when
automated tools do not allow for author supplied alt text.  While it does
not completely address the real problem (the image still is inaccessible to
the non-sighted/non-visual UA), User Agents could be configured to deal with
an expected value such as this consistently (as could Adaptive Technology),
and equally important maintains the requirement of an alt value in an image.
Will content authors continue to abuse this?  Probably, but they will be
making a conscious decision to 'abuse', rather than skate by their
responsibility by pointing to a spec and saying "see, it's allowed".

Fanciful suggestions of future heuristic tools providing useful content are
still science-fiction, and thinking that content authors will provide useful
information on the page with the image are utopian dreams - if they are
going to do this, why can't they also use an alt attribute?

> Regardless of what markup is used, we all agree that documents should
> be universally accessible.  No one has suggested otherwise, and I
> really hope this subject was not raised to imply that anyone is
> against accessibility.   

Well Jon, there are enough people out there that are concerned about the
direction that the specification is taking to call that statement into
question.  Protracted 'discussions' regarding the possibility of dropping
accessibility features (@headers/@id, LONGDESC, etc.), based on nothing more
than "numbers", makes feeling secure about universal accessibility less than
a given.  Keeping presentational elements such as <i> and <b> are hardly
beacons of accessible development, but rather of an acquiescence to the fact
that in 2007, some content creators still don't care. Newly minted
concoctions such as <canvas> [http://tinyurl.com/2kbu2x] also seem to be
missing some key considerations for those users who cannot "see" the canvas
(the spec speaks of "fallback" content, but does not state how to implement
this content - as well, if the canvas element must out-put a PNG file [as
the default], where is the requirement for alternative text for *that* image
within that element's spec?)[2]. I'm not saying that the Working Group are
against accessibility, but some of the emergent suggestions and
recommendations are not exactly pro-accessibility either. 

> It is possible today to create an HTML document that meets all
> programmatically computable conformance criteria and still completely
> fail at accessibility.  This will always be the case - markup that
> can be used is markup that can be abused.  Since some countries are
> extending their "disabled rights" laws to include web page markup, it
> follows that you can still write a web page that passed an HTML
> validator but still breaks the law of your land, and again, this is
> independent of the alt attribute itself.    

No argument there, but again, why bother?  On one hand we have possible
accessibility features being dismissed due to lack of use (LONGDESC), and on
the other hand we have the newly emergent possibility that images can be
conformant without any alt value (when quite possibly no-one will ever avail
themselves to it for fear of legal entanglements). What problem then,
exactly, is being solved? This needs to be re-thought.

> I seriously doubt this decision could be construed to legally codify
> the HTML alt attribute.  If HTML 5, 6, or 7 can be conformant and
> accessible without an attribute named "alt", no judge should care or
> would care.   

On the day that this can be shown to be viable, I will back you 100%.  But
until a better way of ensuring that images have a chance of being made
accessible that transcends the requirement of the alt attribute, it's the
best we've got, and to suggest that moving forward it can sometimes be
optional is just wrong.  You want to replace it with something better?  I'm
with you all the way, but to just leave it behind, because sometimes content
authors think "...not finding it necessary to provide replacement text for
all those images[is necessary - JF]. This would take too much time for
little benefit."[3] is just wrong.  It *is* against universal accessibility,
and there is no other way of saying it.


[1] I personally have a concern over the "policing" of the specific
circumstances cited by the WG authors, as it is a subjective call, open to
content author 'manipulation' - I fear that once the doors are open, it will
become a fertile ground for abuse.

[2] I really want to be wrong about <canvas>, but I've gone through the
draft spec more than once, and these are the conclusions I have drawn.  If I
am wrong, please do show me where these issues are addressed.  I am willing
to listen and learn.

[3] Anne van Kesteren's blog posting of September 20th
[http://annevankesteren.nl/2007/09/alt] simply goes to prove the point that
the possibility of abuse can and will exist - his justification for not
providing an alternative text to an image of a building has little technical
merit, but rather, in his own word, *he* could not justify the effort.
Received on Monday, 8 October 2007 19:19:55 UTC

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