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Re: several messages relating to the alt="" attribute

From: Ian Hickson <ian@hixie.ch>
Date: Fri, 11 Apr 2008 19:52:58 +0000 (UTC)
To: Steven Faulkner <faulkner.steve@gmail.com>
Cc: public-html@w3.org
Message-ID: <Pine.LNX.4.62.0804111945240.7575@hixie.dreamhostps.com>

On Fri, 11 Apr 2008, Steven Faulkner wrote:
> this is not acceptable:
>   <figure>
>    <img src="r14.jpeg">
>    <legend>Rorschach inkblot test #14</legend>
>   <figure>
> while this is:
>   <figure>
>    <img src="r14.jpeg" alt="An abstract, ambiguous shape">
>    <legend>Rorschach inkblot test #14</legend>
>   <figure>

I disagree. I think "An abstract, ambiguous shape" is a fine title, but 
it's not alternative text.

The idea of alternative text is that you can substitute it for the image 
without saying that there was an image, and the experience should be 
equivalent. For example:

   The <img src=cat.png alt=cat> sat on the <img src=mat.png alt=mat>.

...could be read as "The cat sat on the mat." and it would be fine.

However, replacing an inkblot test with the text "an abstract, ambiguous 
shape" defeats the entire point of the test. The user knows full well what 
an inkblot test is, that's what the rest of the page says. The right thing 
is for the AT to indicate the presence of the image and try to provide a 
way for the user to investigate the image itself.

Why is it not acceptable to omit the alt text?

> The Rorschach inkblot test example is covered in WCAG 2.0 [1] by the 
> following:
> "Sometimes content is primarily intended to create a specific sensory 
> experience that words cannot fully capture. Examples include a symphony 
> performance, works of visual art etc. For such content, text 
> alternatives at least identify the non-text content with a descriptive 
> label and where possible, some descriptive text. If the reason for 
> including the content in the page is known and can be described it is 
> helpful to include that information."
> [1] http://www.w3.org/TR/2007/WD-UNDERSTANDING-WCAG20-20071211/text-equiv-all.html

I disagree with this advice; I think it is harmful as it confuses titles 
and captions with alternatives, and it removes the ability for an AT to 
distinguish images that can be replaced by text with no indication of the 
image's existence with images that are key to the content.

Ian Hickson               U+1047E                )\._.,--....,'``.    fL
http://ln.hixie.ch/       U+263A                /,   _.. \   _\  ;`._ ,.
Things that are impossible just take longer.   `._.-(,_..'--(,_..'`-.;.'
Received on Friday, 11 April 2008 19:53:37 UTC

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