Re: several messages about alt

Henri Sivonen wrote:
> A part of this fourth group consists of 
> software engineers who will
>  1) write software that is primarily meant for pushing pixels onto the 
> Web (no matter how you try to spin it, in the real world, pushing the 
> pixels to the Web is the primary function--getting the alt text out 
> there is not the primary function)
>  2) want (either directly themselves or as a client requirement) the 
> output of their software to be valid HTML (whatever that means)
>  3) realize that there's no fundamental computer science barrier to 
> pushing around pixels without an accompanying string (hence the string 
> can be faked to accomplish #1 and #2 simultaneously)
> The first group of people wants, based on their value judgment, to 
> establish a social norm onto the third group of people against the value 
> judgment of this third group. This is a social problem. The norm is 
> supposed to benefit the second group of people: the blind. Thus, any 
> rational measure of the goodness of the policy should involve measuring 
> the actual benefit to this second group.

I think you've summed up the problem rather well here. The main issue 
here seems to be of misplaced blame.

If someone (the "author") hand-authors a page which contains an IMG 
element with its ALT attribute omitted, the author will rightly get 
blamed and shamed for this. (whether the author will pay any attention 
remains to be seen.)

If someone (the author, again) creates a page with an authoring tool, 
whether that be a traditional WYSIWYG HTML editor or something more 
structured like a web-based photo gallery package, and the author 
includes an image with no accompanying alternative text, who is to blame 
now? I think rightfully the blame belongs to the author for not 
providing the alternative text -- assuming, of course, that the software 
had a facility for providing it -- but web-based software vendors tend 
to take it personally when their output fails to validate because of 
incomplete user input.

So what are these poor software vendors to do? As I see it, they really 
have only two options under the traditional "ALT-required" regime:
  * Force the user to provide alternative text.
  * Accept that invalid HTML is going to be created when the user does 
not provide alternative text and live with it. This could be 
supplemented with a strong recommendation in the software that 
alternative text be provided, thus informing the author of his 

The third option that HTML5 adds -- that such software can simply omit 
the alt attribute and nothing more will be said about it -- seems to 
address the problem of misplaced blame over missing alternative rather 
than the problem of missing alternative text itself.

Ultimately it is the author that's responsible for the content, not the 
software he uses to create the content.

Received on Wednesday, 16 April 2008 19:35:11 UTC