[whatwg] ALT and equivalent representation

RE: Comments by Phillip Taylor and Bill Mason regarding alt=""

You both raise some excellent points. Logically alt should be optional 
since as you clearly demonstrate some things have no alternate textual 
meaning (at least not one of any value to the user). The trouble with 
alt="" (or no alt) is the unfortunate but extremely common tendency for 
designers to simply ignore the small percentage of people that need alt 
tags to access the internet. Clients will generally shop around for a 
web company that offers the lowest prices to provide the flashiest 
designs. There's a tendency for the lowest bidder to take shortcuts that 
the client will never "see", alt tags being one of these. To make 
matters worse some browsers display the alt tag while waiting for images 
to come from the server and this creates visual artifacts that designers 
and clients generally consider undesirable.

The end result of this is that alt tags tend to be seen as a burden by 
the majority of web designers I've met. The ONLY reason they get used at 
all is because validators complain about them not being included and 
because SEO companies are trying to stuff more keywords into the page. I 
often spend a considerable amount of time inserting alt tags that other 
designers consider optional. It is a debatable point whether these tags 
are a personal whim or an essential part of the contract. Essentially 
without some guidance from the specification it is my client who pays 
for my "charity" to disadvantaged users. I know that in most cases blind 
users do not form a significant enough percentage of their clientele to 
affect profits (it may be a art gallery for example). Also these are not 
government sites or contractors with mandated accessibility, and as far 
as I know there is no law requiring corporate sites to provide 
alternative text for blind users.

The ONLY "business" justification I have for using alt tags is that a 
w3c valid site REQUIRES them and this may increase the sites Google rank 
(which is just speculation really). If you take the requirement out to 
use them on every image in a valid site then you take away much of my 
argument for using them at all.

I think this is a case where logic must give way to corporate 
consideration, as public and charitable sites would probably use alt 
tags without being told, but 95% of the mainstream internet will not - 
given half a chance.


Received on Friday, 18 April 2008 21:19:46 UTC