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Re: null alt text

From: Liam McGee <liam.mcgee@communis.co.uk>
Date: Thu, 05 Feb 2009 11:38:27 +0000
Message-ID: <498ACFB3.2080809@communis.co.uk>
To: William Loughborough <wloughborough@gmail.com>
CC: EOWG <w3c-wai-eo@w3.org>, "Gregory J. Rosmaita" <oedipus@hicom.net>

William Loughborough wrote:
> Me and Gregory have been about the only voices in WAI forums for using 
> Now a survey at http://webaim.org/projects/screenreadersurvey/#images 
> seems to validate our view because this attitude is shared widely by PWD 
> but NOT by non-disabled observers. Also, it seems the more skilled at 
> using screen readers the user is, the more she prefers information to 
> any concern with repetitive stuff which they apparently can filter out 
> with little trouble.
> My contention remains that if one wants to avoid over-verbiage it should 
> be a function of the screen reader NOT the content author.
> Love.

Hi William,

very interesting. Yes, in my experience user testing with partially 
sighted users, there is certainly a wish for information about images 
that can be seen on the page but not made out visually by the user.

However, in my purist's soul there is a difference between a description 
of an image and an alternative to that image. I take the view that the 
alt text should be functionally or aesthetically equivalent to the image 
it supports, but that it should not usually be a description of the 
image. We have the title and longdesc attributes for that.

So, to reiterate: alt is an equivalent in a different modality. It is 
not metadata. It is co-equal.

So when is a null alt appropriate? Well, certainly in the bad old days 
of spacer gifs I wasn't a fan of the alt text value of "spacer". What 
about pretties though? Is it possible to translate from a visual 
aesthetic to a verbal one? The visual aesthetic evokes certain emotional 
responses... so should we seek to evoke similar emotional responses with 
the alt text, so that it is a true alternative, just one in a different 
modality? Perhaps alt text should be poetry, with mundane description 
reserved for title and longdesc. But what if the choice is between 
terrible poetry and silence? I would argue that in this case, silence is 
golden, and if you want the description of the visual effect of the 
image, get the title of the element, not the alt.

Just my 2p.

Regards to you all, see you Friday, in an aural modality.

Received on Thursday, 5 February 2009 11:39:11 UTC

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