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Re: null alt text

From: Liam McGee <liam.mcgee@communis.co.uk>
Date: Thu, 05 Feb 2009 15:51:50 +0000
Message-ID: <498B0B16.2030607@communis.co.uk>
To: William Loughborough <wloughborough@gmail.com>
CC: EOWG <w3c-wai-eo@w3.org>, "Gregory J. Rosmaita" <oedipus@hicom.net>

Hi William - eloquently put, and I am certainly no supporter of lazy 
null alt text - but my least favourite piece of free verse is "spacer 
graphic", especially when read over and over again (although I guess 
there's probably dadaists who are fans :) ).

Do you reject the idea that alt is co-equal equivalence, title is 
supporting info about an element? Title is read by JAWS if set to 
verbose (a reason not to duplicate title and alt content), so can we not 
then reserve alt for functionally (or aesthetically) equivalence, rather 
than meta-data?

I have to admit, I quite like the idea of using haiku to evoke the 
momentary reaction of a 'purely decorative' element... but I guess that 
this is not an art project, it's an argument about what we advise. I 
think that on a weel-designed site, null alt text is probably being 
lazy. On a badly designed site, littered with graphical elements that 
are merely an aid to visual layout, I think that null alt is heaps 
better than the alternative.

Anyone else want to pitch in on this?

William Loughborough wrote:
> So the classic argument becomes "But what if the choice is between 
> terrible poetry and silence?" That choice should be pre-settable within 
> the screen reader, not an escape hatch for authors who suck at providing 
> an alternative to any unwanted voicings. It's all in the hands of the 
> authoring tool and the design of the assistive technology.
> In sum, we are not providing an "equal" experience for the screen reader 
> user in deference to the "until the technology gets smarter" offput of 
> responsibility. If you are going to provide "accessible" content (and 
> not doing so makes you a scofflaw!) you should leave no element 
> unaccounted for.
> We have skated around this matter for over a decade and the usual 
> arguments against full inclusion continue to plague us. It's back to the 
> old "why would a blind guy want to know where/why I put that <hr>" or 
> how the page "looks".
> Love.
> On Thu, Feb 5, 2009 at 3:38 AM, Liam McGee <liam.mcgee@communis.co.uk 
> <mailto:liam.mcgee@communis.co.uk>> wrote:
>     William Loughborough wrote:
>         Me and Gregory have been about the only voices in WAI forums for
>         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.
>     L.
>     -- 
>     www.communis.co.uk <http://www.communis.co.uk>
Received on Thursday, 5 February 2009 15:52:33 UTC

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