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Re: use of alt attributes in decorative images

From: Kynn Bartlett <kynn-edapta@idyllmtn.com>
Date: Wed, 24 Jan 2001 17:14:42 -0800
Message-Id: <>
To: Frank Tobin <ftobin@uiuc.edu>
Cc: <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
At 02:08 PM 1/24/2001 , Frank Tobin wrote:
>Some images in xhtml documents are there merely for presentational
>purposes;  they have no semantic or navigational meaning whatsoever.  For
>example, they can be used to add to the "feel" of the site.  Is it
>appropriate to give these images a non-empty alt descrition?

They should have ALT="" if they are -purely- visual decoration.
You can use TITLE="Picture of a bird on a branch" or the
LONGDESC attribute if you need to add further explanation to these

>Should the
>alt describe the image, or should it only describe it only if the
>description of the image would flow within the surrounding content and
>structure of the document?

The latter -- in an ideal case, ALT text should be constructed so
that if viewing it in Lynx or hearing it on a screenreader, the
interface seems "natural" and not a version obviously derivative
of the graphical version.

>Would somehow using CSS be a better approach to embedding these
>presentational-only images?

Yes, in general.  In practice this is harder than it sounds!  It is
hard to make it work well across all browsers, plus CSS doesn't
offer the ability to embed meta-information (such as ALT, TITLE,
LONGDESC) where appropriate.


Kynn Bartlett  <kynn@idyllmtn.com>                http://kynn.com/
Technical Developer Relations, Reef           http://www.reef.com/
Chief Technologist, Idyll Mountain Internet   http://idyllmtn.com/
Contributor, Special Ed. Using XHTML     http://kynn.com/+seuxhtml
Unofficial Section 508 Checklist       http://kynn.com/+section508
Received on Wednesday, 24 January 2001 20:24:21 UTC

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