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Re: ALT as required attribute

From: Jukka K. Korpela <jkorpela@cs.tut.fi>
Date: Tue, 4 Feb 2003 09:49:28 +0200 (EET)
To: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org
Message-ID: <Pine.GSO.4.50.0302040925260.23251-100000@korppi.cs.tut.fi>

On Tue, 4 Feb 2003, Charles McCathieNevile wrote:

> As near as I can tell the question is not about what alt is good for,
> but whether there is any reason to worry about ensuring there is always
> an alt - for example, why use alt="" instead of just leaving out the
> alt attribute?

The short answer is that lack of alt means 'no idea of what should be done
about this image in no-images mode' whereas alt="" means 'act in no-images
mode as if the <img> element were not there'.

> I give two answers here - one about the alt attribute in particular,
> and the other about the idea of validation in general.

Sorry, I think you are putting the carriage in front of the horse.
Validation should be a tool, not an aim. Even accessibility is a tool,
not the end, and validation is just a tool for the tool, and a rather
pathetic tool if I may say so. In fact, we've seen quite a lot
of problems arising both from validation (in SGML sense) and from various
checkers like Bobby, and my gut feeling is that things would be better if
nobody knew about them as far as accessibility is considered.

I'm not saying that the tools are useless. Validation is marginally useful
for checking that you haven't accidentally omitted alt attributes, for
example. But as all tools, it should be used only by people who have at
least minimal understanding of how to use it.

> alt attribute:
> Always including it is something of a sign that you cared about getting
> it right.

A ritual, so to say, isn't it? And it is alarmingly common to carry the
emblems of this cult, the validation and Bobby and whatever icons.

I _have_ seen quite a lot of worse than useless alt attributes that have
been inserted to show that people cared about "getting it right", at least
if you ask _them_. "foo.gif (2383 bytes)", "decorative image",
"" for an navigational image that contains text, and repeating
(verbatim) something already told in the text. Actually, some of those
mistakes have been caused by listening to what I have taught and
misunderstanding it.

Maybe we should stop telling people to use alt attributes. This wouldn't
mean stopping to tell about the needs of the blind and visually impaired,
or about visual browsing without images, or about people who do no
_understand_ an image no matter how sharply they see it. Authors should
perhaps _first_ consider how to deal with such issues without alt
attributes. Then, perhaps, we could tell about this little invention,
which would make authoring a little easier, not more difficult.
(Authors can always use words in normal text to explain the message of an
image, and _should_ often do that instead of trying to squeeze something
obscure into an alt attribute.

Jukka "Yucca" Korpela, http://www.cs.tut.fi/~jkorpela/
Received on Tuesday, 4 February 2003 02:49:31 UTC

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