Re: Investigating the proposed alt attribute recommendations in HTML 5

You can also download a demo version of JAWS and look through the 
documentation and settings.
----- Original Message ----- 
From: "John Foliot" <>
To: "'Henri Sivonen'" <>
Cc: "'HTMLWG'" <>; <>
Sent: Tuesday, September 11, 2007 2:36 PM
Subject: RE: Investigating the proposed alt attribute recommendations in 

Henri Sivonen wrote:
> I think that isn't quite the right question. I think the right
> question is, what blind Web users would prefer to hear with the
> constraint that another human can't be consulted and only software
> heuristics can be used.

While I understand that we often use 'short-hand' when using written
communications, please remember that tools such as JAWS, WindowEyes,
Emacspeak (and other screen reading technologies) might also output content
to yet more adaptive technology such as Braille Refresh bars.  As well, it
is totally conceivable that sighted users might want to have screen reading
technology at their disposal as well: perhaps a user-agent in your car
dashboard that reads aloud directions to that great new restaurant...

> Without knowing the actual preferences blind users have,

Another critical point to be factored into the equation: software such as
JAWS can be configured to the end-needs of the user; for example JAWS has
three user settings: Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced.  Through these
settings, the end user can adjust the amount of "verbosity" generated by the
tools.  For example:

Graphics Verbosity: There are three levels of verbosity for this option:
All, Labeled and None. If you choose Labeled Graphics, JAWS will announce
graphics that have been labeled with the graphics labeler. If you choose All
Graphics, JAWS will announce labeled graphics if they have been labeled with
the graphics labeler; if not, JAWS will assign a unique number to the

(as well, specific to HTML documents, in the Configuration Manager/HTML
(links tab), there is a toggle on/off for the @title attribute - the default
setting is off, thus relying on @title in lieu of @alt is a dangerous

Say All By: This setting has four verbosity levels and is used when pressing
Insert + Down-Arrow, which is the JAWS Say All command. If you choose By
Lines with Pauses, JAWS will pause for a moment at the end of the line of
text it has just finished reading before moving to the next line. You can
also choose By Line without Pauses, and JAWS will read smoothly. If you
choose By Paragraph, JAWS will pause momentarily at the end of the paragraph
that has just been read before proceeding to the next paragraph. If you
choose By Sentence, JAWS will pause for a moment at the end of each sentence
after it has been read.

Punctuation: this setting has four levels of verbosity-most, some, all, or
none. If you choose most, the majority of punctuation marks will be
announced by JAWS. If you choose None, JAWS won't announce any punctuation,
but the voice inflection will indicate when a sentence starts, ends, when
there is a question mark or an exclamation point.

Spell Text: There are two levels of verbosity for this setting. If you
choose Alphabetically, JAWS will spell text alphabetically; if you choose
Phonetically, JAWS will say "alpha, bravo, etc."

Synthesizer: When this setting is turned on, JAWS will use the speech
synthesizer; if you have a Braille display, you can follow along as the text
is being read aloud. If you have this setting turned off, you will not hear
any speech; JAWS will be functioning, but you will need to use your Braille
display instead of listening.

[More settings can be found at:]

Léonie Watson of Nomensa has also written a wonderful 3 part article on
configuring JAWS, found at:

> I am asking what kind of improvements to screen readers are realistic
> within, say, the next 7 years. As a software developer, I can assess
> what kinds of problems are algorithmically solvable and I think I
> understand market dynamics as they relate to server-side development
> and to browser development. I don't understand the market dynamics of
> screen readers, though.

Small market served by an even smaller corporate base.  Essentially 2
mainstream front-runners (JAWS and WindowEyes) along with a few others
(including smaller, localized versions for foreign languages), plus some
open source stuff that tries real hard but operates on goodwill and free
time.  The software is also fairly expensive, slowing the "upgrade" path
considerably.  Unlike browser upgrades (which can be frequent given that the
software is free), many of the users I know will only upgrade their screen
reading software when they upgrade their total system - which is probably in
the 3 to 7 year range (system vendors might be able to tighten this number
down a bit, but based on Microsoft's OS support plans, this would seem
roughly right)

> It would sure be nice if we had the freedom to think past the current
> versions of JAWS as used with IE.

But we *must* think beyond creating a spec that serves "JAWS".  Once upon a
time Netscape 4 ruled the web, and creating a spec that caters to a single
technology is wrong.

> The division of work between the browser and the speaking desktop
> environment is an implementation detail that should not be prescribed
> in the markup spec. However, if, due to market dynamics or whatever
> inertia, vendors of speaking desktop environments simply won't
> improve the treatment of images that lack alternative text, perhaps
> the spec should suggest that it would be good for the user experience
> if the browsers took over and faked an alt text.

Perhaps.  Suggesting however that allowing "nothing" as part of the spec
cannot be seen as a positive step forward - a message that has been
consistent from some quarters since the beginning.  It might not solve the
"Real Problem" [Jon Barnett], but it certainly does not help it.


Received on Tuesday, 11 September 2007 20:33:14 UTC