W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > wai-xtech@w3.org > August 2008

Re: Mandatory and Important

From: Matt Morgan-May <mattmay@adobe.com>
Date: Thu, 21 Aug 2008 14:45:57 -0700
To: Justin James <j_james@mindspring.com>, "'Laura Carlson'" <laura.lee.carlson@gmail.com>, "'Doug Schepers'" <schepers@w3.org>
CC: "'Karl Dubost'" <karl@w3.org>, Ian Hickson <ian@hixie.ch>, "'HTML WG'" <public-html@w3.org>, "'W3C WAI-XTECH'" <wai-xtech@w3.org>, <wai-liaison@w3.org>, "'John Foliot'" <foliot@wats.ca>, "'Gez Lemon'" <gez.lemon@gmail.com>, Al Gilman <Alfred.S.Gilman@IEEE.org>, <w3c-wai-pf@w3.org>
Message-ID: <C4D33025.D197%mattmay@adobe.com>

On 8/21/08 1:00 PM, "Justin James" <j_james@mindspring.com> wrote:
> Then you need to re-read Laura's message. She seems to be under the
> impression that making @alt mandatory will create a huge surge in its usage.

Nobody's arguing that @alt usage will "surge". I expect that it will tread
water. What is being argued is that it would drop precipitously among those
who validate, if it were optional.

> Experience with HTML 4 has shown that this is *clearly* not the case. A
> large problem with this, is that authoring tools don't demand @alt.

False, and false. Many leading authoring tools in various segments (WYSIWYG,
text-based, even CMS) have been prompting for @alt for years. And if you
think it's bad now, lower its importance and see what happens.

> Indeed, what I
> wrote was that tool vendors will not make their tools require @alt,
> regardless of whether or not the HTML spec requires it, because this will
> annoy *users of the tools*. World of difference. Tool vendors do what their
> users want and demand.

I do happen to be one of those tool vendors, you know, and you're half-right
here. Tool vendors do what their customers demand, and many of our customers
demand tools that enforce their policies for creating content, which
includes validation, which includes (ta-da!) mandatory @alt. How efficiently
they do that is not a consideration for the language spec, but a function of
market pressure to create a usable product. Companies are competing on this,

> If the tools are a hassle to use (like endless
> prompts for @alt), people will use other tools that are less annoying. So
> what is going to happen? Tool vendors will *not* require that their users
> provide @alt content, and just silently inject an empty @alt.

ATAG was designed to minimize the hassle involved on the part of the user.
Have you read it?


> Given the absence of @alt on the Web today, it is clear that mandating @alt
> is not the solution to this problem in the slightest.

The only way this is going to be proven one way or another is by making @alt
optional, and witnessing the dramatic decline in compliance. I'm not
interested in codifying a test case in a Rec. But I am confident you're
completely in the wrong on this.

> The *entire* point of <img> is to... display an image.

And the point of displaying an image is to _communicate information_. In
that sense, @alt is as necessary as @src.

> In fact, in many cases
> (such as decorative images, or [shudder] "spacer" images), @alt makes life
> miserable not just for sighted users, but those with accessibility needs
> too.

I fail to see how alt="" causes misery.

> The people who write code by hand are a minority compared to those using
> tools. Those who then run their code through a validator are even less. Look
> at the stats on the amount of valid HTML 4 code on the planet. People can't
> even get doctype correct, do you honestly think that making @alt mandatory
> will lead to a sudden surge in @alt usage?

Remember that @alt _is_ mandatory, and that most if not all of the texts on
HTML (even the ones that don't equate @alt with a tooltip) indicate that
it's required. I'm saying we've gotten this far in large part _because_ of
@alt being mandatory, not that we can get much further.

> Why do you (and Laura) seem to believe that the HTML 5 spec carries the same
> weight with people as laws? What do you think happens to people who violate
> the spec, the police come and arrest them, or fine them? Please stop making
> comparisons to actual laws, and please stop thinking that making @alt
> mandatory will mean it suddenly gets used.

My example wasn't about the law, but human behavior. Opt-out causes more
performance than opt-in. Simple.

But since you mentioned the law, it _is_ the law for the US and European
governments, and all of the UK and Australia, at a minimum, that @alt be
populated in a meaningful way. And by the time HTML5 reaches Rec, that legal
requirement will be applied more broadly in the US and EU, and take effect
in more countries and, at this rate, any new planets we've colonized by
then. So if you care about adoption of HTML5 in those arenas, it's going to
need to be seen as a step forward for accessibility compared to HTML 4.01 to
gain traction, particularly in governmental circles.

> Indeed, many of my objections to things in HTML 5 are based around the idea
> that it promotes development techniques like AJAX that are extremely
> accessibility unfriendly.

This is already being handled elsewhere. (That's not an accident.)
> But I am also a realist who has been around the block quite a few times, and
> I'm telling you, just because @alt is mandatory does not mean that
> accessibility will be there, it just means that you are going to get a bunch
> of empty @alt's all over the place, at best.

Simply repeating your mantra doesn't make it true. (Unless you happen to be
president, apparently.) The web, or at least the small portion we have
influence over, has responded positively (if grudgingly) to mandatory @alt
text. And nobody has provided anything above anecdotes arguably reflecting
the indifference around them to suggest that @alt is broadly misused. And
_if_ it's being this broadly misused, then to make it optional is merely to
sanction doing nothing instead.

> And this is *precisely* why I support Karl's suggestion that we make @alt
> mandatory (despite the fact that I feel that it is a meaningless gesture),
> bring @role into force across the board, and refer HTML authors to the WCAG
> for accessibility guidance.

Swell. Thanks for venting about how stupid it is to advocate more or less
the same position as you do.

Received on Thursday, 21 August 2008 21:47:16 UTC

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