Shortly after launching our new web site in June, I started receiving e-mails regarding the alternative text for several of the images on the site. Most of the e-mails went something like this, “I can’t believe that a reputable accessibility group like WebAIM could launch a site that has images with missing ALT text. Shame on you!”
First of all, I believe that every image on our site has and always has had the required alt attribute. The images in question were decorative images used on some of our second level pages – images that were given empty (or null) alt text. Because these images do not convey information that is central to the content of the page, but are only there for visual appeal, adding a description of the image to the alt attribute would be inappropriate. Some of the images people were writing about shouldn’t have alternative text because it would be redundant with content from the surrounding page. My photo on this page is an example. It has empty alternative text. Who would want to hear their screen reader read, “Jared Smith. Photo of Jared Smith” or something similar? The CONTENT of the image (that it’s me writing this article) is already conveyed in the page content. It’s clear that there is still some misunderstanding (or confusion) over what constitutes appropriate alternative text.
And I have recently seen some very divergent recommendations, even from accessibility experts, as to the proper implementation of alternative text. Alternative text for images is the first principle of web accessibility. Despite this, there seem to be examples of improper alt text all over the web, even on sites that claim to be very accessible. Even our own site has some poor examples. That’s we we have written an article offering some best practices in creating alternative text.
This article presents the basics of alternative text and showcases many examples of proper implementation. These recommendations come from our understanding of accessibility standards and screen-reader users. I know that some folks may have differing opinions regarding these techniques and I’d be happy to see your comments on how and why you would do things differently.