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When alt=""


From: Cliff Tyllick
Date: Mar 22, 2009 10:50PM

When Jared announced the initial results of WebAIM's survey of people who rely on us to make sure they have access to the Web, I was struck by the strong and disparate positions on when an alt attribute should be empty. Lots of people had good reasons for wanting the photo next to a name or an image added to provide a splash of color to have an alt tag. In particular, I was struck by the responses along the lines of, "I have partial vision, so I can tell that *something* is there. Why can't I tell what it is on my own?"

Out of the blue, a possible solution hit me: What if we always populate longdesc when alt is empty?

For example, a key point of contention in the discussion that ran on back then was whether Jared's photo next to his name on his blog should have an empty alt tag--and, if not, what the content of the tag should be. If we were to adopt "populate longdesc when alt is empty" as a standard practice, then the coding could be:

<img src="sourcepath/sourcefile.jpg" alt="" longdesc="author's photo" />

Presumably, people who don't care to know what images with empty alt tags are could set their readers to ignore longdesc when alt="" and people who wanted to know everything could adjust their readers to always read longdesc to them. (I'll admit ignorance on what is and what isn't possible in the adjustment of screen readers. Still, it seems to me that vendors could easily make this possible if it isn't already.)

Yes, it would be using an attribute for something other than its original purpose, but I think this sticks with the spirit of the purpose for having longdesc. And it would give the user complete control over what they hear.

Am I missing something? Or does this make sense?

Cliff Tyllick
Web development coordinator
Agency Communications Division
Texas Commission on Environmental Quality