WebAIM - Web Accessibility In Mind

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From: John Foliot
Date: Sep 25, 2010 7:00PM

Vlad Alexander (XStandard) wrote
> I would not change the alt text for each image, instead I would change
> the images.

It doesn't work that way Vlad.

> I would put the name of each person in the image and I
> would put the purpose of the site/page at the top. This is a usability
> issue.

We simply are not going to change the way the web evolved Vlad, no matter
how much we want to. You talk to me like I'm some wet-behind-the-ears kid
who has no clue, and I find that offensive.

I presented you with two real-world sites that have real-world problems,
and rather than address solving the problems, you espouse how you would do
it differently. That's not your call to make.

Both of those examples also invalidate "*your* rule", because your rule
assumes that images are always part of a document narrative, and both of
those sites/pages are not about document narratives - their sole purpose
is to render images. You can stand on the sidelines and wave your hands
all you want about how they are doing it wrong, but that doesn't fix any
problems, it simply perpetuates the notion that web accessibility
advocates are inflexible and intransient in dealing with the reality of
the web today. The internet stopped being a collection of 'pages' years
ago, and pretending otherwise will get you nowhere - fast.

> As a sighted user I have no idea what this site does nor who
> those people are.

Did you ever consider, for just one second, that *because* the web is an
interactive medium that perhaps part of the 'exercise' was to click and

The page author could-have, should-have, would-have done things different
if it were Vald, but it wasn't you, it was a "design" firm, so design
esthetic was at the top of their mind. They *did* provide alt text to
those caricature images, and given the circumstances, while not optimum,
the alt text wasn't bad - when you look at that page in Lynx you have a
series of links to people's names - following those links takes you to
pages about that person. Where the site fails is the header information
and other navigational elements, as they used images instead of text, and
here omitted alt text entirely.

So if I were to approach that site owner about problems I would start
there - I wouldn't tell them that they need to rework all of those images,
the site layout, and that they did it "all wrong". Approaching any
interview/review session with that frame of mind and context ensures that
a) it's a short meeting, and b) I wouldn't be hearing back from that
client. Trust me, I learned that the hard way many, many, many years ago.

> John, if you are going to provide an example, please
> provide a best practice example that invalidates the rule I am
> proposing. Unless you are suggesting specifications and derivative
> works should teach users to write appropriate alt text for badly
> constructed Web pages.

Badly constructed is your assessment, not theirs. From a web-construction
perspective, that page almost fully validates, with 1 minor warning:
line 116 column 25 - Warning: <a> escaping malformed URI reference

I would ask them to reconsider the color contrast of the silver-gray text,
and I would certainly work to remove those "images as chunks of text" by
helping them understand that there, text vs. images would improve their
search-ability, etc. But truthfully, the alt text for the caricatures? I'm
not having any *real* problems.

And yes Vlad, we need to teach people to write good alt text for *all
manner of web pages*, not just the academic "pages" that meet your
criteria of "well constructed"...

> Regarding this photo site:
> http://www.zinkwazi.com/scripts/demo/phpslideshow.php?directory=photos
> Photos on photo sharing sites should have blank alt text. Instead,
> there should be a caption or label that is accessible to all visitors.
> Please see this:
> http://rebuildingtheweb.com/en/no-alt-text-for-photo-sharing-sites/

Yes Vlad, I've read your _opinion_ piece. I also note that many disagree
with your conclusion for a number of reasons. In the comments section with
that piece I also wrote:

"Practical outcomes trump technical purity 7 days a week
(certainly for the numerous blind and disabled users I have worked with
over the years), and *that* is what we should be striving for. Getting
overly religious about methodology stalls progress on the larger front"

So once again, telling content authors they *MUST* do something in only
one prescribed way is a fast-track ticket to nowhere. Instead we need to
help them achieve practical results, using whatever method works best for
the author as well as the end user. It's a partnership where the author
always has the upper-hand, so we need to get them to work towards our
goals, not by insisting that they do something *THIS WAY*, but by
exploring possible solutions that they can work with. As someone said to
me, "You can be right, or you can be married...".

But returning to that slideshow example and your rule, how do we provide
meaningful "textual substitute" for those images? You state:

> appropriate alternate text can only be authored by taking into
> consideration its context (content preceding and following the image).

While your point that slideshows should have richer descriptions supplied
via captions is fundamentally correct, if the design esthetic does not
allow captions for each image (as that example illustrates) what then? Alt
text might be less desirable than captions, but are still preferable than
no information at all. Taking absolute black or white stands might make
you feel righteous and on the path of good, but it rarely solves real
problems in the real world.

Besides, it wouldn't be that hard to find a page of thumbnail images that
have no room, desire or intention of providing captions to each thumbnail;
yes perhaps the full-sized image that the thumbnail represents would have
a caption, but it is simply unrealistic to expect that thumbnails will
have captions: no author is going to do that no matter how logical it may
seem to you. Now what?

> John wrote: "Please name one web-based 'machine' that only processes
> text, and does not process hyperlinks at the same time."
> Do you mean strip out the hyperlink when processing the content for a
> given purpose or when presenting that content to a user? Google does
> that. For example, here is one search result for search on longdesc:
> --- start ---
> 22 Aug 2010 ... How do we save longdesc ? The longdesc attribute,
> although potentially useful, was removed from the HTML5 specification,
> ...
> --- end ---

Do you take us all for idiots?

"<a done="done"
href="http://rebuildingtheweb.com/en/how-do-we-save-longdesc/" class="l"
onmousedown="return clk(this.href,',',','1',','0CBUQFjAA')"><em>How do
we save longdesc</em>?</a></h3><div class="s">Aug 22, 2010 <b>...</b>
<em>How do we save longdesc</em> ? The longdesc attribute, although
potentially useful, was removed from the HTML5 specification,<b>...</b>"

Google in *particular* processes links as part of their parsing of any
page - their entire business is built on eating links. Sure, you can copy
and paste that text and you will lose that URL reference, but the web is
not about print, it's about links, and pretending it is anything else is

I tire of this discussion; you want to be right rather than solve real
problems. I wish you good luck in that.

Sorry to everyone else if my anger got the better of me. I'm done.