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Re: alt text subleties
From: Paul Bohman
Date: Jul 16, 2001 4:25PM
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First of all, I just wanted to mention that the archives are once again functional.
Now to answer your question (my comments are inline):
> 1. We are starting to use brackets  around alt text, as is done on
> the Bobby site and some others. This helps a lot in lynx, which runs
> alt text and regular text together in a way that can be very confusing.
> It could be really annoying in screen readers though. In JAWS the
> punctuation can be turned off. Does anyone know if this is a common way
> to use JAWS (with punctuation turned off), or if this can be done in
> other screen readers? How do others handle this apparent conflict
> between lynx and screen readers?
> 2. "spacer" versus alt="" versus alt=" ":
Well, you were right that WebAIM recommends using alt="" (alt equals quote quote). Some people recommend using alt=" " (alt equals quote space quote), but this causes a "tooltip" to popup in Internet Explorer and some other browsers, but of course the tooltip has nothing inside of it. It is just a little yellow box. It looks a little strange. As far as using alt="spacer", I would definitely discourage this practice. If you go with that approach, then pretty soon the screen reader user will be hearing things like "spacer, spacer, left glowing edge, top glowing edge, blue shadow, vertical line top section . . ." and so on. No one wants to hear that. As far as making visual users think that they're missing out on something, I guess I'm just less concerned about that personally. The truth is that they're not missing out on anything. When you designate an image as having an empty alt tag you've essentially told everyone that that image isn't important. If the image is a small one by one pixel clear gif, then it won't matter either way. If the image is larger, then I suppose that a visual person who has the images turned off might wonder what the image was, but if all of the rest of your alt tags are good enough, maybe the user will assume that the image with the empty alt tag is not important.
(It's dangerous to assume anything, I realize, and it's dangerous to expect your users to assume anything, but here is somewhat of a justification: Usually, visual users have the images turned off by choice. If necessary, they can turn them on again. Blind users have no choice. They have to take what the web developer gives them, which is why alt tags are so important in the first place.)
WebAIM: Web Accessibility in Mind (www.webaim.org)
Center for Persons with Disabilities (www.cpd.usu.edu)
Utah State University (www.usu.edu)