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Re: Is "this-or-that logo" adequate in an ALT text?


From: kynn@idyllmtn.com
Date: Aug 26, 2002 4:18PM

It's hard to come up with a general "best rule" for alt text, since in
many cases it's a matter of style. If you made a test of 10 different
images and asked 10 different accessibility "experts" to provide alt
text, you will likely get 10 different sets of answers.

The key, I think, is to cultivate the mindset whereby Web authors take
alt text into consideration, and not necessarily insist on one person's
view of "the perfect alt text" for each image. In nearly every case,
it is better to have tried and put what YOU think is appropriate --
based on your knowledge of assistive technology -- than to attempt to
please everyone with "the perfect answer."

In fact, you can get different answers from different blind folks as
well. If you are looking for perfection, you will fail, since you won't
be able to please all of the folks all of the time.

If you are looking for usability, however, that is fairly easily
accomplished and will provide heightened access to a huge number of
people who would be otherwise without.

It is good to consider what the "best" alt text is. It is more
important to have a "decent" alt text than to achieve this mythical
"perfect" one.


PS: Okay, I will address the real issue instead of merely the meta-
issue. Consider a page which has logo, such as the HTML Writers
Guild's site. The logo is a button which reads "HTML Writers
Guild." Then you've got an <h1> with the same text. What should
the alt text be?

Answer: It doesn't matter as long as it's within the realm of
sensibility. You shouldn't strive for "the perfect alt
text" because no such beast exists, but you should be
consistent and thoughtful in your stylistic choice.

Here's some choices you could make in this case:

1. The alt text could be alt="HTML Writers Guild". In nearly
any situation where an image contains actual text, the alt
text is likely just that text itself. Drawback? The page
now reads as "HTML Writers Guild HTML Writers Guild" because
there's already an <h1> with that very alt text.

2. The alt text could be alt="[HTML Writers Guild Logo]". (I
think this is what it is currently.) This identifies the logo
as more than simply the WORDS "HTML Writers Guild", and the
identification of the image as a logo provides context as to
the function of the image. It's an identifier, and may even
prove to be a link of value. Remember that on many Web sites,
the logo in the upper left corner is a link that returns you to
the top page.

3. Keeping that in mind, one could conceivably set the alt text
to alt="Back to HWG homepage" -- this is a less than optimal
solution, though, because while it identifies the link function,
it's not really valid alt text. The "Back to HWG homepage"
text belongs in the title attribute of the link.

Aside: The HWG logo is indeed a link to the HWG homepage on
every page on the site, save for the homepage itself.
On the home page, the link goes to the information page
which tells you how to use the logo -- so in that case
(and that case alone), the proposed alt text in #2
may be the most accurate!

4. It's redundant and unnecessary to repeat "HTML Writers Guild",
so maybe this is just decorative text. So let's just set it
to alt="". We can put a title on it as per #3. The drawback
is that the link function can easily get lost, especially in
a browser such as Lynx, if the alt text is null or alt=" "

5. There's also a problem with #1, #2, and #3 in that they put this
logo's alt text before the headline. The headline really should
come first on the page. This image is just part of the
navigation bar, which is a secondary part of the page information
visually, but its prominence in the markup makes it the first
thing read by the screenreader. The page should instead be laid
out using CSS for positioning, so that the headline comes first
in the markup, and the logo -- with alt text of your choice --
is down in the secondary (or tertiary!) navigation where it
belongs. Approach #5 can be combined with any of #1 to #4
above, and you will notice that the new location will indeed
affect how you view the appropriateness of various alt text.

So what's best? Again, it's a matter of style. It's more important
that you think about it and apply your decision consistently. If
you do that much, I will be happy.

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