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RE: FW: alt text size


From: John Foliot
Date: Aug 21, 2006 2:20PM

Jared Smith wrote:
> Interesting approach with the square brackets. I've found that JAWS
> reads "left bracket" and "right bracket" in the default
> configuration. While the
> motivation for this is visual separation thing, I would think that
> this
> should best be done by the user agent, not by the introduction of
> extraneous characters to the content.

...and as I responded to Patrick, I don't disagree. However, in the here
and now...

> However, some text-only browsers
> don't provide this separation. My own *opinion* would be that the
> overhead
> of the brackets and corruption (perhaps this is not the best word) of
> the
> content provides a negative impact that outweighs the benefit the
> brackets
> might give to those using text-only browsers (a very small population
> - I
> would guess much smaller than the screen reader population).

While I hear what you are saying, how is this a "negative impact" on screen
reader users? From a conceptual perspective, it in fact *does* signal a
"chunk" different from the others. I've heard (as I sure you have) screen
readers float right past alt text (especially when the image is placed
in-line with, say, a paragraph) without the user realizing that what they
actually heard *was* alt text. Again, most regular screen reader users that
I have encountered tend to "tool up" their software to read faster than the
default install, as well as at a far less verbosity than the default.
However, I would be very interested to hear from actual users on this...

> While the inclusion of "photo", "painting", or "icon" might be
> appropriate
> in cases where it is important for the user to know the nature of the
> image (for instance, a photo as compared to a painting), I think most
> people would argue against identifying images as images within
> alternative
> text. And I can't think of any case where the word "image" would be
> appropriate within alternative text. The purpose of alternative text
> is to
> provide an alternative to the content and/or function of the image,
> not to
> identify the presence of an image.

Again, it's a question of balance. Does specifically identifying a page
element as an "image" impact negatively on screen reader users? While being
specific: [Painting - The Mona Lisa] is definitely more useful to all than a
generic: [Image - the painting of the Mona Lisa], in both instances I
suggest that we are providing more than just alt="The Mona Lisa". Is this
good or bad? I don't have a definitive answer; don't have any hard data to
base an answer on. But if we are to consider the impact on cognitive load
issues, I would suggest that providing this type of information *could* be
of benefit to that user group, and that providing the same information to
non-visual users is not that "harmful". Either way, I am glad we are having
this conversation, and again, screen reader users... Please give feedback.

> I do find it interesting that there is still such a divergent opinion
> of
> best practices for alternative text, the first principle of web
> accessibility. I'm close to completing an article that will present
> my own opinion of some best practices.

I agree, and perhaps one of the things that can emerge is some firmer
guidance on this topic from community consensus. Jump in everybody!

John Foliot
Academic Technology Specialist - Online Accessibility
Stanford University
560 Escondido Mall
Meyer Library 181
Stanford, CA 94305-3093