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Thread: ALT Text - CMS Problem

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From: David Ashleydale
Date: Thu, Apr 14 2011 4:18PM
Subject: ALT Text - CMS Problem
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Hi,

I have a conundrum that I'd love to hear some perspectives on. We have a
content management system at work that forces users to enter non-null ALT
text for every image on a web page -- even images that are deemed
"decorative".

First, do you think I should get them to fix this system so that users can
choose whether an image gets ALT text or null ALT text? One of the potential
problems with doing that is it might result in meaningful images getting
null ALT text because the page authors could then just "skip them" by
choosing null. Since we are now forcing page authors to think about ALT
text, they're at least trying and they cannot proceed without assigning ALT
text to every image. And we do have a much higher percentage of meaningful
images than decorative images on our site.

Is it worth possibly increasing the number of meaningful images with null
ALT text in order to correctly assign null ALT text to decorative images?

Second, if we do leave the system the way it is, what are some good
guidelines to give to page authors when they are confronted with having to
come up with ALT text for decorative images? I'm sure "keep it short" is one
good tip -- any others?

Thanks,
David Ashleydale

From: Chris Hoffman
Date: Thu, Apr 14 2011 4:45PM
Subject: Re: ALT Text - CMS Problem
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Hi David,

How about keeping the required alt text field, and adding another "Is this a decorative image?" (default = false) field. Then, if the description is "top left corner -- blue", you can still display the image with an empty alt attribute.

That would keep people from omitting alt text where it _is_ necessary, and additionally get them to consider the roles the images play in the user experience, which may be a good thing.

Chris


On Apr 14, 2011, at 6:08 PM, David Ashleydale < = EMAIL ADDRESS REMOVED = > wrote:

> Hi,
>
> I have a conundrum that I'd love to hear some perspectives on. We have a
> content management system at work that forces users to enter non-null ALT
> text for every image on a web page -- even images that are deemed
> "decorative".
>
> First, do you think I should get them to fix this system so that users can
> choose whether an image gets ALT text or null ALT text? One of the potential
> problems with doing that is it might result in meaningful images getting
> null ALT text because the page authors could then just "skip them" by
> choosing null. Since we are now forcing page authors to think about ALT
> text, they're at least trying and they cannot proceed without assigning ALT
> text to every image. And we do have a much higher percentage of meaningful
> images than decorative images on our site.
>
> Is it worth possibly increasing the number of meaningful images with null
> ALT text in order to correctly assign null ALT text to decorative images?
>
> Second, if we do leave the system the way it is, what are some good
> guidelines to give to page authors when they are confronted with having to
> come up with ALT text for decorative images? I'm sure "keep it short" is one
> good tip -- any others?
>
> Thanks,
> David Ashleydale
>

From: Vlad Alexander (XStandard)
Date: Thu, Apr 14 2011 4:51PM
Subject: Re: ALT Text - CMS Problem
← Previous message | Next message →

Hi David,

The best approach is to show authors how the text they compose in the alternate text field is going to be used. Once authors "see" alternate text in use, the penny drops. This is how we achieve this in XStandard WYSIWYG editor through a feature called Images As Text:

http://xstandard.com/en/articles/better-alt/

If your CMS does not support an editor with Images As Text feature, consider training authors to think of alternate text not as a short description of an image but as a textual substitute for an image that must read well within surrounding text.

Regards,
-Vlad


-------- Original Message --------
From: David Ashleydale
Date: 4/14/2011 3:08 PM
> Hi,
>
> I have a conundrum that I'd love to hear some perspectives on. We have a
> content management system at work that forces users to enter non-null ALT
> text for every image on a web page -- even images that are deemed
> "decorative".
>
> First, do you think I should get them to fix this system so that users can
> choose whether an image gets ALT text or null ALT text? One of the potential
> problems with doing that is it might result in meaningful images getting
> null ALT text because the page authors could then just "skip them" by
> choosing null. Since we are now forcing page authors to think about ALT
> text, they're at least trying and they cannot proceed without assigning ALT
> text to every image. And we do have a much higher percentage of meaningful
> images than decorative images on our site.
>
> Is it worth possibly increasing the number of meaningful images with null
> ALT text in order to correctly assign null ALT text to decorative images?
>
> Second, if we do leave the system the way it is, what are some good
> guidelines to give to page authors when they are confronted with having to
> come up with ALT text for decorative images? I'm sure "keep it short" is one
> good tip -- any others?
>
> Thanks,
> David Ashleydale
>

From: Jukka K. Korpela
Date: Thu, Apr 14 2011 11:30PM
Subject: Re: ALT Text - CMS Problem
← Previous message | Next message →

David Ashleydale wrote:

> We have a content management system at work that forces users to enter
> non-null ALT text for every image on a web page -- even images that
> are deemed "decorative".
>
> First, do you think I should get them to fix this system so that
> users can choose whether an image gets ALT text or null ALT text?

I guess you mean "non-null ALT text or null ALT text". Yes, this should be
fixed, of course.

> One of the potential problems with doing that is it might result in
> meaningful images getting null ALT text because the page authors
> could then just "skip them" by choosing null.

The problem is very real, but preventing authors from doing the right thing
in many cases is an unacceptable cost for urging them to consider things in
other cases.

> Since we are now
> forcing page authors to think about ALT text,

It is impossible to force people to think. You can only force them to some
behavior. For example, to hit the "X" key whenever they are required to type
some text.

> they're at least trying
> and they cannot proceed without assigning ALT text to every image.

This may force them to enter random, absurd, or otherwise completely wrong
ALT text, even when they are willing to think but cannot understand what is
expected or what might be a good ALT text. Lack of ALT text is a lesser evil
than seriously wrong ALT text.

I wonder if the following strategy would bee "too clever":
In the authoring tool, include an optional field for "role", preferably with
a dropdown for selecting a value as per ARIA proposal (allowing an empty
value, too, so that the field can removed too). Do not let the author
proceed if ALT text is set to empty, unless "role" has the value
"presentation".

> Second, if we do leave the system the way it is, what are some good
> guidelines to give to page authors when they are confronted with
> having to come up with ALT text for decorative images? I'm sure "keep
> it short" is one good tip -- any others?

No, "make it blank" is best. I presume that by "null ALT text" you mean an
ALT attribute with the empty string "" as its value. The value " " is
non-null then. If the CMS doesn't allow a value consisting of a space (or
spaces) only, then you might try the no-break space. The method for entering
it depends on the authoring tool and environment; Ctrl+space might work, or
it might not, and so might typing &nbsp;. If even this won't work, I'd use
some punctuation-like character, like "-", that should not disturb too
much, whether displayed or spoken ("hyphen", "dash").

--
Yucca, http://www.cs.tut.fi/~jkorpela/

From: Michael.Moore@dars.state.tx.us
Date: Fri, Apr 15 2011 8:06AM
Subject: Re: ALT Text - CMS Problem
← Previous message | Next message →

David Ashleydale wrote:

I have a conundrum that I'd love to hear some perspectives on. We have a
content management system at work that forces users to enter non-null ALT
text for every image on a web page -- even images that are deemed
"decorative".

First, do you think I should get them to fix this system so that users can
choose whether an image gets ALT text or null ALT text? One of the potential
problems with doing that is it might result in meaningful images getting
null ALT text because the page authors could then just "skip them" by
choosing null. Since we are now forcing page authors to think about ALT
text, they're at least trying and they cannot proceed without assigning ALT
text to every image. And we do have a much higher percentage of meaningful
images than decorative images on our site.

[Mike's Comments]

Hi David,

If you have control of the templates and CSS you could move the decorative images to the background in the templates and not allow content creators to add non-meaningful images. This would also help maintain consistent branding across the site. You may need to create a few more templates to keep everyone happy. If the CMS prevents the use of background images in the templates I would definitely look into getting that fixed.


Mike Moore

From: David Ashleydale
Date: Fri, Apr 15 2011 9:21AM
Subject: Re: ALT Text - CMS Problem
← Previous message | Next message →

Jukka wrote: "Lack of ALT text is a lesser evil than seriously wrong ALT
text."

This is the heart of the matter, and I don't think this sentence is true. If
the lack of ALT text
results in someone completely missing an important piece of content, that
seems like a much worse problem than having to hear "red ball" for an image
of a circle.

On Thu, Apr 14, 2011 at 10:29 PM, Jukka K. Korpela < = EMAIL ADDRESS REMOVED = >wrote:

> David Ashleydale wrote:
>
> > We have a content management system at work that forces users to enter
> > non-null ALT text for every image on a web page -- even images that
> > are deemed "decorative".
> >
> > First, do you think I should get them to fix this system so that
> > users can choose whether an image gets ALT text or null ALT text?
>
> I guess you mean "non-null ALT text or null ALT text". Yes, this should be
> fixed, of course.
>
> > One of the potential problems with doing that is it might result in
> > meaningful images getting null ALT text because the page authors
> > could then just "skip them" by choosing null.
>
> The problem is very real, but preventing authors from doing the right thing
> in many cases is an unacceptable cost for urging them to consider things in
> other cases.
>
> > Since we are now
> > forcing page authors to think about ALT text,
>
> It is impossible to force people to think. You can only force them to some
> behavior. For example, to hit the "X" key whenever they are required to
> type
> some text.
>
> > they're at least trying
> > and they cannot proceed without assigning ALT text to every image.
>
> This may force them to enter random, absurd, or otherwise completely wrong
> ALT text, even when they are willing to think but cannot understand what is
> expected or what might be a good ALT text. Lack of ALT text is a lesser
> evil
> than seriously wrong ALT text.
>
> I wonder if the following strategy would bee "too clever":
> In the authoring tool, include an optional field for "role", preferably
> with
> a dropdown for selecting a value as per ARIA proposal (allowing an empty
> value, too, so that the field can removed too). Do not let the author
> proceed if ALT text is set to empty, unless "role" has the value
> "presentation".
>
> > Second, if we do leave the system the way it is, what are some good
> > guidelines to give to page authors when they are confronted with
> > having to come up with ALT text for decorative images? I'm sure "keep
> > it short" is one good tip -- any others?
>
> No, "make it blank" is best. I presume that by "null ALT text" you mean an
> ALT attribute with the empty string "" as its value. The value " " is
> non-null then. If the CMS doesn't allow a value consisting of a space (or
> spaces) only, then you might try the no-break space. The method for
> entering
> it depends on the authoring tool and environment; Ctrl+space might work, or
> it might not, and so might typing &nbsp;. If even this won't work, I'd use
> some punctuation-like character, like "-", that should not disturb too
> much, whether displayed or spoken ("hyphen", "dash").
>
> --
> Yucca, http://www.cs.tut.fi/~jkorpela/
>
>

From: Jared Smith
Date: Fri, Apr 15 2011 11:33AM
Subject: Re: ALT Text - CMS Problem
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On Fri, Apr 15, 2011 at 9:20 AM, David Ashleydale wrote:
> than having to hear "red ball" for an image of a circle.

I'd hardly call that "seriously wrong ALT text." What if it were
alt="image" instead? Or alt="b47_257.jpg"?

These certainly would be worse than no alternative text at all. And
they are precisely the types of alt text that often occur when users
are forced to provide alternative text for all images without an
understanding of what good alternative text is.

Jared

From: Michael.Moore@dars.state.tx.us
Date: Fri, Apr 15 2011 12:30PM
Subject: Re: ALT Text - CMS Problem
← Previous message | Next message →

I see your second example all the time. MS word drops in the file name as default alt text. Arrgh!

Mike Moore


-----Original Message-----
From: = EMAIL ADDRESS REMOVED = [mailto: = EMAIL ADDRESS REMOVED = ] On Behalf Of Jared Smith
Sent: Friday, April 15, 2011 12:15 PM
To: WebAIM Discussion List
Subject: Re: [WebAIM] ALT Text - CMS Problem

On Fri, Apr 15, 2011 at 9:20 AM, David Ashleydale wrote:
> than having to hear "red ball" for an image of a circle.

I'd hardly call that "seriously wrong ALT text." What if it were
alt="image" instead? Or alt="b47_257.jpg"?

These certainly would be worse than no alternative text at all. And
they are precisely the types of alt text that often occur when users
are forced to provide alternative text for all images without an
understanding of what good alternative text is.

Jared

From: David Ashleydale
Date: Fri, Apr 15 2011 2:18PM
Subject: Re: ALT Text - CMS Problem
← Previous message | Next message →

I agree that alt="b47_257.jpg" is worse than alt="", but that's not the
question. The question is which of these situations is worse:

1. An image of a red ball on a page is given alt="b47_257.jpg"
2. An image that shows where to find the routing number on a check is
given alt=""

A little more context might be needed. There are hundreds of (non-technical)
employees using our CMS and there are often new hires. No matter what kind
of accessibility training we give, there will always be page authors that
ignore it or just don't get it. Even if we put notes in the CMS to advise
users how to determine the difference between decorative and meaningful
images, the reality is that there will be a lot of people that don't read
it. I still do make training available, but I have to acknowledge that it
still won't get through to everyone.

So I have to accept these facts as true:

1. ALT text is required on all images currently. Page authors sometimes
write terrible ALT text on all images, whether they are decorative or not.
But most of the time they write the correct ALT text (usually the text that
is inside the image).
2. If we change the CMS to make ALT text optional, there will be some
important, meaningful images that will not be given ALT text. I can try to
regularly educate the users, but if ALT text is optional, there will always
be a non-zero number of meaningful images on our site with alt="".

My gut tells me that situation 1 is better than 2, but I did want to run it
by the community here. Given these facts, if the majority of the community
thinks that making ALT text optional on images is worth the risk of some
users not being able to get all of the information that is in images on our
site, I will run it by the CMS management office.

If we do decide to stick with the current situation, I'd like to at least
give the users some tips on writing ALT text for decorative images (not that
they will all read it, though). I don't think our CMS accepts a space as the
ALT text. And just using a hyphen seems a little weird. Maybe asking them to
just use one word? Like "beach" for a decorative photo of a couple on a
beach?

Thanks so much for all of your feedback so far.

David Ashleydale


On Fri, Apr 15, 2011 at 10:14 AM, Jared Smith < = EMAIL ADDRESS REMOVED = > wrote:

> On Fri, Apr 15, 2011 at 9:20 AM, David Ashleydale wrote:
> > than having to hear "red ball" for an image of a circle.
>
> I'd hardly call that "seriously wrong ALT text." What if it were
> alt="image" instead? Or alt="b47_257.jpg"?
>
> These certainly would be worse than no alternative text at all. And
> they are precisely the types of alt text that often occur when users
> are forced to provide alternative text for all images without an
> understanding of what good alternative text is.
>
> Jared
>

From: Jukka K. Korpela
Date: Fri, Apr 15 2011 3:06PM
Subject: Re: ALT Text - CMS Problem
← Previous message | Next message →

David Ashleydale wrote:

> The question is which of these situations is worse:
>
> 1. An image of a red ball on a page is given alt="b47_257.jpg"
> 2. An image that shows where to find the routing number on a check
> is given alt=""

We know that (1) is wrong. While (2) might be wrong too, it is difficult to
say which one would be more wrong. If it is relevant to users to know where
to find the routing number on a check, then this should most probably be
explained in normal text and accompanied with an illustrative image. As
there is often nothing to be added to the text to help people who do not see
the image, alt="" would be correct.

> No matter what kind of accessibility training we give, there
> will always be page authors that ignore it or just don't get it.

Quality assurance is needed for sure.

> 2. If we change the CMS to make ALT text optional, there will be
> some important, meaningful images that will not be given ALT text.

And if you keep it obligatory, there will be some important, meaningful
images that will have _wrong_ ALT text. So in any case, quality assurance
(or control or whatever you call it) is needed in both cases. The difference
is that when nonempty ALT text is required, all authors, including the most
knowledgeable, will be forced to generate wrong ALT texts. Admittedly, alt="
" (if that is allowed) is not horribly wrong, but it's still wrong, and
authors may write something worse when forced to provide nonempty ALT text.

> If we do decide to stick with the current situation, I'd like to at
> least give the users some tips on writing ALT text for decorative
> images (not that they will all read it, though). I don't think our
> CMS accepts a space as the ALT text.

You should check that out, and if it doesn't accept it, check whether
no-break space can be used, and if yes, find out the most convenient way to
enter it.

> And just using a hyphen seems a
> little weird. Maybe asking them to just use one word? Like "beach"
> for a decorative photo of a couple on a beach?

A hyphen is less weird than an isolated word with no content. A hyphen
generally indicates omission. You might use an en dash too, for the same
reason.

Failing everything else, alt="decoration" is better than throwing in some
words that might make sense to a person who sees the image but is a mystery
to one who doesn't. It would also be pointless use of mental resources, and
it would reinforce a wrong tendency and a wrong idea of what alt texts are
for.

--
Yucca, http://www.cs.tut.fi/~jkorpela/

From: Bevi Chagnon | PubCom
Date: Fri, Apr 15 2011 3:27PM
Subject: Re: ALT Text - CMS Problem
← Previous message | Next message →

This has been a very informative and interesting discussion.

One thought that keeps cropping up for me as I refer back to the original
question:
If the images are going into a CMS, why not put a decent ALT text on all of
them?

Images in a CMS (or DAM or whatever you want to call your storage database),
will be used for different purposes over time. If all images in the CMS have
good ALT text, then the user can determine whether to keep it or "null" it
depending upon how the image is used in the document.

I don't think any image in a CMS should ever get a null/decorative/artifact
attribute.
A CMS is just a storage dump and you can't foresee how the image will be
used on a website or in a document.

Sometimes the same graphic will be used for critical information, other
times as decorative window dressing. If the full ALT text is there in the
image's metadata in the CMS, then it travels with the image and the
designer/writer has the choice of whether to use it or override it with a
"null" or "artifact" attribute.

However, this system requires:
1. The CMS has a place for ALT text metadata.
2. The metadata will travel with the image and when the image is placed in
MS Word, InDesign or in HTML, for example, the metadata will automatically
populate the appropriate fields.

Of course, this is a pipedream workflow at this stage of the industry!

— Bevi Chagnon

___________________
Bevi Chagnon / PubCom
Government publishing specialists, trainers, consultants
Print, press, web, Acrobat PDF and 508
April-May Classes: www.pubcom.com/classes Section 508 Accessibility for
Word, InDesign, and Acrobat PDF

From: David Ashleydale
Date: Fri, Apr 15 2011 3:57PM
Subject: Re: ALT Text - CMS Problem
← Previous message | Next message →

Thanks for the comments, Bevi.

The way our system works is that page authors use a GUI to create pages.
Those pages, plus any images, get stored in our CMS (Documentum). The images
aren't reusable in any practical sense -- they are just associated with that
one page. Using the GUI, if a user tries to add an image to a page without
providing ALT text, they are stopped and they receive an error message. It
is a required field.

So it's up to the page author to write the ALT text at the moment they are
using the GUI to create the page.

Making the ALT text field required was seen as a step toward better
accessibility on our site because so many page authors were overlooking ALT
text in the past. They wouldn't give ALT text to any images. Frankly, I'm
glad that our CMS office took this step toward making accessibility more
important. But I would say it's better, just not perfect.

Thanks,
David

On Fri, Apr 15, 2011 at 2:21 PM, Bevi Chagnon | PubCom
< = EMAIL ADDRESS REMOVED = >wrote:

> This has been a very informative and interesting discussion.
>
> One thought that keeps cropping up for me as I refer back to the original
> question:
> If the images are going into a CMS, why not put a decent ALT text on all of
> them?
>
> Images in a CMS (or DAM or whatever you want to call your storage
> database),
> will be used for different purposes over time. If all images in the CMS
> have
> good ALT text, then the user can determine whether to keep it or "null" it
> depending upon how the image is used in the document.
>
> I don't think any image in a CMS should ever get a null/decorative/artifact
> attribute.
> A CMS is just a storage dump and you can't foresee how the image will be
> used on a website or in a document.
>
> Sometimes the same graphic will be used for critical information, other
> times as decorative window dressing. If the full ALT text is there in the
> image's metadata in the CMS, then it travels with the image and the
> designer/writer has the choice of whether to use it or override it with a
> "null" or "artifact" attribute.
>
> However, this system requires:
> 1. The CMS has a place for ALT text metadata.
> 2. The metadata will travel with the image and when the image is placed in
> MS Word, InDesign or in HTML, for example, the metadata will automatically
> populate the appropriate fields.
>
> Of course, this is a pipedream workflow at this stage of the industry!
>
> — Bevi Chagnon
>
> ___________________
> Bevi Chagnon / PubCom
> Government publishing specialists, trainers, consultants
> Print, press, web, Acrobat PDF and 508
> April-May Classes: www.pubcom.com/classes Section 508 Accessibility for
> Word, InDesign, and Acrobat PDF
>

From: Bevi Chagnon | PubCom
Date: Fri, Apr 15 2011 4:09PM
Subject: Re: ALT Text - CMS Problem
← Previous message | Next message →

Ah.
So you're using a web-CMS.
I work with high-end ones that hold everything the organization creates, not
just web pages, but every document, graphic, etc.

I think the best solution, then, is what was suggested earlier: alter the
CMS to accept " " ALT text, and teach everyone how to write ALT text.

I give my clients this book to help them write ALT text:

"Read Me First! A Style Guide for the Computer Industry," by Sun Technical
Publications. 3rd Edition.
http://www.informit.com/store/product.aspx?isbn=0137058268

Chapter 13 covers writing ALT text for graphics and it's quite good. The
remaining book has chapters on basic writing, document structure, and more.
(Note: earlier editions of the book do not have this section on Alt text.)

Also available electronically as an e-book or through Safari Books Online.

Some times, now matter how hard we try to educate folks about writing ALT
text, a book is able to get the message through. Maybe because it's in
print, it has the authority that you and I don't have!

— Bevi
___________________
Bevi Chagnon / PubCom
Government publishing specialists, trainers, consultants
Print, press, web, Acrobat PDF and 508
April-May Classes: www.pubcom.com/classes Section 508 Accessibility for
Word, InDesign, and Acrobat PDF

From: Keith (mteye)
Date: Sat, Apr 16 2011 10:21PM
Subject: Re: ALT Text - CMS Problem
← Previous message | Next message →

Speaking of authoritative text for the non techie, what about providing an
error message with a brief instruction on the purpose behind the alt tag.
Possibly with a brief suggestions or examples of what to consider in the
field?

In a nutshell, offer a reminder for the short memoried user, or the one who
neglected to read the training you provide.

Just an idea.

from
Keith H

-----Original Message-----
From: Bevi Chagnon | PubCom
Sent: Friday, April 15, 2011 5:06 PM
To: 'WebAIM Discussion List'
Subject: Re: [WebAIM] ALT Text - CMS Problem

Ah.
So you're using a web-CMS.
I work with high-end ones that hold everything the organization creates, not
just web pages, but every document, graphic, etc.

I think the best solution, then, is what was suggested earlier: alter the
CMS to accept " " ALT text, and teach everyone how to write ALT text.

I give my clients this book to help them write ALT text:

"Read Me First! A Style Guide for the Computer Industry," by Sun Technical
Publications. 3rd Edition.
http://www.informit.com/store/product.aspx?isbn=0137058268

Chapter 13 covers writing ALT text for graphics and it's quite good. The
remaining book has chapters on basic writing, document structure, and more.
(Note: earlier editions of the book do not have this section on Alt text.)

Also available electronically as an e-book or through Safari Books Online.

Some times, now matter how hard we try to educate folks about writing ALT
text, a book is able to get the message through. Maybe because it's in
print, it has the authority that you and I don't have!

— Bevi
___________________
Bevi Chagnon / PubCom
Government publishing specialists, trainers, consultants
Print, press, web, Acrobat PDF and 508
April-May Classes: www.pubcom.com/classes Section 508 Accessibility for
Word, InDesign, and Acrobat PDF

From: Joshue O Connor
Date: Mon, Apr 18 2011 1:42AM
Subject: Re: ALT Text - CMS Problem
← Previous message | Next message →

On 15 Apr 2011, at 21:50, "Jukka K. Korpela" < = EMAIL ADDRESS REMOVED = > wrote:

> David Ashleydale wrote:
>
>> The question is which of these situations is worse:
>>
>> 1. An image of a red ball on a page is given alt="b47_257.jpg"
>> 2. An image that shows where to find the routing number on a check
>> is given alt=""
>
> We know that (1) is wrong. While (2) might be wrong too, it is difficult to
> say which one would be more wrong.

It's not difficult from an AT perspective, as IMO the first is 'more wrong' as it could interfere with the user experience in a more negative way. The bad alt is more actively useless than having a null alt that removes the image from the DOM. Unless it's a functional image that is vital to complete some task etc and then no alt, is better than poor alt and also better than null alt.

There could be a chance that the routing number can be discovered else where on the page?

Cheers

Josh

> If it is relevant to users to know where
> to find the routing number on a check, then this should most probably be
> explained in normal text and accompanied with an illustrative image. As
> there is often nothing to be added to the text to help people who do not see
> the image, alt="" would be correct.
>
>> No matter what kind of accessibility training we give, there
>> will always be page authors that ignore it or just don't get it.
>
> Quality assurance is needed for sure.
>
>> 2. If we change the CMS to make ALT text optional, there will be
>> some important, meaningful images that will not be given ALT text.
>
> And if you keep it obligatory, there will be some important, meaningful
> images that will have _wrong_ ALT text. So in any case, quality assurance
> (or control or whatever you call it) is needed in both cases. The difference
> is that when nonempty ALT text is required, all authors, including the most
> knowledgeable, will be forced to generate wrong ALT texts. Admittedly, alt="
> " (if that is allowed) is not horribly wrong, but it's still wrong, and
> authors may write something worse when forced to provide nonempty ALT text.
>
>> If we do decide to stick with the current situation, I'd like to at
>> least give the users some tips on writing ALT text for decorative
>> images (not that they will all read it, though). I don't think our
>> CMS accepts a space as the ALT text.
>
> You should check that out, and if it doesn't accept it, check whether
> no-break space can be used, and if yes, find out the most convenient way to
> enter it.
>
>> And just using a hyphen seems a
>> little weird. Maybe asking them to just use one word? Like "beach"
>> for a decorative photo of a couple on a beach?
>
> A hyphen is less weird than an isolated word with no content. A hyphen
> generally indicates omission. You might use an en dash too, for the same
> reason.
>
> Failing everything else, alt="decoration" is better than throwing in some
> words that might make sense to a person who sees the image but is a mystery
> to one who doesn't. It would also be pointless use of mental resources, and
> it would reinforce a wrong tendency and a wrong idea of what alt texts are
> for.
>
> --
> Yucca, http://www.cs.tut.fi/~jkorpela/
>
>

From: Jukka K. Korpela
Date: Mon, Apr 18 2011 3:39AM
Subject: Re: ALT Text - CMS Problem
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Joshue O Connor wrote:

>>> 1. An image of a red ball on a page is given alt="b47_257.jpg"
>>> 2. An image that shows where to find the routing number on a check
>>> is given alt=""
>>
>> We know that (1) is wrong. While (2) might be wrong too, it is
>> difficult to say which one would be more wrong.
>
> It's not difficult from an AT perspective, as IMO the first is 'more
> wrong' as it could interfere with the user experience in a more
> negative way.

As immediate user experience, it is certainly worse to hear some meaningless
sequence of characters pronounced than hearing nothing. But there's much
more than that. While (1) unduly causes some rubbish to be presented to some
users, (2) prevents some users from getting some crucial information at all.
So basically it is disturbing noise vs. deprivation of information.

What makes the relative wrongness difficult to judge is that the context may
make (2) far less serious than it looks like. As you mention, the image
might be redundant in the sense that it only visualizes some instructions
that are given in text elsewhere on the page. Then alt="" would be
_correct_, though we might ask whether alt="(An image illustrating how to
find the routing number.)", as it might be relevant to know that there is
such an illustration, even if the user cannot himself see it.

> The bad alt is more actively useless than having a null
> alt that removes the image from the DOM.

Technically, the image is not removed from the DOM - the alt="" attribute
does no such thing. From the DOM perspective, it simply adds the alt
property to the object corresponding to the element.

> Unless it's a functional
> image that is vital to complete some task etc and then no alt, is
> better than poor alt and also better than null alt.

The most serious accessibility problems with images relate to vital images
that lack an appropriate alt attribute. It's a nuisance to have to listen to
alt="b47_257.jpg", but the crucial question is: how do you cope with it, as
a user? If the value is really "red-bullet.jpg", you might guess that it's
just some bullet that has no significance apart from possibly indicating the
subsequent text as an item in a list. And there's definitely the chance that
you will suspect that it's really a significant content image and try and
find _some_ way on understanding its meaning. (E.g., you might ask a friend
for help, or you might complain to the site administration, or maybe, if you
are visually impaired, you might have some chance of understanding some
images - after opening the image, assuming you normally browse with images
disabled.)

Compared with this, alt="" removes the image from the _imageless rendering_
of the page. So with images switched off, you would not even notice it - you
would have no hint of the presence of an image that might carry crucial
information, or just relevant information, though it might be irrelevant
too.

--
Yucca, http://www.cs.tut.fi/~jkorpela/