RE. ALT 2, Brute'? (amount of text in ALT tags)

Subject: RE. ALT 2, Brute'? (amount of text in ALT tags)
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "Techwr-L (E-mail)" <TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 2 Jun 2000 13:43:55 -0400

Tom Murrell is <<...interested in the question of how much is enough [when
using text in ALT tags to replace an image]. Generally, when ALT is used,
there is a one or two word identifier associated with the graphic.>>

The glib answer is that you shouldn't be relying on images for navigation
anyway in most cases (nobody automatically understands icons; users have to
_learn_ what they stand for). In that context, the ALT tag is itself not
very useful, since users should still be able to find their way around your
site even when the images don't display. The other navigation aids should
stand alone and work independent of the graphic, and should be adequate for
navigation without requiring reference to the graphic.

<<Lately, I have been taking the time to write sentences in the ALT text
describing what the graphic is about or what information it provides. I do
this thinking of those who are visually impaired and using a "speaking"
browser. I may not be able to replace the experience of seeing the graphic,
but if it is a flow diagram or other important graphic, I feel this class of
user wants to know something about what they may be missing.>>

That's an important strategy wherever the images themselves provide
important information. That being the case, a sentence or even two wouldn't
be out of place, and would be well appreciated by those who use the
information. Plus, it's worth noting that most search engines can't yet
handle graphics (that's in the process of changing), so the only way to get
a graphic indexed (and thus made available for use in searches) is to give
it a descriptive ALT tag.

<<However, my current work is in a place that doesn't seem to have hired a
lot of visually impaired people. Since I'm working in a captive, Intranet,
environment I'm not getting a lot of feedback about useability on this

You could always play the "Americans With Disabilities Act" trump card. I
don't know the details (since I'm a Canuck), but I seem to recall that this
act mandates companies to make provisions for those with handicaps. Even if
nobody currently benefits from your approach, you'll be learning a good
habit (that will come into play should you ever move from writing for the
intranet into writing for the Internet) while simultaneously saving yourself
the trouble of hastily retrofitting the entire site at some future date when
your company hires its first visually impaired employee.

<<I... asked the question of our Legal department about what accessibility
standards we should be following.>>

Remind them of your question, referring to the AWD act I mentioned above.
Maybe they didn't know where to look!

<<Do you make extensive use of ALT text?>>

Not currently, despite my heartfelt advice. The main reason is that the
portion of our Web site that I inherited is currently a virtual doorstop,
and is a good distance away from being much more useful than a "we are
here!" Web site. The secondary reason is that I'm primarily an
information-architecture junkie, not a graphic designer, so I've emphasized
access over beauty. (Our graphic artist has no time to help out, and until
we actually start making better use of our Web site, there's little point
hiring a temp to help with the design.) There are virtually no graphics on
the site, and when that changes (sometime over the next year), I'll try to
acquire the habit of consistently ALT-tagging my graphics.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

"Technical writing... requires understanding the audience, understanding
what activities the user wants to accomplish, and translating the often
idiosyncratic and unplanned design into something that appears to make
sense."--Donald Norman, The Invisible Computer

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