Thursday, November 17, 2005

Alt tags and new accessibility research

A new article in netimperative has some interesting up to date research on accessibility from consultancy firm User Vision. (User vision has some great stuff on their site so have a look).

It lays out the well known fundamentals of accessibility/ia that any skilled practioner involved in online development has already been following for years, but the interesting thing for me was the figure about alt tags (considered vital by accessibility advocates) based on feedback from visually impaired users (25% didn't rate them important at all).

Why are alt tags not considered important by some visually impaired users?

Rather than rating alt tags as not important I wonder if the respondants had become so fed up with the poor use of alt tags that they no longer had any faith that they would add value to them and therefore they simply ignored them.

I myself have always thought that no matter how good an alt tag was it never really provides the type of information that would replace textual information for a visually impaired user using screen reading technology or other accessibility tools.

The lesson?
Always provide textual information in addition to information contained within an image (if you really need to have that information contained in an image in the first place).



At 12:36 PM, Anonymous Shannon said...

Hi Nick,

I know you're very anti-image, but whatever happened to that old saying " A picture is worth a thousand words"?

I'll concede that most intranets are pretty much text-only, and to add images would be a vain effort to "jazz up" something that doesn't require it, but I've also worked on intranets at, for example, a toy design company, where several images were the only real way to communicate key steps in the production process.

In that case, alt tags were used as "extra" information. "Left view of mold" "Top view of post-mold block" etc. Which is neither the "visually impaired" usage, nor the "placeholder" usage.

Of course, everyone needs to make every effort to include all in every aspect of everything, but frankly there are times when a picture is worth a thousand words. And you can't stick a thousand words into an alt tag...

At 2:50 PM, Blogger Nick Besseling said...

Yeah these are good points but a picture only tells a thousand words if you can actually see it!

T wouldn't say I was 'anti- image' but I do believe that images are either over used or not used very well. Especially in intranets.

For some sites and pages I think images are essential and add great value.

However in my own experience many images used do not add value to the content and therefore are irrelevant and take user focus away from the 'content of value'.

The problem with using alt tags as extra information means that the users that really require alt tags (such as users with screen readers) won't be able to get any value from them as the alt tag will have no meaningful context without first viewing the image.

At 3:32 PM, Anonymous shannon said...

Kinda like those English subtitles for the deaf on English-language DVDs where they say:

*sound of orchestra detuning*

Which is great -- if you've actually heard that before! You see what I mean?

There is stuff that simply can't be communicated with words, or text.

I agree that a general "less images" case can be made, but you _could_ argue that a photo of the person does nothing to enhance a news story about that person..... until you read a newspaper without the headshot!

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