Now posts ↓

Monday, 28 May 2007

Alt tag secrets: be emotional

Why bother with writing proper alt tags? What do they actually add when you can't see the image?

This has been a moot point for me — understanding what role they actually play (as opposed to their appearance in a list of 'must dos' for accessibility).

glamour shot of the lovely leonie watson for nomensa's websiteLeonie Watson of Nomensa explores this on the EAccess Bulletin forum.

It's sometimes argued that providing [vibrant, emotion rich] images with descriptive alt texts provides too much "noise" for a screen reader user. [Background: Here's Jakob Nielsen from 1996: "Such literal descriptions are fairly useless for Web pages unless the user is an art critic. I much prefer utility descriptions"] If we screen reader users stopped to listen to every alt text, every time we came across an image, then this assumption would probably be right. But I'll let you into a secret: we won't.

Like sighted users, we'll skip around the content of the page until we find something that interests us. If the first few syllables of an alt text sound promising, we'll pause to read. If they don't, we'll move on to the next element on the page. Also like sighted users, we're often likely to pause on something unimportant, but which captures our imagination.

A good alt text can conjure up wonderfully stimulating mental images.

A friendly smile is the same in print, photo or wax crayon. Whether you listen to an image or see it, the emotional response is the key factor, so why should we recommend that these emotion rich images should be given a null alt text and hidden from screen reader users?

Background: If you ever get a chance to witness Screen Reader use, take it. I was amazed with a early experience. The voice was so quick I could barely keep up.

This would match others (like my mum's) experience of my web use, which is experienced and quick.

Not the same because it's basically about keyboard shortcuts use (unless it's dramatically changed, it requires a plug-in which isn't happening at my end) but here's the
WebAIM Screen Reader Simulation.

NB: Blogger doesn't have an easy Alt Tag method, you have to go into the code. Until the tools do this, accessibility is a way off (the new WCAG guidance will include this point). It's a time consuming pain to do and impossible for most Blogger users.

I have just written a note to Blogger, part of Google's empire on this point (that's all you get - one line to suggest new features): It's not in the WYSIWYG Editor. There doesn't appear to be ANY discussion within Blogger/Blogspot on this point, except about the marketing use of Alt tags!

Plus I added one to Leonie's image as there is a remote chance she may see this ... ;]


Post a Comment