[thelist] alt tags on all images (was Site Check)

Paul Peterson paul at thereformist.com
Wed Nov 7 13:08:05 CST 2001

My rant response...

> From: noah <noah at tookish.net>
> alt="" is a nasty hack, and by using it, a designer is saying "this image
> doesn't need alt text" - isn't it a fallacy to say that this is okay, and
> yet it's not okay to leave the alt off altogether? The result is exactly
> the same.

I would hesitate to call ALT="" a hack and unnecessary. It's important to
understand the reason for and proper usage of ALT tags.

Obviously, people viewing sites with graphical browsers have an aesthetic
advantage over those using text-only browsers. Designers should feel free to
create distinctive presentations which exploit the graphical medium.
However, those who for whatever reason don't want to or can't view images
should have just as much opportunity to access information in a usable
fashion. After all, isn't that why the Web was originally created?

Designers who do "give a monkey's" about the precision and accessability of
their work will code to validation. Currently, the required standard is that
all IMG tags contain ALT attributes. But why should they, since many so many
graphics are merely "window dressing" and have no bearing on content? Well,
because validators are stupid--none can determine between a critical and a
filler image. So the lowest common denominator prevails.

Does this mean therefore that we should have to name ALL our images,
regardless of their function (or lack thereof)? Of course not. In fact,
including ALT values for every image could hinder rather than help the text
FOOBAR LOGO). And many designers believe ALT tags should be descriptive, but
that is not the intent. They should be *functionary*.

How do we make sense of all this? By compromising: use ALT="" for images
which can be ignored, and be creative with your values for images which
serve a simple function (e.g. ALT="[*]" for bullet images).

Paul Peterson

More information about the thelist mailing list