[thelist] Re: Accessibility and alt text - quality vs quantity

James Aylard evolt at pixelwright.com
Wed Jan 28 09:54:06 CST 2004

Toby Mills wrote:

> For my 2 pennies worth, I think that images that convey little or no
> information and who's sole purpose is to provide page formatting only
> need to be given alt=" ". They are a spacer therefore their
> description is a space.

    I was hoping that the single-space alternative wouldn't come up, and was
pleased that it hadn't so far. There is absolutely _no_ reason to provide a
space as alt text; although most screen readers likely won't audibly render
it for sightless visitors, for the vast majority of the browser-wielding
world (those who use some flavor of Internet Explorer), that empty space
renders visibly as a small, annoying, blank tooltip. Sure, you _could_ add
an empty title attribute to counter it, but the foolishness of that is, I
think, self-evident. And by using a space, you're adding another unnecessary
byte to your page weight, which is a step backwards for usability.
    If you have an image for which alternative text would be superfluous,
only ever always use an empty string, as in alt="".

> Annoyingly W3C states spacers should have alt's but does not say what
> they should be.

    That depends on where you look. Quoting directly from the HTML 4.01

"Do not specify irrelevant alternate text when including images intended to
format a page, for instance, alt="red ball" would be inappropriate for an
image that adds a red ball for decorating a heading or paragraph. In such
cases, the alternate text should be the empty string ("")." [1]

    Granted, if I choose to, I can read your single-space suggestion as
simply mischievous criticism of the use of spacer gifs. But if that is what
you intended, it is too subtle for the green among us who may not be aware
of the arguments against it.

1. http://www.w3.org/TR/1999/REC-html401-19991224/struct/objects.html#h-13.8

James Aylard

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