[whatwg] [WF2] - Suggestion - Make the "alt" Attribute implied for

James Graham jg307 at cam.ac.uk
Thu Jan 6 02:16:26 PST 2005

Matthew Thomas wrote:

> For perhaps 95 percent of the images on the Web, the most appropriate  
> alternate text is nothing at all. (In 2003 I did a survey of images 
> in  Wikipedia articles, where images aren't even used for decoration, 
> and  still found that alt="" would be the most sensible choice for 77  
> percent of them.) So for that 95 percent, assuming that no alt is  
> alt="" would improve the user experience.
> Unfortunately, the other 5 percent would ruin the idea. When  
> screenreaders are wading through inaccessibly-written pages, 
> sometimes  images are used for navigation (graphical menus, for 
> example), so the  user needs an indication that an image is there 
> (whereupon they can  guess its function by its URI). Assuming that all 
> these images had  alt="" would make such pages completely unnavigable.

Both this and the other point that Jim made (implied alt is hard to 
debug) strongly suggest that alt should be optional, not implied. The 
lack of an alt attribute would legitimize any inference about suitable 
alternative text that the web browser wanted to perform. Therefore it 
would remain best practice to explicitly declare alt="" where the image 
is purely decorative. I expect many web developers would favor this 
approach since the validator complaining about a lack of alt="" has been 
perceived as unnecessary nannying and so the requirement has widely been 
ignored. Making alt optional probably wouldn't damage accessibility as 
much as might be thought because a) bad alt text is at least as bad as 
missing alt text and b) there exist other tools that explicitly check 
documents for accessibility which could flag missing alt attributes.

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