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

Andrew Kirkpatrick andrew_kirkpatrick at wgbh.org
Thu Jan 6 04:22:17 PST 2005

> > 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.

The way that current assistive technologies handle images by default is to
ignore images that lack an alt attribute or that have null alt, unless the
image is in an anchor element or an input of type=image.

Alt should be required on inputs of type=image, area elements, and perhaps
on images within anchors (although images within an anchor that also
contains text or another image with alt could be fine without alt also, so
I'm not sure how to best handle that).

> 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.

As a person who works in the area of accessibility, I'm inclined to agree
that alt doesn't really need to be required.  What is unusual is that not
only is this a solid idea theoretically, but the user agent base supports it

Users can, and probably would continue to be able to, get their user agent
to voice all images without regard to the presence of alt if they wanted.
Having alt be required is an argument that assumes that developers will
examine their images more carefully in order to achieve valid code.
Unfortunately, this doesn't seem to really work, and the important task of
adding quality equivalents for just important images is often lost in the
sea of unimportant images that need alt="".  

I've heard the argument more than a few times that for tables the summary
attribute should also be required and alt is cited as an example of an
attribute that is treated that way.  This seems like an equally unnecessary
idea as requiring alt for images.


Andrew Kirkpatrick
Project Manager, WGBH National Center for Accessible Media
125 Western Avenue
Boston, MA 02134

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