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|Blind Student Sues Site Owner Claiming Civil-Rights Violations Over Alt Text|
Suit charges retailer's Web site cannot be used by the sightless
"...Target's site lacks "alt-text," an invisible code embedded beneath a graphic on the Web site that a screen reader could use to provide a description of the image to a blind person, the suit said."
"...A blind person cannot make a purchase independently on target.com."
what if one puts the wrong alt text, and a blind person buys the wrong thing relying on it? Not trying to be funny, but it can happen.
|This isn't going to be happening to the small/medium sized business owner. Why? They typically don't have enough users to generate a lawsuit of this scale. |
That is not true, if Target caves the activists will methodically sue everyone...
|What will this mean for flash sites? Surely they will have to have a second HTML version to comply. |
Flash now includes more accessiblity within it, including element ordering, alt tags (or a variant thereof), macromedia have basically covered flash so it follows the accessibility guidelines (if used correctly of course).
|Flash now includes more accessiblity within it, including element ordering, alt tags (or a variant thereof), macromedia have basically covered flash so it follows the accessibility guidelines (if used correctly of course). |
I visit many, many flash sites in the course of my work and almost never find text that can be highlighted and copied. Does this require a special plug-in or are most sites simply not compliant?
I have tried decompiling flash sites with little success, most are a hopeless maze of nested files. I find OCR more efficient in dealing with flash, which of course blind users could also employ...
Those who are Blind, are most likely going to be using JAWS [freedomscientific.com]. And, it isn't exactly priced just right. :(
There are many other products out there also for those with disabilities. Keep in mind, we are not just talking about those with visual disabilities, there are many more.
I'm going to get a copy of JAWS or a related program and take a few days to try and experience what a Blind person sees when surfing the Internet. As a matter of fact, I'm going to put a local ad out to locate someone who can assist me with my testing. I'm sure there is a Blind person here in Orange County who wouldn't mind the company and someone to talk with concerning their frustrations in surfing the net.
I'll report back in a week or two with my progress. Sooner if I can find someone here locally to help.
|Sooner if I can find someone here locally to help. |
Okay, that was quick. Google helped me to find someone within a few minutes. ;)
I've sent in a request to tour a facility for the Blind here in Tustin, California. They work with all the latest assistive technologies and they offer tours to the general public. I'm going to go down there and experience this first hand. No more reading or talking about it. It's time to experience it.
You can be assured that I will report back with my findings. I have goosebumps typing this because I am that passionate about accessibility and I want to learn everything I can. This is going to be a great experience, I know it. :)
I look forward to hearing your results P1R. I would be especially interested to know what percentage of blind people use the Internet.
Wow... you have been debating rather heatily over the weekend. How about colling down a bit again?
I've toyed around with a few programs in the meantime:
- One was a text-to-speech reader, where you have to cut and paste the text into. This might be feasable for a vision impaired person, but nor for a blind person!
So I am still looking for a tool to actually "hear/feel" my sites as a blind might experience them...
On a related note. Can someone please post me a link to the US-law in question? Does anybody know if it applies to US companies only, or to non-US-companies doing business with US-citizens as well?
If there were some sort of way to tell a sighted person was using lynx to view my site, I would purposely feed them an unholy mess. It's my site, it'll be what I want. A reasonable alternative would simply be to block all text readers to avoid litigation.
|and even by the sighted using a non-graphical browser, and that is, in my opinion, unacceptable. |
I don't let the neighbors kids play on my trampoline for the same reason.
"The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect."
-- Tim Berners-Lee
Inaccessible sites -- for whatever reason -- are unessential sites by definition......It'll be good when Google stats ranking them on that basis.
Victor, look at the example:
<img src="product1.gif" alt="Image of Product 1" title="This is product 1">
This code snippet is - from a formal point of view - 100% accessible. But does the accesibility actually HELP a vision impaired person?
So how could Google find out whether it is helpful or not? If they'd only go for the existance of accessibility tags, then all of a sudden the majority of SEO'd pages would comply - on a formal level.
Google's major (at one time, defining) metric for rating pages was pagerank -- mechanically calculated, flawed in several ways, yet hugely sucessful in finding sites that other sites thought were of use.
Metrics also exist for accessibility. There are several sites that will calculate a score for a page's accessibility. Also flawed in several ways but improvable (none of them have had -- yet -- a billion dollars worth of PhDs working all summer on improving them).
But they do measure accessibility, even if only as a first draft of what an accessrank metric could be. And that (in part) measures how much a website owner cares about being universally accessible.
If a site doesn't care about being universally accessible why should I waste a even a few moments seeing if I am one of the lucky ones the site owner deigns to talk to?
I'd be delighted for Google to start upping the ante on accessibility. It'll make the web a much friendlier place for everyone. And save so many of us wasted visits to sites that just don't work [be in browser problems, assumed monitor resolution, unzoomable fonts, color combinations; whatever: let Google shunt them all to a supplementary results page.]
|Inaccessible sites -- for whatever reason -- are unessential sites by definition |
Not really true. What if choose to password protect some of my pages? What about sites that are used by a closed community? They are probably more essential than many of the sites in the index, and accessibility is not an issue with them.
|If a site doesn't care about being universally accessible why should I waste a even a few moments seeing if I am one of the lucky ones the site owner deigns to talk to? |
You shouldn't, but this will make no difference to the site owner who probably doesn't care about you anyway.
> But does the accesibility actually HELP a vision impaired person?
Of course it doesn't. When doing some research yesterday I found some interesting pages with dos and donts on that issue.
> So how could Google find out whether it is helpful or not?
No way, this would logically imply pattern recognition. But I expect google, according to their mission, to pick up this issue. Quite an elegant way to get the plex into the press. Positively: "We do take care for the blind."
To define the alt tag is a must according to the w3c-standards, even if the part behind the = is left empty (""). Could be possible that the next algo update will be a lot more strict with these things. Might produce a lot of turmoil in the serps.
> I'd be delighted for Google to start upping the ante on accessibility. It'll make the web a much friendlier place for everyone.
I'm on the safe site with that, but I do see pmkpmk's point as mentioned in msg #12. We have a different law-system over here, which would well account for the difference between his website and the one this suit is about, but I think this is much different in the US. Generally, I'd be much happier if the whole issue was left to the market and not brought to court, but this definitely is the situation we are left with at present; useless to complain, so lets turn to the consequences.
I noticed that I didn't even know about that title-attribute the img-tag allows. At present I'm thinking about switching my pictures' alt-attributes over to that title and fill the alt-text with a much more detailed description of the picture. A lot of work, maybe, but from an SEO-perspective this is a brilliant chance. I found out that syntactically there is no limit to the alt-attribute but someone said it was recommended to stay below 1024 characters. It might be interesting to find out, what blind people actually WANT in this respect.
Even if google will only turn the knobs a bit, giving a bit more wight to these alt-attributes, this might mix up the serps tremendously.
So I just added the alt="" tag to all the imageless spacer images on my home page which added absolutely no value for a sightless person but does make my page validate better. It added 448 bytes to the total file size and if today is an average Monday there will be .5 MB of additional meaningless packets using the resources of the Internet.
Compared to to all the meaningless spam out there it seems miniscule, but if everyone does this it will be a drag on things generally.
Does anyone care that for no good reason the Internet will be a bit slower today? I care, but for my own selfish reasons I'm going to leave those tags in place anyway.
|I'm going to go down there and experience this first hand. No more reading or talking about it. It's time to experience it. |
I'll have to admit that this topic has "engulfed" me and I'm very enthusiastic about helping those with disability issues to access the websites that I develop more efficiently. Their accessible now, I just want to get feedback from the source to see if there is anything I can do better.
Take a moment out of your busy schedule and locate a local resource who works with the Blind in a technology environment. See if you can visit with them and spend an hour or two surfing the net with them. Take careful notes on everything, and I do mean everything. Watch their hands, their body language, everything! Most importantly, make notes on what they are using to surf the net, how they use it, and what their top frustrations are when visiting most websites.
Are you up for it? If so, go for it. Then, when you are done, come back and share with us what you learned and what you plan to do in correcting whatever issues you may have with the sites under your control. I think this would be a great experience for all of us to get a "true" feeling for what is powering this lawsuit.
> Does anyone care that for no good reason the Internet will be a bit slower today?
Recently I got a nice bill from my telephone-company, saying we had exceeded our flatrate: 4,5 instead of 1,5 Gbyte traffic within one month.
Took some time until I found out it was my son playing world of warcraft and having turned on ICQ all the time.
I think all these alt-attributes are absolutely marginal compared to what such "GUI-applications" have done to the internet. 0,5MByte thats just one single foto of a used coocking-spoon sold at ebay's for less than 1 $. Any image element itself naturally causes 100 times as much traffic as its alt-attribute.
pageoneresults is right: do something for the blind and talk about it on your website. there's an immense marketing-potential behind it.
|I do not have a spoken-word version of my site |
|Um, yes you do, like it or not. Anyone who accesses your pages with an audible browser reader will hear it. |
Okay, let me re-phrase: I don't have an acceptable spoken-word version of my site, since the browser-reader intoning "...and the animated GIF to the right illustrates this process..." will not "adequately" convey the content.
|What do you mean, shadow site? |
"shadow site": a second copy of each page, with lengthy descriptions and explanations of the things illustrated and explained in the graphics.
|This isn't going to be happening to the small/medium sized business owner. Why? They typically don't have enough users to generate a lawsuit of this scale. |
Actually, if past practice with the ADA is anything to go by, small businesses may be preferentially targetted, though in a slightly different manner, since they can't afford to fight the issue.
There are lawyer/advocates who target these businesses, sending demand letters ("Pay this restitution for your crimes, or we'll sue!") to people who they know can't afford to go to court. The "small fry" will write a thousand-dollar check just to make it go away.
There's a butt-load of money to be made this way. I don't think we can safely assume that being small or private ("it's just my family site") or non-commercial or not-for-profit is sufficient protection.
|Inaccessible sites -- for whatever reason -- are unessential sites |
Just because somebody who doesn't speak English can't find an English version of my site, and my colloquial text doesn't translate well, does this really make my site "unessential" for the (English-speaking) students who come there for help...? Just because I'm not clever enough to express all non-verbal processes, techniques, and concepts verbally, and instead use images to explain what's going on, does that truly mean that nobody is interested in learning those processes or concepts...?
This reminds of the day, not so long ago, when those in the ivory towers insisted that "proper" pages were all default-color text, default font, on default-color backgrounds, with no images or tables or anything. The whole Internet was supposed to be one endlessly-scrolling black-on-gray text page (which, by the way, for those of us with poor vision, was very hard to read).
Having poor eyesight myself, and a genetic predisposition to blindness, I am certainly sympathetic to the needs of the blind. But is it really "discrimination" not to be able to fully describe the splendor of a sunset to somebody who's never seen color? I'm all for sensible navigation and ALT-tags on images, but does there never come a point at which we have to accept our limitations?
Or could I start suing all those places with 3-D stuff, since my left eye is damaged and I thus have no depth-perception. I can't do 3-D; I'm not physically capable. Where's my accommodation?!?
|How about cooling down a bit again? |
Why? There's so much money to be made in getting hot and bothered.
|Actually, if past practice with the ADA is anything to go by, small businesses may be preferentially targetted, though in a slightly different manner, since they can't afford to fight the issue. |
I really don't think this is going to affect the small/medium sized business. Why? Because most of them don't have the budget to implement the type of technology that would make their sites inaccessible.
|There are lawyer/advocates who target these businesses, sending demand letters ("Pay this restitution for your crimes, or we'll sue!") to people who they know can't afford to go to court. The "small fry" will write a thousand-dollar check just to make it go away. |
Not if the laws are based on the standards and those who are building websites adhere to them. It really is a simple process. Disabled Persons are not asking us to do anything that we shouldn't have been doing already.
One thing you can be sure of, many of the sites that come from our industry are probably "overly accessible". :)
|There's a butt-load of money to be made this way. I don't think we can safely assume that being small or private ("it's just my family site") or non-commercial or not-for-profit is sufficient protection. |
If there were, I do believe we would be seeing a lot more of this. There have only been a few notable cases over the past few years, big name stuff. While I don't discount that there may have been smaller cases, they just didn't make the press.
It is not as severe as many are making it out to be. And, I'm going to find out first hand, hopefully this week, just how bad it is or, just how not so bad it is, you never know until you try it yourself.
If you can read it on the screen, in the major browsers available, and it works if you have images turned off, you are more than likely 90%+ WAI-A accessible.
>>do something for the blind.
I think this is a good idea, and that page that I spoke about in my last post already WAS totally accessible to the blind.
The point of my last post is that all those extra alt tags don't help the blind or anyone else. All they do is harm everyone, all because it was suggested that one day Google might factor accessibility into their algorithm.
It's true that it's just a small harm, it's unlikely that more than one or two people will die because of it during the next century.
Accomodating the disabled has costs, costs that I'm willing to pay. But the system is filled with UNNECESSARY costs that almost no one cares about or mentions. Tiny changes that are made today will have very large consequenses for the future.
In their rush to be politically correct people will trample one group to help another, and it happens more often than they will admit.
|I really don't think this is going to affect the small/medium sized business. |
I disagree. If it were just the disabled, perhaps not. But their advocates are not disabled and their agendas are not driven by a desire to help the disabled. They merely hide behind this issue to promote no-growth and anti-business agendas and incidentally make money doing it.
I'm not saying that all the advocates are evil, merely that there are many which do more harm than good and that small to medium sized businesses have a lot to fear from this.
|The point of my last post is that all those extra alt tags don't help the blind or anyone else. |
Neither did all those extra spacer gifs in the design.
|All they do is harm everyone, all because it was suggested that one day Google might factor accessibility into their algorithm. |
That is absolutely untrue. Google has nothing to do with the alt attribute other than they may utilize it when determining the quality of a page and/or an image/element on a page.
The alt attribute [w3.org] has been in the HTML specification from its inception. How to use it, when to use it and how to accommodate for when the use is not required are all things you, as a web designer, should know.
The harm that has been done here is the abuse and misuse of the alt attribute for many years. Are the search engines at fault? Partially, as they allowed their algos to be influenced by what was in those alt attributes. These days they are not as influential as they once might have been, but they still weigh into the overall equation if you've followed the guidelines for their use. That is, the written official guidelines from the W3C. Not your own. Not your modified version of them. And surely not the "overly SEO'd" version of them. ;)
If you think about the term "Screen Reader", it instantly presents a "picture" for those of us who are sighted. A Screen Reader acts pretty much like Lynx does. Or, the simplest way to test this is just to "turn off images" in your browser. Everything you see after turning off images is processed by the Screen Reader. Do those alt attributes properly describe the image they are replacing? Are they even there?
|That is absolutely untrue. Google has nothing to do with the alt attribute... |
You should read more carefully and craft your answer so it addresses what was said. The mere suggestion that Google may one day factor in accessibilty is enough to cause many people to bloat their pages with unnecessary code.
|Neither did all those extra spacer gifs in the design. |
The spacer gifs facilitate the design, they are used in great numbers by mere mortals who build web sites. Scolding people for not doing things your way accomplishes nothing beyond helping you to feel superior.
|Do those alt attributes properly describe the image they are replacing? |
All of my images are text or logos and are easily replaced. I hadn't been using any descriptions for abstract elements, but I may begin calling them "abstract designs" in the alt tags.
But those who illustrate their sites with pictures are stymied by the inadequacy of words to describe complex pictures. A site that is composed mostly of images is unnecessarily harmed by the need to describe them all. The site builders are stolen from their primary task of taking pictures to become writers, or to hire writers.
|Scolding people for not doing things your way accomplishes nothing beyond helping you to feel superior. |
Sorry, don't want this to get personal. I didn't mean to sound like I was scolding.
|The spacer gifs facilitate the design, they are used in great numbers by mere mortals who build web sites. |
Yes they do. How many are used and how they are used are up to the designer. You can optimize your spacer gifs, or you could end up with hundreds of them like the Target website. The extra alt="" is really of no significant concern.
|A site that is composed mostly of images is unnecessarily harmed by the need to describe them all. |
Actually it is the other way around. A site that is composed mostly of images benefits greatly by the need to describe (or not describe alt="") them all. I shouldn't use the word "need" here as it is a requirement in the standards. You won't pass validation without using the attributes that are required on certain elements, the alt attribute being one of them.
|Basrawi said the plaintiffs began negotiating with Target after writing the retailer in May 2005. But talks broke down last month, and the company, whom the attorney described as "one of the biggest offenders," declined to modify its Web site. |
The above is what this topic is about. It's not about you or I. It is about people who have disabilities and cannot access the Target website.
|"Blind people have complained about (Target's Web site) in particular," Basrawi said. "That one's gotten a lot of complaints, especially because it's completely unusable. A blind person cannot make a purchase independently on target.com." |
This just isn't some frivolous lawsuit brought about by a group that advocates accessibility and usability. This is serious stuff and I can guarantee you that many of those following this topic have been reading the guidelines and are implementing changes in their own sites to address these issues.
I can see why many are reluctant in pursuing this. One of the first things that you need to do before making your website accessible, is to validate it. I'm not talking about 100% validation, as for some, that is not obtainable. You can at least validate to a 4.01 Transitional DTD which lets you get away with just about everything in your presentation based design. The validation will show you all those basic html errors that are going to be covered in the WAI guidelines for accessibility.
|A site that is composed mostly of images benefits greatly by the need to describe (or not describe alt="") them all. |
Description is a good writing exercise and does help the writer develop mental facilities for description.
But I fail to see how it helps a visually oriented site that will never be adquately described for the sightless.
It is very common, indeed universal for visual art to be "beyond words." Were it not why bother, just write.
|It is very common, indeed universal for visual art to be "beyond words." Were it not why bother, just write. |
I do believe this is outside the current topic. We are primarily discussing the use of the alt attributes and image maps on the Target website. Yes, images are worth a thousand words. Do you have 1,000 words to describe the image? If so, there is an option available to you...
7.2 Long descriptions of images [w3.org]
Were you aware of the Long Description? It can be used on an image, frame and/or iframe [w3.org].
Have any deaf people tried to sue iTunes/Napster yet? It would seem that they are being denied the experience. Wouldn't it be nice if sites had an alt text for wav/mp3 files?
|Wouldn't it be nice if sites had an alt text for wav/mp3 files? |
Ah-ha, but we do, we do!
|1.1 Provide a text equivalent for every non-text element (e.g., via "alt", "longdesc", or in element content). This includes: images, graphical representations of text (including symbols), image map regions, animations (e.g., animated GIFs), applets and programmatic objects, ASCII art, frames, scripts, images used as list bullets, spacers, graphical buttons, sounds (played with or without user interaction), stand-alone audio files, audio tracks of video, and video. [Priority 1] |
And this illustrates why business largely ignores W3 and must be dragged kicking and screaming with PC litigation.
Done some research on accessibility meanwhile. In the past I have always put considerable attention to w3c-conformity, checking every single page with the w3c-validator. Today I found a page with acessibility test tools under
So I tried
as the first example. Hope such urls are allowed, its a free web validator no commercial software. I was quite shocked that on a more strict accessability level of the WCAG guidelines the first of my form pages completely failed due to eg lack of tabindices and some other features. So it is not just this image alt tag thing. There is a lot more to it.
I think before continuing splitting hairs we all should probably get some basic knowledge in the first place.
|I was quite shocked that on a more strict accessability level of the WCAG guidelines the first of my form pages completely failed due to eg lack of tabindices and some other features. So it is not just this image alt tag thing. There is a lot more to it. |
Failed? Or were they warnings? The tabindex attribute is not required if your page has a logical tabindex. Easiest way to test this is browse to your page, now take your hand off your mouse. Using your keyboard only, can you tab your way logically through your page? I mean, that first time you press the tab key, where does the focus start? Is it at a link in your menu? Is it at the first field in a search form? Where do you put the keyboard user when they use their tab key?
The above example not only applies to those who are Blind, but it also applies to many with other disabilities. Some may not be able to use a mouse. I truly respect those who are in that position. I'm a strong proponent of using keyboard shortcuts whenever possible. I worked with someone for five years on the Mac who rarely touched their mouse, it was an amazing experience. And one that I helped translate over to building websites. It's there in the specifications, everything you need to know about developing a site that is keyboard friendly.
Also keep in mind, that if you've built an accessible website and you've followed the guidelines to the best of your interpretation, you've just addressed all the basic elements of SEO and then some. Due to the inherent nature of accessibility, you are forced to use certain elements that search engine algos may take into consideration when determining the quality of a page and/or pages. ;)
Let me reiterate that...
|You are forced to use certain elements that search engine algos may take into consideration when determining the quality of a page and/or pages. |
It's a win/win solution. There are no losers, there are no real costs involved other than a little bit of time to read the guidelines, implement them and enjoy the rewards of having an accessible site. Just imagine all those links you'd get from .edu sites! Think of it that way if that is the only motivator!
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