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Creating Accessible Web Sites Tutorial

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Alt Tags - no wait - Effective Alt Tags

Alt tags (or alt text): The text alternative to graphics - on a PC, it's the text you see appear when you place your mouse over a graphic; on a Mac, it appears when graphics are turned off. In both platforms, you can look in the code of the page (View, Source), and you'll see, for example:

<img src="../3ringsBanner.gif" width="450" height="33" alt="National Center on Low-Incidence Disabilities logo - select to go to NCLID web site.">

This text is read out loud by JAWS and other screen reading software.

Adding alt tags to all your graphics is an excellent first step; however, you need to make sure that first step actually takes you (and your visitors) somewhere. You don't want to take a step only to put your foot through the floor! So let's take a look at how to write effective alt tags and how to add alt tags to images.

When writing an effective alt tag, there is one simple question to keep in mind: What is the purpose of this graphic? If you know what function the graphic is serving, then the alt tag should in some way be related to that function. If you can't articulate what function a graphic is serving, then why is it there? Graphics typically fall into four basic categories, three of which will be treated in this section. Those categories are:

  1. filler graphics - not really meaningful, typically for decoration
  2. simple content graphics - examples would be a person's photograph, a basic photo of anything, a simple logo, etc.
  3. action graphics - the user must act upon the graphic (e.g. click on it) in order for something to happen
  4. content-rich graphics - examples would be diagrams, maps, complex logos, etc.

We're going to examine the first three in this section then talk in-depth about content-rich graphics in the section on D-Links.

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