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Site accessibility law suit precedent

Posted by Michael Bloch in web development (Saturday August 30, 2008 )

Not using alt tags on your images? Watch out that the National Federation for the Blind don’t come chasing you. But aside from accessibility issues; alt tags can help with search engine rankings too.

According to Ars Technica; Target has settled a class action lawsuit with the National Federation of the Blind over accessibility issues with Target’s web site. The major issue was target’s lack of use of “alt” tags throughout its site. Alt tags are textual representations of an image. Those textual representations can be utilized by by screen reading software to assist disabled users navigate web sites.

The NFB argued that Target’s site violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. Along with target paying out a hefty six million bucks; they have also updated all images on their site to have alt tags.

For a small web site owner, this precendent could be rather frightening.

Hrm.

No further comment on that aspect or the suit – however I’d try to articulate my thoughts, they would no doubt be misconstrued and offend someone; so I’d best keep my mouth shut :).

However, a really good reason to use alt tags is in relation to search engine optimization. Alt tag text does factor in ranking calculations with the major engines and can particularly be useful on image rich sites with little text.

Alt tags are also useful for email marketing campaigns given that some users block images.

If you’re not sure how to implement alt tags in your images, here’s a source code example:

<img border="0" src="/images/image.gif" alt="this is alt text" width="50" height="50">

Most HTML editors will also provide built in features for easily adding alt tags.

A word of caution – don’t get too nuts with alt text length – it should just briefly describe what the image is about. For the best results, ensure your alt text contains popular keywords that people may search on and images are linked to relevant pages.

So, by adding alt tags, you’ll not only stay cool with vision impaired folks (and their lawyers), but also might get a bit of a rankings boost!

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