An editor with some years of experience writing for the web was very surprised when I showed her that our wordmark, in the upper left corner of every page, was clickable and that it takes users to the university mainpage. Face palm. That moment brought up the cavalcade of people who have suggested that we have a Home link on every page. To that I invariably replied that there had to be some mystery in life, people would just have to discover the link in the wordmark. Of course, having discovered that, they will have a lifetime skill usable mostly on every site. But still, there has to be some mystery in life.

Hide The Subject

My first career was in motion picture post production, so I know a little bit about film technique. In “Rear Window” there’s a scene where Jimmy Stewart’s character is talking to Grace Kelly’s character and he’s partially obscured in another room. I saw the movie a couple of times in theaters and observed people craning their heads in an effort to continue to see him. Directors interpose things between the subject and the viewer to increase audience participation.

Hide The Title

A recent redesign of A List Apart has the title partially obscured off the top of the page and the tagline “*For People Who Make Websites” partially obscured off the bottom of the footer. My blind readers will chuckle, but this has caused consternation. Many comments on the site call out the partially obscured title and tagline. A List Apart is an established brand. They can afford to play with it. I applaud their partially obscured title and tagline. Nicely done. Judging from the comments on the site, it sure has increased audience participation.

Hide The Alt Text

What I don’t applaud, though, is what is revealed in this interchange in A List Apart comments:

Peter Müller @pmmueller wrote:
“And the images in the article don’t have any text in the alt=”“ attribute. Forgetful? In a hurry?”

Jeffrey Zeldman @zeldman wrote:
“On the contrary. We quite consciously omit alt text where it is needless, because the image is followed by a title equivalent to the alt text.”

In “Using the HTML title attribute – updated
Steve Faulkner @stevefaulkner wrote:
“If you want to hide content from mobile and tablet users as well as assistive tech users and keyboard only users, use the title attribute.”

On the A List Apart main page there is an image of Karen McGrane but you’d never know it by the alt text, because the alt attribute value is alt=”“ and there’s no title attribute. This is truly a mystery.


In my post about missing alt for author pictures on A List Apart, Mysteries, I got it wrong. The day after this post, on Twitter, Jeffrey Zeldman replied “Joe, you mistook title for title element. They are not the same. We don’t use title elements.” I do know the difference but I am glad to hear that. I was confused by Jeffrey Zeldman’s earlier statement “We quite consciously omit alt text where it is needless, because the image is followed by a title equivalent to the alt text.” The words “image is followed by a title” I reasoned, surely meant title attribute. So the mystery is solved: A List Apart style guide means to leave screen reader users out of the picture, as it were, when it comes to author pictures.


Daniel Patrick Moynihan said “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” In other words, everyone is entitled to interpret the guidelines, but not to alter the guidelines. Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 guidelines state: provide text alternatives for any non-text content. The way I interpret the guidelines, those author pictures need meaningful alternative text.