The title attribute – what is it good for? (resurrected)

Posted on Tuesday, 12 February 2008 by Steve Faulkner

While working at vision australia I presented at Web Essentials 05 on the HTML title attribute, which lead to a right royal fisking by Joe Clark. I also conducted research on screen reader support and how it (title attribute) was accessed by user’s. These documents became unavailable due to hosting issues. As requested by a few people, I have now made them available again:

Further Reading:


About Steve Faulkner

Steve is the Senior Web Accessibility Consultant and Technical Director, TPG Europe. He joined The Paciello Group in 2006 and was previously a Senior Web Accessibility Consultant at Vision Australia. He is the creator and lead developer of the Web Accessibility Toolbar accessibility testing tool. Steve is a member of several groups, including the W3C HTML Working Group and the W3C Protocols and Formats Working Group. He is an editor of several specifications at the W3C including HTML 5.1, Using WAI-ARIA in HTML and HTML5: Techniques for providing useful text alternatives. He also develops and maintains HTML5accessibility

Comments

  1. Faulkner–

    If what Clark is saying that use of the title attribute is warranted whether or not a specific user agent supports it, I would have to agree.

    One of the things that I continually struggle with accessibility is how to communicate perception. Perception is a very substantive part of communication. Imagery is a part of that within design. The alt attribute, from my perspective, should be used to convey a brief description that relays the perception of what the image is attempting to convey. The title attribute is then used to provide succinct image information.

    I, also, contend that use of the title attribute for links has merit particularly when notification of external links and links that open within a new window is warranted. Albeit, additional alternatives should be used in conjunction with it.

    I have a problem with relying upon a sole method that provides necessary information for either design perceptions or for orientation.

    Reliance upon one or a few user agents and their interpretations just doesn’t make sense.

  2. Thacker wrote:

    I, also, contend that use of the title attribute for links has merit particularly when notification of external links and links that open within a new window is warranted.

    In terms of accessibility the use of the title attribute for this purpose just doesn’t cut it. keyboard access to title attribute content is practically non existent in all browsers (you can access the content in Firefox, but it requires a series of key strokes, and there is no indication prior to interrogation that a title is present, which doesn’t offer equivalency of access with mouse users).
    Imprtant information such as if the link opens in a new window needs to be available to all, not just mouse users.

    I can’t speak for Joe Clark on this subject, but the recently released WCAG Samuri errata are clear on the matter:

    Do not cause pop-ups or other windows to appear and do not change the current window without informing the user.
    Plain text is the strongly preferred method of informing the user. Use of any other method must be reserved for cases where plain text is unreasonably difficult or impossible.
    The title attribute on a hyperlink <a> element can suffice in the unique case of legacy pages that are unreasonably difficult to update. It is not sufficient in newly-created pages or other circumstances.

  3. Faulkner–

    You get no argument out of me on what you stated above, except for the quote out of context. It does contain a stated caveat, “[…] additional alternatives should be used in conjunction with it.”

    What prompted my post was and remains the constant struggle that I face [am sure I am not alone] with accessibility recommendations [Best Practices] … there is no authority that exists or has been published of which I am aware that is comprised solely by those with disabilities on what they need and want.

    I am not dismissing you, your disability nor your knowledge. I am just stating that most accessibility recommendations are similar to a Cheney/ Rumsfield analysis of strategy planning for US foreign policy … we all know where that goes.

    I am not sure that building accessibility content based upon current state of the art of user agent ability and implementation will create a functional accessible Web for all users. Therefore, my technique of using built-in redundancies on everything.

    In all probability, I am wrong.

  4. Thacker wrote:

    I am not sure that building accessibility content based upon current state of the art of user agent ability and implementation will create a functional accessible Web for all users. Therefore, my technique of using built-in redundancies on everything.

    As a user of one of the few screen readers that does support the TITLE attribute, I’d be very glad to see an end to redundancy. On links I get to hear both the link text and TITLE attribute, The principle being that the TITLE was meant for additional information. Unfortunately it’s rarely used for this, so what is delivered is the link text twice, and because there’s no space between the end of the TITLE value and the beginning of the link text, the last word and first word get joined in the middle. This can seriously spoil the principle of clear link text, for instance a simple link like “Hot hits” is announced as “Hot hitshot hits”. That’s an easy one to decipher, but perhaps it illustrates why redundancy isn’t always good.

  5. Bim–

    As stated, ‘Best Practices” for accessibility between user agents simply doesn’t exist.

    Perhaps part of the problem as you describe between link text and the title attribute exist in how developers use them. Perhaps, too, screen readers would do well to identify and take advantage of all punctuation when it exists [all informative elements should include punctuation], including use of punctuation within and attributes.

    Also, redundancy and repetition are not one in the same.

  6. Hey Steve, thanks for reposting your 2005 preso, which was (for me) one of the most informative preso’s on the misconceptions surrounding the title attribute. I had bookmarked the old link from WE05 – but it looks like the old WE05 site is long gone….
    Thanks again!

Comments for this post are closed.

Recent Posts

See all posts in the blog archive

Thank you a million times over. We got exactly what we wanted, when we were told we would get it, at the price we were quoted, and far more valuable than we expected. I wish all our vendors were this effective and professional.

Mark Stender, V.P. Finance and Business, Pearson