Walmart’s Poor Alt Text and Use of Flash

Yesterday, Steve Faulkner of The Paciello Group wrote a tweet quoting an alt attribute on the home page. My first reaction was disbelief, frustration, and outrage.

I replied to the tweet, then found the following code (line 2421) which Steve was referencing:

The site includes Flash technology. To avoid interruption of software designed to aid visually-impaired people, please turn off your Flash player.

The message was designed for screen reader users. But just this one line of code is so wrong on so many levels including the following.

  1. A spacer GIF? What is this, 1998? This is a badly outdated and poor practice.
  2. Alt text is too long; I suggest under 15 words. Or, include the text as part of the main page or use some kind of “D” link.
  3. This message was meant to be vital to the user (particularly if blind), and thus should not be stuffed in an ALT attribute.
  4. Many people with visual impairments may not be blind, but have “low vision”, and thus may not use a screen reader. These individuals could use a screen magnifier or simply enlarge text with their browser.
  5. Law: Walmart is a very large corporation providing sale of goods nationally; this means that they are a great “Target” for a lawsuit, excuse the pun! (If you don’t get the joke, read about the NFB vs. Target lawsuit.)
  6. The use of Flash in itself is highly debatable. One can write a book about this point, but basically, Flash requires a proprietary plug-in, usually not developed with accessibility, and is not supported on many modern user agents such as the iPhone/iPad (not to mention many others including text-only browsers).
  7. How does one turn off his Flash player, anyway?


Immediate: Provide HTML alternative to content.

Better: Use accessible Flash and provide an HTML alternative to content.

Best: Use HTML only for content. Implement with web standards, progressive enhancement, and DOM scripting, to create the same visual effect as the original Flash. This will not only make your content accessible, but will also make the site lighter and faster and is also good for SEO.


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