by Penny Everett, VerseOne Accessibility Specialist
Unlike alternative text, which is added to images for screen-reader users, title text is for sighted users and can be added to both an image and a text link, as well as other web page elements. Provided that you are using one of the main browsers, you will see any title attributes on the web page as tool tips when you roll your mouse over the page element. For example, if you roll your mouse over the following link: The title text attribute you should see the words "also known as a tool tip".
The title text attribute is typically used with the following elements: an image, a button, a text link, and a form control. Its purpose is to provide essential information. It is not generally used if it is felt that the element is self-explanatory and any additional information is unnecessary.
Title text can be read by some of the more modern screen-reading software but is not generally a default setting. Many blind users are unaware that they are able to listen to the title text. Some software will only let the blind user listen to either the title text or the alternative text, but not both. Blind users aren't the only ones who will miss out when it comes to title text—the keyboard-only user will not see a tool tip either. Users who choose to view web pages in text format only will also be unaware whether or not a tool tip has been added to any of the images.
The above creates a problem, in that we should give all users an equal experience. All I can advise is that if you feel it is necessary to add additional information to an element for sighted users, then go ahead. But you must make sure that users who will not see the tool tip are informed of this essential information through other means than via the title text attribute.
One of the worst things you can do with title text is to repeat the alternative text or link text. This means that the blind users who use fully functional screen-reading software, which reads both these attributes to the user, would have to endure listening to both sets of text. I often see websites with elements clearly labelled and the tool tip repeating the same text. This practice is absolutely pointless, as only sighted users can see the tool tip. I recently viewed a web site where all 50 menu item links had repeated the link text in the title attribute.
Are you aware of a website that has done this?