I’d like to ask you the same question. “Why shouldn’t we tell the non-sighted user that we also have a photo of Faruk available?”
Out of curiosity, how does that information help the non-sighted user?
If the non-sighted user has the right to know that there is a photo on the page (and I don’t deny that she does), doesn’t she also have the right to know something about the page’s design and layout?
Does the non-sighted user need to know that the page is responsive?
Should she be told something about the flavor of the design? She has the same human right as anyone else to know that the headline is set in ITC Franklin Gothic and is considerably larger and bolder than the headlines on many other websites.
If she is reading an A List Apart article, she has the right to know that it is adorned by a Kevin Cornell illustration which comments wittily on the article’s content in a visual language known only by Kevin. She has the right to respond to and interpret Kevin’s strange and unusual artwork. Yet I defy any writer to explain in an alt text the flavor of Kevin’s work, what is happening in this particular illustration, how this illustration’s content relates to other illustrations by Kevin throughout the magazine, and so on.
One can write, “Illustration by Kevin Cornell,” and we do write that. We present that information in HTML, where anyone, sighted or not, can read it. That is the function of an alt text but that function can be carried out just as effectively by other text on the page.
We use alt text where it makes sense to do so. We sometimes skip alt text if we can put the same text in front of the reader in another place, where it is accessible to everyone, sighted or non-sighted. These are design decisions. They are not offenses against anyone’s human rights. We think constantly about our readers, all of our readers, and the best ways to enhance and deepen their experience and engagement with our content.
There are some elements of the A List Apart reading experience, such as the experience of examining Kevin Cornell’s strange and wonderful drawings, or the experience of reading these particular words in these particular fonts at these particular sizes in these particular colors, that cannot usefully be translated for folks who cannot see.
This is true of the content of every website ever created. Alt text and other accessibility techniques cannot replace purely visual experiences.
I content that “photo of the author” would provide only banal and useless information to an unsighted user, unless that photo by its unique composition and other characteristics added significantly to the content of the page. The reader can enjoy the article without being interrupted to hear about a photo she cannot see in the same way that she can enjoy and benefit fully from an article without being interrupted to be told about some other small decorative flourish, such as the wreath on the comment sign-in button.