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Re: Cognitive issues (was Re: woodcutter)

From: Charles McCathieNevile <charles@w3.org>
Date: Mon, 3 Apr 2000 04:43:51 -0400 (EDT)
To: Jason White <jasonw@ariel.ucs.unimelb.edu.au>
cc: Web Content Accessibility Guidelines <w3c-wai-gl@w3.org>
Message-ID: <Pine.LNX.4.20.0004030429410.9239-100000@tux.w3.org>
I think an important point is that language is not the thing most central to
communication - having something to communicate is. It seems that many of us,
particularly those who have great skill using written languages, seem to
forget that easily.

I can go to many countries and get food and drink without speaking any of the
language. Sighted people use images for communication of ideas all the time -
where is the toilet, or the information desk, or what should I do at this
intersection, or how do I put my acme model aeroplane together?

Language merely means a shared method of communicating these ideas. There are
graphic languages that can convey quite complex ideas (just as gaelic can,
but if I wrote this in gaelic it would be inaccessible to most people on this
list, largely just through an accident of birth), but it is also possible to
convey a rough sense of an idea fairly widely without relying on a complete
symbolic language. Comic strips (I am thinking of European ones, which are
often directed to adults and have much more complex stories than the Marvel
comics I am familiar with from America) do this.

Just as there are people who can naturally and easily describe an object in
words, and people for whom it seems difficult or impossible, there are people
who express themselves visually in a way that is easy to understand, and
people who don't. I am sure none of us assumes that everyone can write well,
but we do not shy away from including multiple checkpoints describing how
writing should be done (inverted pyramid style, clearly, in a structured
manner), and nor should we have any conceptual difficulty with describing
graphic communication requirements (I am not a graphics expert, but clear
graphics, appropriate use of photographic or constructed images depending on
the specificity of the reference, use of contrast and internationally or
widely recognised symbols with appropriate colours doesn't seem like a
difficult place to start some work.)

Charles McCN

On Mon, 3 Apr 2000, Jason White wrote:

  One point which is easily overlooked in these discussions, and which bears
  reiterating, is the centrality of language in the expression and
  communication of concepts. Whether it be a gestural, written or spoken
  language; and whether, in the case of a written language, the signs be
  pictographic or phonetic, ultimately, understanding of the language
  requires mastery of certain conventions by which meaning is represented, a
  grammar, and so forth. A linguist would be able to develop the details. If
  a person is unable to learn a language at all, then there is much that
  will be inherently inaccessible. This might perhaps be considered as a
  limiting case. Beyond this, there are those who can use language, but who
  encounter serious difficulties in so doing. This is where checkpoints 14.1
  and 14.2 are valuable (leaving aside other checkpoints related to
  navigation, etc., which are also notable in this context).
  Non-textual representations of content can complement language and serve
  to clarify and communicate concepts. To this extent they serve a
  facilitating role. The fundamental question which needs to be addressed,
  therefore, is what guidance can be given to the designers of electronic
  documents to encourage appropriate use of non-textual forms of expression,
  in ways that will benefit individuals with cognitive disabilities? So far
  in these discussions, little has been offered by way of concrete advice in
  this direction. What should be added to the techniques document under the
  rubric of checkpoint 14.2?
  It is time to move beyond the generalisations and to start considering, in
  so far as this is possible, what should be included in broadly applicable
  guidelines to give substance to the requirement expressed in checkpoint
  Please note: these comments are offered in my personal capacity and not in
  pursuance of my role as working group co-chair.

Charles McCathieNevile    mailto:charles@w3.org    phone: +61 (0) 409 134 136
W3C Web Accessibility Initiative                      http://www.w3.org/WAI
Location: I-cubed, 110 Victoria Street, Carlton VIC 3053
Postal: GPO Box 2476V, Melbourne 3001,  Australia 
Received on Monday, 3 April 2000 04:43:57 UTC

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