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Re: Cognitive issues (was Re: woodcutter)

From: Marja-Riitta Koivunen <marja@w3.org>
Date: Mon, 03 Apr 2000 09:15:47 -0400
Message-Id: <>
To: Charles McCathieNevile <charles@w3.org>, Jason White <jasonw@ariel.ucs.unimelb.edu.au>
Cc: Web Content Accessibility Guidelines <w3c-wai-gl@w3.org>
At 04:43 AM 4/3/00 -0400, Charles McCathieNevile wrote:
>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.
To me a visual language is also a language and we do communicate a lot with
it. But it needs to be learned otherwise the communication is not easy as
so much need to be guessed.

>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?
This is because we very much share the same scripts. When you go to a store
or a restaurant it has pretty much the same features everywhere, which
helps the guessing enormously.

I once went to a Japanese restaurant in a little village and they didn't
speak any English, neither did they have those plastic models that they use
is turistic places. But everything went well as we shared the same script:
they showed as a table, we sat down, they gave us a written menu, we looked
puzzled but couldn't understand each other, finally I said in Finnish:
"just bring us something to eat", and they did, they looked what we seemed
to like and brought more of that, and then we got a bill and paid it.
Without the same script we would have been in trouble.

>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.
It is indeed possible if we have already learned something and we can guess
the rest. And I very much like to have visual images and use them myself.
We just need to understand that having them is not an instant cure and not
everybody understands them fluently as they don't share the same knowledge
and conventions. When films were first shown to some nothern tribes who had
never seen them before they couldn't understand them.

>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.)
It will probably not be easy, some conventions are domain specific, other
conventions differ in different parts of the world. But I think writing
these down, discussing about them and reflecting them with the needs of CD
users does help. I wonder if we could use a better tool for this pondering
(something like C-SIL) so it would be easier to keep track of the ideas,
hypothesis, categories, and comments for and against etc.


>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
>  14.2.
>  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 09:21:48 UTC

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