W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > w3c-wai-gl@w3.org > January to March 2000

Text equivalents and cognitive considerations

From: Gregg Vanderheiden <gv@trace.wisc.edu>
Date: Tue, 14 Mar 2000 23:49:09 -0600
To: "GL - WAI Guidelines WG \(E-mail\)" <w3c-wai-gl@w3.org>
Message-ID: <003901bf8e42$2f8fc440$bcb6d818@vander>

Hi Anne,

No - you are not untimely.  Your input is always welcome.    Let me see if I
can lay out the logic for the heavy emphasis on providing an electronic text
version of the information on a web page.

The reason that there is such an emphasis on TEXT (note that this is
electronic text - not printed text)   is that it is the one form of
information that is easily translatable into visual, auditory or tactile
form to match a user's needs.

You mention that text is not accessible to those who cannot use text.   Are
you referring to those who cannot read?  Or to people who cannot understand
information even if it is read to them.   Let me touch on each of these in
turn.   I'll present our thinking as best I can.

First, remember that printed text is not accessible to people who are blind
either.  (and regular sized text is not accessible to people with low
vision).  However (electronic) text IS a form of information that can be
easily rendered as speech (as well as other forms).  And that would address
not only people who are blind but also those with low vision, people who
cannot read, people who have trouble reading and many others.  It also helps
people with physical disabilities that prevent them from having stable head
position which makes prolonged visual reading difficult.   So the
(electronic) text alternative is required because it makes sites accessible
to people with a wide range of disabilities including cognitive and
language.  In fact most of the guidelines address multiple disabilities

Now one could require that all text also be provided as sound files..... but
that would not get you much more access (than generating the speech at the
user end) and it would create a real problem for people with slow
connections.... And greatly increase storage on the server by an order of
magnitude or more.

Since free talking web browsers are available to anyone with a disability -
the electronic text approach seems the most universal approach across
disabilities including those with problems dealing with (or an inability to
deal with)  printed text.

If you are referring to people who could not understand the information even
if it is read to them, then I don't know what we could do.  I worked for a
long time in the area of alternate symbol systems (my PhD is in technology
and communication rehabilitation and child development).    It is very
difficult to take information that is in text form and translate it into a
symbol language that would be comprehensible to someone who was not able to
understand any spoken or written language.  It is not impossible,  I have
seen it done.  (actually the symbol language in that case was in effect a
written (or rather printed) language).    But to require web sites to
provide a translation of their text into a symbol language is not very
realizable.    Again, the best approach would appear to be to have them
provide a text version of the information and use a translator of some type
to translate the text into the symbol system language of the particular

[ Anne, I note from a previous memo from you that you are not espousing this
approach - but it is included here for completeness of the discussion]
Another approach might be to suggest that all information be presented in
pictures or images.   While it is sometimes difficult or impossible to
convey all visual (or auditory ) information as text  (e.g. a painting or a
symphony)  it is almost always impossible to convey textual information as a
picture or image.  Take for example your email below.   How would one convey
that in pictures?   The same problem exists for most web pages.    Hence
there is no requirement in the guidelines that all information on web pages
be presented in picture or graphic form.  Similarly, it is not possible to
present the information in sounds (other than speech - which takes us back
to the use of electronic text).

I do think (and so do others) that pictures and graphics can be added to a
page such that it is easier to understand the page (even if it is being read
to a person).  Thus there is a guideline that puts a priority on that.
There is also one that states that the language on a site be as simple as
appropriate for that site so that when it is read to a person - they will
have the maximum chance of understanding it.   The phrase "as appropriate"
was added since there are sites ranging everywhere from shopping (where very
straight forward language can and should be used) to thermodynamics and
particle physics (where more complex language is required).

I hope this is helpful.   As you can see,  there are quite a few guidelines
that focus on requiring pages to have text equivalents for information so
that they can be read to a user.  Combined with the final guidelines (that
focus on making the text (and therefore speech) as easy to understand as
possible) these all can help provide access to people who have trouble with
printed text.

Also note that as browsers become more available which are graphic but which
allow the text to be read  - (either in its entirety, as individual words or
phrases that a user points to)   -  that pages with text will be even more

Anne, if I missed your point - then I sincerely apologize for making you
read all this.   I'm interested in your thoughts or reactions.   If I did
miss the boat, could you post back an example of a specific guideline that
you are interested in seeing?  Maybe that will help me.

Is there something that you think we should do besides:

1) making sure all text is electronic (so that it can be read to the user by
their browser)

2) encouraging the use of graphics on a page  and

3) keeping the language as simple as possible

Editor and Co-chair

-- ------------------------------
Gregg C Vanderheiden Ph.D.
Professor - Human Factors
Dept of Ind. Engr. - U of Wis.
Director - Trace R & D Center
Gv@trace.wisc.edu, http://trace.wisc.edu/
FAX 608/262-8848
For a list of our listserves send "lists" to listproc@trace.wisc.edu

-----Original Message-----
From:	w3c-wai-gl-request@w3.org [mailto:w3c-wai-gl-request@w3.org]  On
	Behalf Of Anne Pemberton
Sent:	Monday, March 13, 2000 11:41 AM
To:	w3c-wai-gl@w3.org
Subject:	Text equivalents


I apologize for this post if it is seriously untimely. I'm behind in reading
due to pressures at work unrelated to my activities here. I usually read
e-mail at home either before or after work, and, when I read in the morning,
usually put together my thoughts on the drive to and from work. I have been
reading this list for almost a year, have contributed from time to time, but
am increasingly concerned that the guidelines are being pulled toward
accomodating the *preferences* of some groups of disabled, while the basic
needs of other groups are still largely ignored.
I started to look through the recent update of techniques, but realized that
my concerns aren't there so much as they are with the guidelines themselves,
so I clicked to the guidelines, dated Mar 9 2000, and began to study what is
missing. I read, and re-read Guideline one, moved on to others, and kept
returning to Guideline One.
Guideline 1: Provide equivalent alternatives to auditory and visual content.
Why does it stop at just auditory and visual, why does it not also suggest
equivalent alternatives to text? Not only does the guideline ignore the
burden that text presents to some members of the diabled community, but in
the second paragraph, it states that the purpose of the guideline is to
require *text equivalents* to anything that isn't already in text,
explicitely excluding those who cannot use text.  In the same paragraph,
some of the largest groups of disabled are dismissed by saying that speech
synthesization provides for their needs. It does not. Speech synthesizers,
according to the last time I questioned it on this list, sill do not
generally allow the user to see the graphics on a page while speaking the
text. This makes the speech synthesizer near worthless for many/most? with
cognitive disabilities, learning disabilities, and reading disabilities. It
is a presumption that speech synthesizers accommodate these needs, and a
presumption without substance in reality, as I know it.
Is it too late to consider including *text* as a format on the web that
needs accommodation?
At present, the learning disabled adults I know who are using the web use it
mainly for entertainment - the information isn't accessible to their NEEDS.
Shouldn't there be real accommodations for these folks who are specifically
named as "accommodated" by the guidelines?
A start would be to include "text" in the formats which need "equivalents"
provided when the information may be needed by those with cognitive,
learning and/or reading disabilities.
Again, I apologize if I should have made this point several months back.

Anne L. Pemberton
Enabling Support Foundation

wendy a chisholm
world wide web consortium
web accessibility initiative
madison, wi usa
tel: +1 608 663 6346
Received on Wednesday, 15 March 2000 00:52:42 UTC

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