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GL's acceptance of the necessity of graphics on the web

From: Gregory J. Rosmaita <unagi69@concentric.net>
Date: Fri, 17 Mar 2000 06:27:33 -0500
Message-Id: <>
To: Anne Pemberton <apembert@crosslink.net>
Cc: Web Content Accessiblity Guidelines Mailing List <w3c-wai-gl@w3.org>
Anne Pemberton wrote, quote:
While I'm discussing graphics in the MS authoring tools, let me add a 
suggestion I will make to the group more formally after there is better 
acceptance of the necessity of graphics on the web.

aloha, anne!

there is absolutely no question that graphics are often necessary, and i 
don't think that anyone in this WG (or any other WAI WG) would dispute that 
fact...  it isn't a question of whether graphics are necessary, but how 
best to use them to benefit those who interact most efficaciously with 
images, whilst making their content and contextual meaning clear to users 
whose interaction with the web is not visually oriented -- and, since that 
audience not only includes those with no usable vision, but those accessing 
the web via mobile devices or the telephone, ensuring the accessibility of 
graphical information is not only an accessibility issue, but a broader 
usability issue...

moreover, the use of telephonic devices to access web-based content isn't 
limited to the realm of the rich and frivolous...  i know of several 
blindness related organizations in the united states who have been 
attempting to make the information contained on their web sites available 
over the telephone for 2 very simple reasons:

1) an overwhelming majority of the population of the united states is 
extremely familiar with the telephone's simple interface; and

2) the leading cause of blindness in the united states are diseases and 
disorders associated with aging...

while a great many quote senior citizens unquote have become as addicted to 
computers, email, and the web as have members of the quote junior set 
unquote, a great many more (including a large number of individuals with 
multiple disabilities) have, when polled by blindness-related 
organizations, expressed a preference for phone-based information retrieval 
over computer-based retrieval of web based content...   likewise, economic 
disadvantages may preclude a child, teenager, or adult from regularly using 
-- much less owning -- a computer, but most american households have at 
least one phone, and even in areas where private phones are scarce, most 
people still use a phone, even if they have to stand out in the cold and 
rain to do so via a public telephone...

it is precisely because the telephone remains one of the most ubiquitous 
accoutrements of modern life that many blindness related organizations (as 
well as many other disability-related and non-disability related 
organizations and entities) are eager to add a telephonic interface to 
their web presence...  the advantages of using a phone to retrieve 
information are manifest -- an extremely simple and familiar interface -- 
as are the disadvantages -- the inability to save a local copy of the 
information being retrieved, save via a recording device, problems 
associated with devising effective mechanisms for filling out forms (will 
voice-recognition technology alone ever truly be sufficient?  how does one 
use the telephone keypad to enter one's name, and where are the backspace 
and delete buttons?) -- not to mention bandwidth considerations and the 
fact that most phones are either utterly unable to display text and 
images,  or have a very limited capacity for doing so, although some mobile 
phones are beginning to support rudimentary graphical content in the form 
of images...

which brings me back to the topic of images and graphics...  based upon 
your recent posts to the GL list, i understand your position to be that 
WCAG abjectly fails in addressing the needs of non-readers -- that is, 
those who cannot cognitively process text -- because it does not mandate 
graphical equivalents for textual content...  since this is what i 
understand you to be asking the working group to consider as a P1 
requirement for WCAG, a few questions need to be considered:

1. who is to decide what semiotic schema to use in order to provide a 
non-reader (as defined above) with a purely graphical slash symbolic 
version of the textual contents of a page?

2. who knows best the needs and cognitive capacity of an individual 
user?  my answer to this question is the individual user -- and, perhaps, 
those who interact with that individual, as an individual, and who respect 
his or her opinions and listen to his or her statement of needs, rather 
than those who simply quote know what is best unquote for the user, based 
upon a physical or psychological classification...

3. are there widely used symbolic systems that we should be aware of that 
are used to communicate ideas and words through symbols?  if so, please 
provide us with references...

4. if there are such symbolic conventions, do they differ from country to 
country, as well as language to language, as is the case with braille?

5. is there a gradient of graphical content that you could suggest -- could 
you (or jonathan, or the 2 of you) compile a list of the elements and 
functionalities that you deem as indispensable for non-textual interaction 
with a web page?

6. have you investigated XSLT,  the eXtensible Stylesheet Language 
Transformations recommendation, which is located 
at:<http://www.w3.org/TR/xslt> ?  while it isn't an immediate solution, it 
may prove capable of performing at least some of the radical 
transformations you seem to be requesting this working group add to WCAG as 
checkpoints (as well as addressing some of the visually-oriented formatting 
concerns which have been raised by scott)

finally, it isn't a question of pitting my needs as a visionless individual 
against those of someone for whom iconic cues are indispensable...   the 
needs of the 2 groups -- access to information, the efficient exchange of 
information, and increased autonomy  -- are not mutually exclusive, nor 
should the needs of any group be championed to the detriment of the needs 
of another...   what is needed are solutions that address the problems that 
have been identified by, or brought to the attention of, this working group 
in order that we might devise solutions that work equally well for as many 
groups as possible...

the only reason i pointed out the shortcomings of the site you referenced 
is that it is part of the WAI's ever-evolving mission not only to actively 
search for, but encourage the development of, sites which meet the needs of 
as wide an array of both actual and potential users as possible...  what i 
wished to convey was that -- with a modicum of effort (and/or an authoring 
tool that outputs more accessible HTML than that used to generate the site) 
-- the author of the page could have ensured that the document was as 
accessible and useable for visitor who could not see either the graphics or 
the visually-oriented layout, as you and jonathan stated it is for a 
symbolic surfer...

the re-examination of the Techniques and Guidelines documents produced by 
the GL working group isn't about championing the needs of one group over 
another's, but of working together to strengthen a document that not only 
reflects the state-of-the-art in web-based and adaptive technology at the 
time it was created, but the information that was available to the working 
group at the time that WCAG was created...

the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, like accessibility, the web, and 
life itself, is an ever-evolving work in progress, and if there are issues 
we missed or which you or anyone else feels need to be addressed, please 
let us know in as specific a manner as possible...  having said that, i 
would be remiss if i failed to point out that scott's recent posts to the 
GL list serve as very good examples of the sort of information (problem 
statements and proposed solutions) which the working group is attempting to 

posted after letting the emessage sit for twelve hours and after at least 5 

ABSURDITY, n.  A statement or belief manifestly inconsistent with
one's own opinion.       -- Ambrose Bierce, _The Devils' Dictionary_
Gregory J. Rosmaita      <unagi69@concentric.net>
Camera Obscura           <http://www.hicom.net/~oedipus/index.html>
VICUG NYC                <http://www.hicom.net/~oedipus/vicug/>
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Received on Friday, 17 March 2000 06:17:26 UTC

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