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Re: What is illustrated

From: Alan J. Flavell <flavell@a5.ph.gla.ac.uk>
Date: Fri, 4 May 2001 11:49:23 +0100 (BST)
To: Adam Victor Reed <areed2@calstatela.edu>
cc: WAI Guidelines List <w3c-wai-gl@w3.org>
Message-ID: <Pine.OSF.4.21-pb.0105041051450.19798-100000@a5.ph.gla.ac.uk>
On Thu, 3 May 2001, Adam Victor Reed wrote:

> When reading the text-only presentation, I still want to know
> what the author considered worth illustrating -

Indeed; and Anne has already told that to us, when she says (if I
understood her intentions right) that the illustration was intended as
a visual reinforcement of the identification that is already present
in the text.  I would submit that the visual reader is expected to
give the picture the merest glance, and then move on.  The text
equivalent should serve the equivalent function, in my submission.

Let's take another example.  What do I have on the desk in front of me
right now?  Well, there's a small red portrait of Her Majesty the
Queen.  Is this a useful answer?  Of course not: the real answer to
the question is "a stamped envelope".  It is technically accurate to
say that there is a small red portrait of HM the Queen (namely, the
postage stamp), but this detail is neither useful nor informative in
the context.  And so, taking time out to describe this kind of
(factually accurate but not directly relevant) visual detail would be
to impair the real message under a mass of detail.

> It is worth my while to take in a couple
> more words, as in "[Picture of George Washington]", to tell me
> what the illustration was.

The textual content then flows as

  [Picture of George Washington] George Washington in the French and
  Indian War

I find this incongruous, and would prefer to avoid it.  As I've tried
to stress all along, I'm attempting (wherever possible) to offer the
text-mode reader a full-valued text document which carries the
author's intentions - and not a mere second-best description of a
visual experience.

I really would have preferred, as I hope I made clear, for any overt
text caption to a picture to be formulated as a sentence capable of
standing on its own feet - rather than apparently dangling in need of
the picture to support it.  Unfortunately, we have no really effective
way of providing a textual caption that gets suppressed when the image
itself is not viewed, and so we are stuck with this kind of technical

As I mentioned before, HTML gives you additionally the TITLE and
LONGDESC (formerly the D-link) for supplementary content where this is
felt to be relevant.  And some, at least, text-mode browsers give the
reader the option to enforce presentation markers on images, even
where the author has supplied empty ALT texts, so that a reader who
insists on knowing where there are images, even when the author has
decided they would be a pointless distraction, can have their way.

While it's true that we are discussing compromises, and borderlines of
responsibility between the author to set down their message, and
readers to have that message rendered in a way that is congenial to
them, I would still like to emphasise the benefits of producing a
document which in text mode represents a fully-valued text mode
document in its own right, rather than seeming to be a second-best
description of something which was meant to be inherently visual.  
Sometimes, just sometimes, the latter is inevitable: how could we
discuss a beautiful painting without reference to its visual

But, often this is not so, and (if I may put this in devil's advocate
terms) the pictures are often only there for the benefit of those
whose lack of imagination prevents them from getting the desired
result from a textual description.  Just think in terms of re-writing
a TV show for sound radio: would you pester the listeners with
descriptions of all kinds of visual detail of the TV show, or would
you just get on with the main business of the show's content?

[1]It surely goes without saying that images which are standing alone
as web links absolutely require a working ALT text.  But please, not
examples like ALT="Red bullet".

(This whole presentation assumes, of course, that browers are
available, to those who need them, which support the design intentions
of ALT, TITLE and LONGDESC.  Compromises may be inevitable while
waiting for those, but I'd rather not lose sight of the target while
doing that.)

best regards
Received on Friday, 4 May 2001 06:49:39 UTC

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