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Re: Graphic Designers work - potential for WCAG?

From: Paul Bohman <paulb@cpd2.usu.edu>
Date: Wed, 23 May 2001 10:24:56 -0600
Message-ID: <006001c0e3a4$e780e620$20117b81@paul>
To: <w3c-wai-gl@w3.org>
> > Even dictionaries are illustrated, whether I think that's an absurd
> > of space or not.
> They're illustrated very sparsely, though. If illustration is as easy and
> succinct as is being argued, wouldn't a dictionary be full of them?

Personally, I benefit quite a bit from the illustrations in my American
Heritage Collegiate Dictionary. One of the reasons that I bought it, in fact
(rather than Webster's or another brand), was because of that: better
illustrations. Still, a dictionary full of pictures without text would be a
lot less useful than a text-based dictionary without illustrations, I would
think. Illustrations are fabulous supplements. Without text, though,
illustrations are usually misinterpreted more easily than words without
illustrations--not always, but usually.

In my dictionary, nearly all of the illustrations are of nouns. There are a
few verbs. I can't recall any adjectives, but there may be some. Some types
of information are more easily put into illustrations than others. Many
adverbs, adjectives, conjunctions, and so on are very difficult to
illustrate effectively. Think of the word "soft", for example. To illustrate
the concept, I could draw a picture of a piece of cotton (or fur, or
something else soft), but the picture can be misinterpreted as the nouns
(the objects). I could draw 5 pictures of 5 different soft objects. Maybe
the person would get the connection. Maybe not.

Can text be misinterpreted? Of course. I don't think anyone would really
dispute that.

Can illustrations facilitate the understanding of some kinds of text? Of

Can they facilitate the understanding of all text? I don't think so. For
some things, illustrations are not only unnecessary, but counter-productive.

Can illustrations replace text? In some cases, yes. In many other cases,
probably not. In certain cases, definitely not.

Could you create an illustration-only academic paper and submit it to
Science magazine and have the same level of communication with your peers as
you would with a text-only academic paper? If you did, it would be quite an
accomplishment, and the undertaking itself would be a major research project
(sounds like an intriguing idea--maybe one worth trying).

Audience is a major factor here. Some people can only "read" illustrations.
That's a given. The illiterate or those with certain cognitive impairments
would fit this category. It is unreasonable for us to expect authors to
write for all audiences. It's hard enough to write for a single audience,
let alone for an audience that can't understand the written word. Maybe we
can expect basic government information to be available to the public in as
many forms as possible, but I dislike the idea of "inclusion for all" in the
most literal sense, mainly because I think that it's an impossible goal no
matter how much of an idealist you are.

Should we include the concept of providing illustrations in the guidelines?
I think it could work, as long as it allows for the discretion of the person
creating the document, by including such phrases as "when appropriate",
"where possible", "where illustrations would aid in the communication of a
concept" or something similar.

So, in summary: I like illustrations. I think they help communication in
many, but not all, circumstances. I AM in favor of referencing the idea of
illustrations somewhere in our documents. I AM NOT in favor of adding
"provide an illustrated alternative" (or similar) to the guidelines if we
imply that it applies to all content.

Paul Bohman
Technology Coordinator
WebAIM: Web Accessibility in Mind (www.webaim.org)
Center for Persons with Disabilities (www.cpd.usu.edu)
Utah State University (www.usu.edu)
Received on Wednesday, 23 May 2001 12:25:00 UTC

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