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RE: Mail order catalogues was Re: Cognition Simulation

From: Charles F. Munat <chas@munat.com>
Date: Wed, 29 Aug 2001 17:07:48 -0700
To: "WAI GL" <w3c-wai-gl@w3.org>
> The reason to add images, etc. should be because you have it and it's
> relevant. Do you want to deny access to large numbers of disabled persons
> to accommodate those with old equipment? The presence of a graphic on a
> page does not deny the page to the person, only the graphic. It's
> only when
> the graphic isn't there that something is "denied" ....

I don't want to deny anything to anyone. That's why I'm in favor of the
judicious use of graphics to enhance comprehensibility on Web pages. I think
that, just as web site developers need to take care to make their text clear
and simple, they should also minimize graphic clutter and keep their
graphics clear and to the point. Or is it only text that needs to be simple?

I don't see how adding graphics to a site carefully and wisely denies access
to anyone. I can see how bandwidth-hogging pages full of Flash applets, Java
applets, big images, sounds, etc. might deny access to someone with older
technology. And we are talking *big* numbers of people here, too. Sure, a
user can turn images, etc. off, but how then does he know which ones are key
to understanding the page? Do people with cognitive disabilities in Third
World countries not figure into your equations? Wouldn't a page that uses
images as effectively as possible with a significantly lower bandwidth
requirement better serve these people?

> >10. Regarding the WCAG, I think that it is very important that we stress
> >that non-text content be designed to increase comprehensibility, not just
> >added willy-nilly to make the page pretty. It will be a long
> time before the
> >rest of the world catches up with the First World. Let's not make it any
> >longer than it needs to be.
> What makes you think that the rest of the world isn't waiting for the
> graphics as so many Americans did?

They aren't waiting: most of them can get at least simple graphics. But when
you have a bad phone line connected to a 14.4k modem and an ISP that charges
you several day's pay for limited access, then how many images can you
afford to download? And when you are working 12 hours a day, 6 days a week
to support your family, how much time do you have to wait for images to
download? Shouldn't every image count? Shouldn't we try to do *more* with
*less* until we've solved the bandwidth problem for everyone? Or do only
wealthy, white, English-speaking Americans with cognitive disabilities
count? What about poor, Hispanic, Spanish-speaking people with cognitive
disabilities, either in Latin America or right here in the good ole U.S.A.?
Don't they count? I'm sure that's not what you mean to say, but taking the
unlimited-bandwidth approach to site design will have that sort of effect.
We need to be careful that we are not solving the problems of one group
while -- unintentionally, of course -- destroying accessibility to another.
I've decided to take a page from your brave support of Americans with
cognitive disabilities and become a voice in this group for the rights of
poor people with cognitive disabilities worldwide. I'm sure these issues
will come up again as we work out the details of hypermedia on the Web.

> If you'd read the archives you'd see that I've said often that
> once we say
> firmly that graphics have to be there, we can talk about the best way to
> accommodate them to all users ... Until then, we have no reason
> for a say-so.

You must have a lot of free time, Anne. I read the "Illustrated Guidelines"
thread from last May this morning and it took me all morning. On my slow
connection (28.8k), it could take me weeks to get through the archives. So
I'm afraid I'll have to be satisfied with the spot check I've done, and if I
bring up something that's been covered before, I'll be happy to read any
previous posts that others are willing to point me to.

I should mention that the reason I read the "IG" thread this morning is
because Matt May was kind enough to send me an off-list email with the URLs.
Thanks, Matt.

Now, regarding when we should talk about the best way to accommodate
graphics to all users, why wait? What is the benefit to waiting? Besides,
haven't we already said that graphics have to be there? Isn't that what
checkpoint 3.4 says, or am I reading it incorrectly? So we are now ready to
proceed with a discussion of how graphics may be used most effectively. With
luck, we can come up with some techniques for keeping graphics small (in
file size) and efficacious.

Here is a good start: Taking my cue from Strunk's "The Elements of Style"
("Omit needless words.") and Orwell's "Politics and the English Language"
("If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out."), I recommend the

***If it is possible to cut a graphic out, always cut it out.***

In other words, if a graphic is not necessary to convey the meaning of the
content, delete it! It is just superfluous clutter, wasting bandwidth and
mind-space that could be better used for images that *do* convey meaning.
This doesn't in any way limit the number of graphics that may be used to
illustrate the topic! It just requires them to be useful.

Here is another:

***Never use a big graphic if a small graphic will do as well.***

This goes along with the admonition to text writers to avoid big words. Note
that it doesn't require the substitution of small graphics for big: it
clearly states that the substitution should only occur when the smaller
graphic can be used with no loss of meaning. This is pure gain for all

How about this:

***Keep graphics simple and clear. The complexity of a graphic should be no
greater than that required to convey the information.***

Again, this goes right along with checkpoint 3.3! Think of how much easier
it will be to get information out of Web pages when they all provide *both*
text and non-text content; keep everything -- text and not-text alike --
short, sweet, clear, and simple; download in a flash; and work on every

I was further encouraged this morning when I read "Designing for Users With
Cognitive Disabilities" by Erica Kolatch:


In particular, she mentioned:

"The primary focus for designers producing any material for those with
cognitive disabilities, whether it be new computer aided instruction,
assistive technologies, or the World Wide Web should be to:

    * Avoid clutter"

And later:

"Designers must remember to provide:

    * Information layouts that are consistent and easy to understand. For
example, display important information in a prominent area to catch the
user's eye
    * Simplified and consistent design and presentation"

Seems to me that by keeping graphics clear and simple, avoiding overuse of
graphics and graphics that distract or are superfluous, and keeping pages
short and to the point, we can better serve everyone. It's a win-win

I find this especially pleasing because I usually go to great lengths to
keep my pages short (pun intended, of course). It's nice to know that I was
on the right track all along. (Now if I could just keep my posts as short as
my pages.)

I'm really starting to enjoy this thread. We seem to be clarifying the
issues surrounding checkpoint 3.4 quite a bit.

Chas. Munat
Received on Wednesday, 29 August 2001 20:05:47 UTC

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