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A new iconography? (was:How to convince businesses to be accessib le...)

From: Dave J Woolley <david.woolley@bts.co.uk>
Date: Fri, 6 Oct 2000 19:27:43 +0100
Message-ID: <81E4A2BC03CED111845100104B62AFB5824AB1@stagecoach.bts.co.uk>
To: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org
> From:	Anne Pemberton [SMTP:apembert@crosslink.net]
> 
> accommodate all those with disabilities before we worry about those who
> choose not to buy what they need. Again, the answer to slow download is a
> 
	[DJW:]  I have strong views on that response but 
	limited time and want to concentrate on the other 
	point.

	[DJW:]  [10 lines of context follow]
> Using graphics for links is but one use of graphics on a page. If graphics
> do not help you, does that tell you they don't help others? It shouldn't.
> You shouldn't stop your thinking at the end of your own nose. Broaden your
> perspective. Statistically, "retarded" folks are about 3 percent of the
> total population. What percentage of the disabled population would that
> be?
> Statistically, "learning disabled" folks, many of whom have significant to
> severe problems with text, are some 20-25% of the total population in the
> US. Again, what percentage of the US disabled is that? If you have access
> to numbers on the total disabled population, you can easily figure out how
> many are likely to NEED graphics. 
> 
	[DJW:]  
	- the specific issue was text as graphics, not graphics
	  in general;
	- commercial use of graphics doesn't help people with
	  learning problems;
	- standard icons are better treated as characters and 
	  many are already available as such;
	- icon characters could be added to text only browsers
	  very quickly.

	A typical heavily graphical commercial site tries to
	establish a theme and then designs all the graphics and
	icons based on that theme.  In order to use the site you
	are faced with a puzzle formed from the site metaphor in 
	order to work out which graphical elements are significant
	and what they mean.

	Even sites with a fair amount of textual content can have
	up to half a dozen conventions that one needs to know before
	one can decipher the site.

	It's quite common for sites (particular mass market ones),
	and Windows interfaces in general, to take well known icons
	and serverly distort them to achieve a style.  This doesn't
	happen on physical products.  E.g. a physical DVD player 
	will likely use fairly clean forms of the common forward
	backward, play, pause, etc., icons, but the web/windows interface
	is likely to show them as images of inscribed shapes on a
	mottled background.

	The proliferation of different icons on Windows application
	tool bars only helps the very frequent users; everyone else
	has to check the tooltips on each.  Except for a few ones
	which have become standard, every product tries to invent
	its own.

	Particularly back to web sites, someone who is not a frequent
	user is faced with a problem a little like solving a cryptic
	crossword puzzle.  In the same way that there are rules for
	finding anagrams, there are rules that have to be learnt for
	finding the significant elements in the site.

	An 80 year old that I know (who can still solve crossword 
	puzzles) has had difficulty learning the most basic operation
	of new everyday technology for several years.  I try to imagine
	him with many web sites.  I think I could eventually teach 
	him how to operate sites using clean markup, or to operate
	one specific web site (assume that it didn't change, which
	is not usually a safe assumption), but I doubt that I could 
	teach him the meta rules needed to handle a new graphical site.

	Taking a bit of a risk, as you are clearly out of sympathy
	with Jakob Nielsen (although he is far from anti-graphics),
	you should have a look at 
	http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20000806.html
	which describes how the difficulty of learning a new
	set of site conventions lost an author many sales when
	he changed fulfillment companies (away from Amazon).

	If one is going to use graphics to help people who cannot
	handle words, one needs a standard set of graphics across
	web sites (ideally across browsers as well).  This happens
	to a large extent with physical products.  The brightness and
	contrast icons on my monitor are very similar to those on
	my home TV.  However, web designers don't want to look the
	same as everyone else, so distort them to the limit of
	recognizability.

	Once you have a standard set of symbols, you have an iconic
	alphabet, which can be represented as a font.  Many such
	symbols already exist in Unicode, and, if there were the
	commercial demand, I'm sure that e-commerce shopping
	baskets and other relevant symbols could be added.  The
	existing ones have been available to Windows interfaces
	and, with some abuse of the font mechanism, in HTML for
	a long time, but they are not used (even though, unlike
	GIFs, they are scalable), because designers don't want their
	symbol to look like everyone else's.

	In theory, with the top end system you assume everyone will
	buy before accessing commercial sites, the following HTML
	will show a black telephone symbol that could be interpreted
	as a phone number marker (it would be better to define a
	new character with that specific meaning):

	<html>
	<title> Phone </title>
	&#x260E;
	</html>

	(Unfortunately, the reality is that this is not in Lucida
	Sans Unicode and Windows doesn't have correct Unicode
	mappings for Wingdings, so, at the moment, you can call on
	the "when technology exists" clause, as the alternative 
	hack of selecting the Wingdings font and typing "(" fails
	on browsers that do interpet character codes properly.
	I believe that Word 2000 comes with a more complete Unicode
	font, and it may work with that, or some of the 
	shareware ones.)

	The current Unicode characters don't have many
	modern symbols (probably because of the failure of
	designers to use the ones already there)and
	don't have multi-colour characters (although, I suspect
	a PostScript type 3 font could create them), but these
	features can be pressed for.

	Once you have standard character codes, you can easily
	build lookup tables into text only browsers; you can tranlate
	them at WML gateways; you can use custom fonts for particular
	users, possibly even spelling out the word (I've assumed that
	content authors don't try to override the fonts, as, although
	they will want to do that, it will destroy the consistency
	of form that is desired - even then, an !important user 
	override might solve the problem).

	I think you should be encouraging a move towards an East
	Asian type iconic language represented as well defined
	text characters, rather than calling for a licence for
	everyone to come up with different bit mapped graphics for
	the same concept.  You should be encouraging the extension
	of the text character repertoire, not unconstrained 
	imagery.
>  
> 
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Received on Friday, 6 October 2000 14:27:51 GMT

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