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RE: Guideline on avoiding visual language?

From: Jukka Korpela <jukka.korpela@tieke.fi>
Date: Mon, 3 Jun 2002 11:12:48 +0300
Message-ID: <621574AE86FAD3118D1D0000E22138A95BDD05@TIEKE1>
To: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org

Tom Gilder wrote:

> Something that I feel is missing from WCAG is a guideline 
> about trying to avoid using visual language.

Such an idea might be seen as being implicit in the guidelines, but indeed
there doesn't seem to be any explicit statement about it.

> For instance, "see the links on the left" - meaningless
> in an audio or text browser.

Or "the new items are in red".

> "The table is divided into two columns. The left-hand 
> column is 'Total investment required in billions of dollars'.
> The right--hand column is 'Spending' and is divided into
> three sub-columns."

(They indeed have a double hyphen there: "right--hand". It might cause minor
confusion in speech synthesis. Or perhaps major, since "--" is a common
surrogate for an em dash, so a sensible way, in some sense, would be to read
"right" and "hand" as clearly separate words, with a noticeable pause
between them.)

In a sense, this isn't very serious. "Left" and "right" are so common
concepts that the listener probably understands that "left-hand" means
'first' and "right-hand" means 'second'. On the other hand, it would be a
simple thing to fix this by using "first" and "second".

I'd be more worried about "billion". It has different meanings to different
people: a thousand million to some people, a million million to others
(excluding those that don't know the word at all). The formulation is far
from clear and could easily be made clearer, so I'd say it violates
Guideline 14. But this is a separate topic.

Returning to "visual language", a guideline would naturally need to be
formulated more generally. For example: "Avoid using expressions that are
meaningful only in a particular mode of presentation, such as visual, unless
the content itself is inherently dependent on a particular presentation."
That is, you could say "on the left" when describing something in a
photograph but should avoid such a phrase when discussing e.g. tabular data.

Besides, what _should_ we do when we use auxiliary visual hints to make the
structure more apparent, if those hints would work better when accompanied
with textual notes. Should we say "in a colored visual presentation, the new
items are in red"? 

Jukka Korpela, senior adviser
TIEKE Finnish Information Society Development Centre
Phone: +358 9 4763 0397 Fax: +358 9 4763 0399 
Received on Monday, 3 June 2002 04:12:03 UTC

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