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RE: What did you mean by DOH? (Was: Invisible Skip navigation lin k)

From: Jukka Korpela <jukka.korpela@tieke.fi>
Date: Wed, 7 Aug 2002 09:17:31 +0300
Message-ID: <621574AE86FAD3118D1D0000E22138A95BDDB9@TIEKE1>
To: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org

John Foliot wrote:

> DOH! is the utterance of one Homer Simpson, - -

Interestingly, I had some difficulties with understanding the expression in
the form "DOH!", since I'm used to seeing the spelling "D'oh!".

But generally, expressions like this are problematic from an accessibility
point of view. They are "verbal icons" that say quite a lot to some people,
nothing to a large number of people, and maybe something unintended to
people who _think_ they know what it means. After all, "DOH" could mean
"Department of Health".

> <ramble>
> But it also succinctly illustrates a point - on the Internet,
> NEVER take cultural inferences as being universally understood,

This means a wide range of problems, associated both with visual and with
verbal inferences - and auditive too. What's worse, we don't yet understand
what the problems are. Sometimes inferences are taken for granted even in
cultures other than the original. For example, I've always known what an
icon presenting American-style mailbox means, because I learned from Donald
Duck and other comics what mailboxes look like - but I never saw such a
mailbox in reality in the twenty or so first years of my life. But not all
people read comic books - at least not with such a care that they have
learned, by the natural method, to distinguish between the symbols for
"empty mailbox" and "mailbox with some mail in it". Yet, many Web authors
(and many people who design symbols to be used in programs) think that
mailbox icons are universally understood and illustrative.

I'd like to refer to the CEN Workshop Agreement CWA 14094, "European
Culturally Specific ICT Requirements", available in PDF format from
It is not a list of specific requirements but rather a checklist of things
that should be considered as being potentially culturally dependent in
information and communications technology. Most of the work in such areas
has concentrated on relatively technical things like characters sets and
formatting of monetary amounts, partly because for them, we can write down
some technical solutions, in principle at least. But there are many other
problems, to be noticed, analyzed and somehow solved. In particular, the
document says:
"As a general rule, any use of icons and colours should be accompanied with
a possibility of accessing textual explanations. This is important for
accessibility reasons, including the needs of visually impaired people, but
also because of the possibility of unclear or ambiguous meanings of icons
and colours in different cultures."
But as we've seen, there are also problems with _verbal_ expressions - even
those that aren't abbreviations or acronyms in any sense.

Jukka Korpela, senior adviser
TIEKE Finnish Information Society Development Centre
Phone: +358 9 4763 0397 Fax: +358 9 4763 0399 
Received on Wednesday, 7 August 2002 02:13:42 UTC

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