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Symbol languages Re: link to us...

From: Charles McCathieNevile <charles@sidar.org>
Date: Mon, 19 Jan 2004 14:58:56 +0100
Message-Id: <9FCD9172-4A87-11D8-9125-000A958826AA@sidar.org>
Cc: "WAI Interest Group" <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>, "Jonathan Chetwynd" <j.chetwynd@btinternet.com>
To: "P.H.Lauke" <P.H.Lauke@salford.ac.uk>

Clearly images, like words, are context dependent in their meaning, and 
to a greater or lesser extent, according partly to how they are used, 
inconsistent in their interpretation.

One of the reasons why there is little use of "complete" symbol sets 
outside the community of people with learning disabilities is that for 
others there is little motivation to learn them - the same goes for the 
dynamic "symbol sets" known as sign languages, used by Deaf 
communities. Yet to argue that there is no value in sign language would 
seem a little extreme. (To argue the cost/benefit in a particular 
situation is of course another matter).

Another difficulty with the symbol sets used is that they are copyright 
- unlike common language words (other than trademarks) you cannot 
legally use them without permission, and in practice without paying a 

However there are pictogram sets used to represent more or less 
everything that some people communicate - trot along to an Assistive 
Technology trade show, or a specialist learning disabilities event, or 
even many educational computing trade shows, and you'll run across a 
number of them.

There are other common, if incomplete pictogram sets - wander through 
an international airport, for example, or look at the bit above the Web 
Page in a browser (or most other applications in Graphic User Interface 

The point is not universality - like written language, or sign 
language, if a number of people in a community use it then they can 
communicate (that is, express themselves, and understand others) 
better, regardless of the fact that there are others who don't share 
the same language.

Screen readers, by any global measure, aren't very widely implemented 
or used either. The point is that there are communities of people with 
disabilities that rely on them. For that reason I think it is important 
that WAI work out what the requirements for using them are...



On 19 Jan 2004, at 03:57, P.H.Lauke wrote:

> As with words, image meaning is certainly context-dependant, and in 
> many cases assume prior knowledge by the target audience in order to 
> be inequivocably understood. Company logos such as the McDonalds 
> golden arches are certainly easier to recognise, but that's only 
> because they are logos, copyrighted/trademarked/whatever...so it's 
> less likely that designers will use them for anything other than 
> something to do with the company (or risk a law suit, perhaps). For 
> everyday things, it would - in my opinion anyway - be nearly 
> impossible to come up with a universal set of pictograms/icons for 
> everything. If I recall correctly, many attempts at such a universal 
> visual dictionary have been made in the past ... and I still don't see 
> any sign of these being implemented beyond a small handful.
Charles McCathieNevile                          Fundación Sidar
charles@sidar.org                                http://www.sidar.org
Received on Monday, 19 January 2004 09:27:19 UTC

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