W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > wai-tech-comments@w3.org > August 2001

affective messaging and effective mode-crossing

From: by way of Al Gilman <asgilman@iamdigex.net>
Date: Fri, 17 Aug 2001 12:44:57 -0400
Message-Id: <Version.32.20010817115939.04143ec0@pop.iamdigex.net>
To: wai-tech-comments@w3.org
[note:  This is a specific case study in media criticism regarding web media. 
This particular discussion got enough 'Amen' votes from WebWatch subscribers
that I respect so that I wanted to have a persistent URL for it. So here's a
file copy.  Shawn has promised a compilation of feedback will be available by
the 508 archives [see Trace discussion lists] eventually -Al]

-- original question

At 04:46 PM 2001-08-16 , Shawn Henry wrote:
>We could use some input, especially from screen reader users, on the
>question of alternative text for a decorative image.
>
>As a specific example for discussion, all of the main pages on
>bankofamerica.com include a photo in the top left. It is for decoration only
>and is not needed for understanding the page. An example is at:
><<http://www.bankofamerica.com/accessiblebanking/>http://www.bankofamerica
.com/accessiblebanking/><http://www.bankofamerica/>http://www.bankofamerica.
com/accessiblebanking/. Some of the options and
>issues we identified for equivalent alternative text are:
>
>1. Empty alt text. Benefits are the flow of the page would not be
>interrupted by any alt text. Drawback is that there is no indication of the
>photo, equivalent text is not provided.
>
>2. Alt text of "decorative photo" (or "photo for decoration only," or some
>such). Benefits are it provides equivalent text based on the purpose of the
>image (that is, the details are not important). Potential drawbacks:
>Customers might be more frustrated in knowing that there is a photo and not
>having details about it.
>
>3. Detailed description of photo content (with alt or long desc). Drawbacks
>to customer is that they get a lot of information that has nothing to do
>with the understanding of the page - it's disrupting and adds cognitive
>load. From the implementation standpoint, this will require more effort as
>the photos change fairly regularly - a big negative from the business point
>of view.
>
>We are interested in any input you care to share on this issue! Also, free
>free to pass this on to others who might like to comment. (I do have
>permission to share this question in order to get feedback.)
>
>Thanks for your consideration!
>
>- Shawn
>
-- response

Disclaimer:  I don't use a screen reader.  So I don't want to steal mike time
from anyone.  But this image is a classic, and there are some little-known but
worth knowing things to say, here.

** executive summary **

This image is much more substantive that "purely decorative."  It is an
artfully composed and methodically themed image.

On the other hand, it is _inessential to any banking or page function_.  The
motivated visitor doesn't need it.  It motivates the visual user.  It evokes a
marketing theme.  A theme blind and visually impaired people care about a
lot. 
If text you put in as ALT is de-motivating, it's not a functional equivalent
and just lose it.  But then you have to think as to how to work the messaging
that this image bears in the GUI presentation into the audio flow for the
screen reader user.  If you can.

You are not really ready to ask screen readers what they like.  Just laying
the
"purely decorative" epithet on this image doesn't give your respondents nearly
enough of an idea what this image is doing on the page to give you informed
feedback.  I've tried to remedy that a little, here,   But you should prepare
and expose concrete alternatives that present different ALT strategies in page
context.  The flow through the ALT is critical.  Lots of the people receiving
your mail have been around enough to be able to answer a question as abstract
and theoretical as the one you posed.  But this is bad "experiment design."
To
get results that are more reflective of the person in the street and how they
will vote with their feet, offer a range of mockups.  You will learn not only
from the spread of preferences, but from specific comments about each mockup. 
You will learn much more and can extrapolate with more confidence from what
you
learn.

** discussion/explanation

* this picture tells a story that delivers a message *

The image I mean is the one at
<<http://www.bankofamerica.com/images/banners/ban_acc_01.jpg>http://www.ban
kofamerica.com/images/banners/ban_acc_01.jpg><http://www.bank/>http://www.bank
ofamerica.com/images/banners/ban_acc_01.jpg

It is an image of someone sitting with a laptop open in their lap.  Nothing is
around -- maybe they are on the beach?  Oh, yes -- they're in a wheelchair.

The picture tells a story.  It is a positive story, and it is a story about
BankOfAmerica's online offerings and access to banking services.  It doesn't
take a rocket scientist to draw a plot thread between this picture and
"Accessible Banking."  If you're in Starbucks with a WaveLan card, heck, you
can bank from wherever you park your chair and sit.  No muss, no fuss.  Or
wherever you are, and whoever you are, we make banking available online so
your
accounts with BankOfAmerica are much more accessible than branch banking alone
would accomplish.

That last statement of the plot puts it in the main current of a message that
resonates strongly with your blind and visually impaired customers.  Put on
your advertising agency creative department hat; shift gears: if this service
is on a voice portal over the phone, how do we represent this positive quality
of the services the bank offers?  It is a tag line that speaks when you first
hit the site, on the order of the credits on National Public Radio that they
give for sponsors.  This one sounds something like "Bank of America, ready
when
and where you are."  And then it gets right down to business.  The image on
this web page adds the "ready when and where you are" theme to the page.

Now, it's no accident that you notice the laptop in the picture before you
notice the wheelchair.  This person is depicted as a mobile professional
first,
and a person with a disability second, and don't think the art department
wasn't instructed that it wasn't to be any other way.  So this image
represents
a lot of thought and verbalization.  But still, the function of the image
is to
motivate people to feel good about their bank because online availability of
service makes it very near to hand, and handy to use.  If one can't flow
something into the auditory experience that goes down easy and leaves a
positive taste, well, heck. forget it.  Just the facts and let me do my
banking, thanks.

Note: the 'anywhere' theme is a constructive and I bet conscious part of the
imagery.  The vagueness and emptiness of the setting the person in the
chair is
found in conspire to send this message.  There is nothing of note in the
picture arond the wheelchair.  This emptiness evokes the current cliche of the
laptop in your beach chair, and the message that anywhere you have a computer,
you can access your bank accounts from there.  With a little standard
advertising hyperbole in imaging the 'anywhere.'

So the team has some theming work to do.  Integrate the team that is picking
pictures to sell banking services with the team coining the text phrases for
the ALT text.  The role of these pictures could be described as "mood
photo" or
even FeelGood photo.  But let's save the 'FeelGood' language for inside the
creative team and for the public ALT of this particular image-slot in your
page
design, let's stick to 'mood,' because that indicates both how there is an
"accessible-banking message" that is imparted by this image, but also that it
is not essential to the conduct of business with the bank.  Despite
BankOfAmerica being a California Bank, customers don't have to "share the
experience" to be allowed to do business with them.

So a possible ALT for this image would be 

"Mood photo: reachable by computer, anywhere, any time."

A descriptive alternative could be

"Mood photo: man sitting in wheelchair in open space with laptop computer open
in lap."

You can tell already that I don't like the second approach.

In the development of the WAI guidelines we got a range of preferences from
consumers using screen readers as to how much they wanted just the functional
essentials and how curious they were about the visual contents of the page. 
You may find the same.

But I think that you should take a business-positive approach, rather than a
disability-defensive approach.

Design a voice portal mockup for banking services.  Craft a slot in there
for a
tag line which will accept a revolving slogan, just as the web page has a slot
accepting a revolving sample from a collection of motivational images.  
SuccessWare for Banking.  Then, for each image added to the rotation, boil its
message down to a radio-ready tag line complying with the brevity guidelines
for the voice portal slot.  Then place and or frame this slogan in the audio
flow through the web page so as to help it go by easily and comfortably.  When
I say 'frame' I mean things like the "mood photo:" prefix that explains a
digression from the main flow of the page.  But see what you can do to craft a
smooth flow that just goes by easy.

Note:  The summary META tag talks access for the blind and visually impaired. 
If the pictures are purely decoration, and the site is an alternative site for
the blind and visually impaired, don't waste the bucks to change them
frequently.  Or the bauds to deliver them.  But that's not the case.  This
is a
dual use design that should look and feel comfortable for lots of users.  So
fixing the META is on the worklist for the theming and messaging team.  No
ghettos, no handouts.  Just put people first.

Although the images change fairly frequently, the pixels aren't free and each
image has made it onto the page because it has a story it tells that is
part of
the overall messaging program for the service delivered here.  Once the
picture
picking team had had the experience of coining theme phrases for three
pictures
_that they actually picked_, they will be off and running.  Getting new ALT
will not be a big deal.  It will be how the person nominating the picture
explains the picture choice to his or her boss, organically to the picture
pickin' workflow.  Just spell it out, write it down.  You're done.

Al


At 04:46 PM 2001-08-16 , Shawn Henry wrote:
>We could use some input, especially from screen reader users, on the
>question of alternative text for a decorative image.
>
>As a specific example for discussion, all of the main pages on
>bankofamerica.com include a photo in the top left. It is for decoration only
>and is not needed for understanding the page. An example is at:
><<http://www.bankofamerica.com/accessiblebanking/>http://www.bankofamerica
.com/accessiblebanking/><http://www.bankofamerica/>http://www.bankofamerica.
com/accessiblebanking/. Some of the options and
>issues we identified for equivalent alternative text are:
>
>1. Empty alt text. Benefits are the flow of the page would not be
>interrupted by any alt text. Drawback is that there is no indication of the
>photo, equivalent text is not provided.
>
>2. Alt text of "decorative photo" (or "photo for decoration only," or some
>such). Benefits are it provides equivalent text based on the purpose of the
>image (that is, the details are not important). Potential drawbacks:
>Customers might be more frustrated in knowing that there is a photo and not
>having details about it.
>
>3. Detailed description of photo content (with alt or long desc). Drawbacks
>to customer is that they get a lot of information that has nothing to do
>with the understanding of the page - it's disrupting and adds cognitive
>load. From the implementation standpoint, this will require more effort as
>the photos change fairly regularly - a big negative from the business point
>of view.
>
>We are interested in any input you care to share on this issue! Also, free
>free to pass this on to others who might like to comment. (I do have
>permission to share this question in order to get feedback.)
>
>Thanks for your consideration!
>
>- Shawn
>
>
>Shawn Lawton Henry
>Director of R&D
>Optavia Corporation
>SLHenry@optavia.com
>608-260-9000, ext. 302
><<http://www.optavia.com/accessible.htm>http://www.optavia.com/accessible.
htm><http://www.optavia.com/accessible.htm>www.optavia.com/accessible.htm
>
>
>
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Received on Friday, 17 August 2001 12:26:39 UTC

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