assignment comments

How should we add alternative text for diagrams?

I’ve mentioned this before to people but never wrote it down: How should we even begin to handle graphs and diagrams? What is the “alt text” for a graph, a schematic, floor plan, infographic, or UML diagram?

Just consider this diagram:

(A UML diagram used for the discussion)

How should we even describe this as an “alt text”? (Let’s ignore text browser users for the moment.) Describing the picture certainly wouldn’t work; what matters are not the visual elements themselves, but their relationships to each other.

Even worse: Imagine this being exported into PDF (or SVG, or EPS), then embedded into InDesign. Suppose the InDesign file is going to ultimately end up as an accessible PDF. But the text in the diagram is going to be a jumbled mess. So what accessibility are we talking about? Are we deluding ourselves?

This has serious implications: Imagine, for example, a piece of online instructional material full of such diagrams. Under the AODA organizations are supposed to be able to supply this in an “accessible format.” What does it even mean for this to be accessible?

Virtual vs physical experience

(The live web page with the real installation in the background)

So I have been standing here, outside 240, filming the installation for the past half hour, and I just want to say that ths experience is entirely different from the experience I had inside, let alone the virtual experience on our web site.

The tweaked installation runs incredibly slow, almost imperceptibly slow. On the site that would be unbearable, but outside, on the actual official viewing spot, it is calming.

Well, the site is not even working. My old Mac must have overheated… Sigh…

First impressions of automated checkers for WCAG 2.0 AA

A week ago I finished my assignment on automated checkers for WCAG 2.0 AA. I asked it to check the home page of another blog of mine and it spewed out 223 “potential problems.” (A classmate told me she got more than a thousand.)

I drudgingly went through the list and at the end what did I find?

Three legitimate concerns.

Yes, three out of 223 were all I could find. That’s an accuracy of just slightly over 1%.

Granted, from an AI point of view I know that we don’t talk about accuracy but rather about recall and precision, and a lot of the bogus warnings do concern deep AI problems such as how human language can be understood. Or impossible-to-solve ones like guessing the author’s intent. That said, some of those warnings—especially those related to standard third-party Javascript library API calls, standard icons, or, incredibly, non-breaking spaces—are just incredulous.

I’m not hating the checker or have anything against it per se, but for these checkers to be taken seriously they really have to get better. An accuracy of 1% is not going to work.

Exclusivity, or the unreliability of Wikipedia

I have long claimed that Wikipedia is strongly biased against knowledge that comes either from non-English-language sources and from cultures (and subcultures) where most of their practices are undocumented. This is cultural imperialism. And I have also long claimed that its now-standard requirement for references (that are not dictionaries and encyclopaedias) are also hindrances into knowledge dissemination. However, during today’s synchronous seminar a different picture of how exclusive Wikipedia has become emerged.

It turns out that last year they also did a class project on Wikipedia. And it turned out that most of the stuff they wrote about were deleted. Not edited. Just deleted. On what amounts to bogus grounds.

We are talking about a field that, even though can still be emerging already, already has tons of English-language literature published in English-speaking countries. This is a bias that is not even against non-white, non-English-speaking cultures. It is outright unfathomable.

What of attitude, really, is this?

This of course is rooted not only in the current focus of references, but also on the “principle” of “notability,” which I have always found to be incomprehensible. You can’t imagine when anything will become important. If there were no “notability” requirement, then the second the thing becomes “notable” (whatever notable means), Wikipedia will be the only encyclopaedia in the world to talk about that thing. That would be an unmatched advantage.

Whoever is in control of Wikipedia certainly has no such vision. They only focus on short term measurable success, on duplicating the accomplishments of traditional encyclopaedias. They used to talk about knowledge contribution as their fundamental principle; but that is probably one of the biggest lies that ever came out of an entity that purports to belong to the free culture.

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