Hist 697: Creating Arguments for Everyone

Accessibility and visual arguments. While there was some debate as to whether the Tufte piece was indeed on the list for today, I found the combination of Tufte with the accessibility pieces to be productive. Much of the reading on accessibility dealt with the needs of visually impaired, blind, or mobility impaired users. These users require the information on websites to be organized logically and  well annotated. And the tips for creating websites that are sensitive to the needs of these users were very helpful and seem relatively easy, if perhaps time consuming, to implement.

There is a high emphasis on text and textual information in the accessibility pieces. And yet, there are other users who will understand visual arguments more easily than textual arguments. Tufte’s instructions on well-crafted visual argumentation provided helpful guidelines for creating visual pieces that argue well for a particular position or interpretation. But, then, how does the creator also provide access to that visual argument for users who cannot see it?

I really enjoyed the Tufte text, particularly chapters 4-7. But then, I am fond of anyone who quotes Salmon Rushdie. As someone with minimal artistic training, I know well the impulse to over label. The reminder to simplify and to focus on clarity of presentation was a good one. I was particularly interested in Tufte’s endorsement of confections and juxtaposition. I was not expecting this form of visual argument to be promoted. Perhaps because my impression of confections is that they are old and complex, a collection of symbols that can be more than challenging to interpret. The confection is an argument by association and layering and a simplification of the confection is a powerful form of visual argument. His example of El Lissitzky’s self portrait is one such simplification, layering symbols but each symbol remains distinct, thus retaining it’s individual symbolic function.

Images like Lissitzky’s cannot be communicated easily or well in words, making it accessible to someone who is blind or has impaired vision would be challenging. It is an interesting challenge to balance the visual nature of the web and the need to be aware of the broader audience.

The readings for the week reminded me of the need to be aware of and sensitive to the needs of users who have various disabilities. Making websites that are more easily read by screen readers and other adaptive technologies is labor intensive, but seems to me that it also results in more semantically rich html. But not all visual arguments can be effectively annotated. It may be the case that some arguments will need to be made twice – once visually and once textually – offering parallel arguments to increase the accessibility of the information.

Tools:

Since Megan already mentioned the Chrome development tool, I should tip my hat to firebug for firefox. It is very handy, though I am afraid my browser is becoming a bit bloated with addons.

For those who are interested in other tools for hand-coding website, I am using a trial version of Coda by Panic and really like it. It is a text editor, CSS editor, file-transfer tool, generates previews, and a number of other things that I haven’t even tapped yet. It is well priced, given everything it offers, but isn’t cheap, which is its main drawback.

One more, but I am still figuring this out. I have been attempting to use Github for some of my development, as it provides an easy way to create backups and provides version control.

**Update: **I commented on Beth’s post.