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Re: Alternate text for images having caption adjacent

for

From: Chagnon | PubCom
Date: May 29, 2014 4:43PM


Here's a monkey wrench I'm throwing into the discussion about Alt-text and
captions.

As a professional writer, editor, magazine managing editor (which means I
say what goes where, what gets said, what's important/what isn't), graphic
designer, magazine art director, and instructor for publishing, I am stating
that captions most times don't say much about the photo they're next to.
That's not their purpose in commercial periodicals and their companion
websites.

Example: National Geographic Magazine, one of the most successful
publications of any genre in the World for 125 years. With such a legacy,
you have to admit that they know what they're doing when it comes to
communication.

NatGeo Mag provided the first studies of how humans (sighted ones) respond
to design and information. What has been proven many times over the past 100
years is that a publication is "read" (please note the quote marks) in this
order:
1) The graphics are viewed. Graphics include photos, artist illustrations,
statistical graphs, maps, and logos.
2) The largest, boldest text with the most white space is read.
3) The captions next to the graphics are then read.
4) Any decorative text is read next, such as pull quotes, deck heads, kicker
heads, sidebar headings.
(Note that I still haven't listed the actual body text of the story yet.)
5) If after all these items are read and have done their "job" of hooking
the reader, then -- and only then -- is the body text or story read.

This pattern is designed into every magazine, newspaper, newsletter, and
periodical, not just National Geographic. It's also been adapted for use in
website design -- Graphics first that convey the bulk of the message, then
the text.

NatGeo has perfected this to the ultimate degree. Their captions tell the
story, too, not just the body text story. Here's an example from the
magazine's article, Brunelleshi's Dome, which describes the building of the
dome above the main cathedral of Florence, Italy. It was an architectural
feat at the time. I don't have a copy of the printed magazine with me, but a
sample from the article's webpage follows NatGeo's format.

The caption under the graphic states: "Florence began to build a new
cathedral in 1296. Wars, politics, and plague slowed construction so work on
the dome didn't commence for more than a century."

And the caption's graphic is a close-up schematic of the cathedral's dome
with a cut-away showing the structural support beams.

Two pieces of information are conveyed in the NatGeo combo of graphic and
caption: the graphic itself is carrying an awful lot of information about
the topic that often isn't mentioned in the caption or the body text. It's
telling one part of the story. The caption is telling another part of the
story and might not refer to the graphic in any way whatsoever.

In a previous example of Jared's supposed photo, a well-trained publishing
of writer/editor/designer would create this for his photo and caption
combination:

Photo: Jared at a podium presenting at a conference. PowerPoint is up on the
presentation screen behind him. A drink with a little pink paper umbrella is
in the glass.

Caption: Jared is the Associate Director of Whosies, a nonprofit
organization for the protection of whosies in cyberspace. His notable work
on whosies, their propagation, and their protection is considered the
definitive reference in the whosie industry worldwide. In 2016, Jared was
awarded the Nobel Prize in Whosie Whatziz, recognizing his outstanding
contribution to the world of whosies. Jared presented his recent thesis,
"Whosies on the Edge," at the World Symposium on Whosie Whose in Tahiti this
past December.

Given that the majority of published information is of this nature (the
other types are SMT (science-medical-technical) and advertising), how can we
create WCAG standards that allow these types of periodicals and websites to
publish as they need to like above?

Right now, publishers think that the current WCAG standards and guidelines
are telling them not to communication in this highly effective and
profitable way. Consequently, my publishing clients are balking at making
their publications accessible.

How can we create guidelines and standards that allow for the flexibility
needed by different types of published work? We need standards that work,
not put people into a straightjacket.

--Bevi Chagnon
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