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Meaning, Mind and Communication

Explorations in Cognitive Semiotics

Edited By Jordan Zlatev, Göran Sonesson and Piotr Konderak

This volume constitutes the first anthology of texts in cognitive semiotics – the new transdisciplinary study of meaning, mind and communication that combines concepts and methods from semiotics, cognitive science and linguistics – from a multitude of established and younger scholars. The chapters deal with the interaction between language and other semiotic resources, the role of consciousness and concepts, the nature of metaphor, the specificity of human evolution and development, the relation between cognitive semiotics and related fields, and other central topics. They are grouped in four sections: (i) Meta-theoretical perspectives, (ii) Semiotic development and evolution, (iii) Meaning across media, modes and modalities, (iv) Language, blends and metaphors.

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Chapter 18. Iconic Properties are Lost when Translating Visual Graphics to Text for Accessibility (Peter Coppin / Ambrose Li / Michael Carnevale)


Peter Coppin, Ambrose Li & Michael Carnevale

Chapter 18

Iconic Properties are Lost when Translating Visual Graphics to Text for Accessibility

1 Introduction

Imagine a blind or low-vision individual who needs to access a graphic representation, for example a financial chart (Figure 1a). Unlike a sighted individual, who can see the actual chart, what the blind or low-vision individual accesses, usually aurally, is often its text description. Both individuals are accessing a representation of rising and falling stock prices over time. However, whereas the sighted individual sees words and undulating shapes, all the screen reader user hears are words (Figure 1d).

Such is the state of the art in accessible graphics: Many blind and low-vision individuals depend on approaches like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to provide them with text descriptions – translations of the graphics into text which these individuals can then access via a screen reader, usually aurally via text-to-speech. Text descriptions are essentially interpretations meant to convey the meaning intended by the author of the graphic representation. However, if a text description can fully convey the meaning of the graphic image, then why did the author create it in the first place?

In the foregoing scenario, parts of the chart, predominantly numerical values and labels (Figure 1c), are already text and will naturally carry over to the text description. However, we argue that the rest of the chart (Figure 1b) is not and cannot be...

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