What is Lost in Translation from Visual Graphics to Text for Accessibility


Many blind and low-vision individuals are unable to access digital media visually. Currently, the solution to this accessibility problem is to produce text descriptions of visual graphics, which are then translated via text-to-speech screen reader technology. However, if a text description can accurately convey the meaning intended by an author of a visualization, then why did the author create the visualization in the first place? This essay critically examines this problem by comparing the so-called graphic–linguistic distinction to similar distinctions between the properties of sound and speech. It also presents a provisional model for identifying visual properties of graphics that are not conveyed via text-to-speech translations, with the goal of informing the design of more effective sonic translations of visual graphics.

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