An Embodied Cognition Approach to Meeting the Challenge of ‘Inclusive InfoVis’ (the Accessible Graphics Initiative)

Researchers working in the interrelated fields of interactive information visualization and visual analytics often state that “the eye and the visual cortex of the brain form a massively parallel processor that provides the highest-bandwidth channel into human cognitive centers” (Ware, 2004). This popular view has been reflected in many design decisions. For example, visualizations are prominently featured in the New York Times (e.g., Carter, 2012), contemporary artwork (e.g., Viégas and Wattenberg, 2007), and popular media (e.g., Vizter on TV, 2013). Tools such as Many Eyes (Eyes and Hoag, 2009) and Cognos (Khalid et al., 2010) are intended to help non-technical audiences create visualizations by accessing their own personal datasets.

However, many digital media consumers do not access graphics using vision. For example, vision-impaired screen reader users may use digital media such as text-to-speech audio or braille. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines ( were developed to make digital media accessible to this target market. According to these guidelines, a visual graphic is considered ‘accessible’ if it has been ‘translated’ into a text description that can be read to an audience via screen reader technology. This approach to accessibility seems to ignore the objectives of those who create the visualizations. If text descriptions can adequately convey a visualizer’s intent, then why create a visualization in the first place?

This project is exploring what is lost and gained when a visual is described via text, how what is lost may be delivered through another sensory mode (such as sound), and how individual differences shape perception of these media. Together, the results will extend and apply theoretical principles, helping to develop display techniques that use non-visual sensory modes, and thereby engendering a more inclusive approach to presenting this kind of information.


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