GUIs (was Re: A comment on Slashdot)

Janina Sajka janina at
Tue Apr 11 12:16:55 EDT 2000

It would be accurate to say that all information displayed on a computer
monitor is graphical. Obviously, while this is true, it isn't helpful.

The real question is when and how the picsels are rendered. For example:

If text is retrieved from a web page as a file of picsels, we who are
blind are left out. There may as well be no text involved, from our point
of view, because we can't render it it in any way usable by us.

If, rather, the text is transmitted as a series of codes representing the
chars, and then some local agent converts these codes into picsels on the
monitor, we have the opportunity to fork the process and obtain access
through something like braille or synthetic speech.

To put this is in completely no technical terms:

The first instance is a picture of text. You can runa program like
Arkenstone's Open Book to convert it into the second form, and you might
succeed. But it is really a picture and the things you can do with this
kind of text are only the kinds of things you can do with pictures --
crop, rotate, zoom, etc.

The second is a set of codes -- just like the alphabet is a set of codes
irrespective of any particular way of rendering the codes. The kinds of
things one can do with this kind of text are the kinds of things one can
do with codes -- e.g. one can transform them into another set of codes
like braille, one can compare them to a dictionary of words for spell
checking, and one can change the kind of graphical rendering these codes
will get when they're printed on paper or on screen.

With this in mind, I want to share my view on the graphical user
interface. To my mind, the gui is neither bad nor good. Nor is it
intrinsically inaccessible. It's just another way of rendering an
interface. To my mind, the more rigorous and compartmentalized the
rendering, the more accessible a gui can be. If those aspects of the user
interaction which are inherently text in the coded sense are accessible at
that level, the gui should be very accessible. If those levels are
unavailable because they're proprietary--or because they're not regorously
adhered to, the interface becomes less accessible.

In other words, Microsoft Windows isn't intrinsically inaccessible. It's
just that Microsoft hasn't shouldered much of the responsibility for
providing the modesl and data sc reen reader developers need to build
access. Rather, the screen reader developers have had to do this
themselves. And, when they've put that amount of effort into the job,
they, in turn, have been highly proprietary about their solutions. Then, a
new generation of Windows is released that follows different rules at
important points, and the process begins again.

				Janina Sajka, Director
				Information Systems Research & Development
				American Foundation for the Blind (AFB)

janina at

On Tue, 11 Apr 2000 cpt.kirk at wrote:

> There seems to be a lot of mis-understanding about Grphical User
> Interfaces (GUIs). The first being that they are purely (or even mostly)
> graphical in nature. The next misconception is that command line
> interfaces don't have any graphical content to them.
> I will point to how our beloved Pine brins in GUI features. At the top of
> the screen is a band that has the program name, what I am currently doing,
> the folder I am in and how many messages are there. At the bottom are some
> control key codes to do various things such as send and/or cancel my
> message. Additionally when new mail comes in a message comes up for a
> short time letting me know how many peices and the subject and author of
> the last peice of email recieved. These are all graphical elements in a
> "text based" environment. 
> Going to the GUI, I would imediatly point to Word. It is still a word
> processor. The point is typing text. While it certainly extends this to
> beyond imagination, it still remains a program for typing text. And then
> lets look at email. While certainly there are pictures sent, the vast
> majority of information is still textual in nature.
> What it really comes down to is how the text is presented. A GUI adds
> certain elements to the presentation. The shape of the letters will be
> varied. The space between letters can be optimizes for best reading, or
> just to "look cool." An astounding number of "graphics" on web pages are
> in fact text that has been drawn to have a certain look that would not be
> possible in using straight HTML.
> If you could somehow "see" what all the fuss is, it would probably bother
> you even more the amount of effort that has been going into GUIs. But
> honestly, if someone had thought it all the way through from the begining,
> access to a gui would never have been a problem. With the exception of
> real drawings, such as a diagram or schematic, most information istextual
> in nature. (Well much is now comming out in audio format.)
> Kirk Wood
> Cpt.Kirk at
> ------------------
> Why can't you be a non-conformist, like everybody else?
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