art historian, environmentalist, educator

Ways of Seeing

This week we focused on thinking about ways of seeing in two different ways. First we learned about ways of visualizing data intuitively and interactively. Secondly, we discussed accessibility, particularly as it relates to literally being able to see and/or access web avaiable content.

I started by checking out examples of different types of data visualizations on http://public.tableau.com, which is a free software platform. It was amazing to see the types of things that can be produced with ease on a web-based platform, things as diverse as snowfall extremes within the U.S. to mapping word usage by Taylor Swift in her ablums. Dr. Otis shared through her own research about “preattentive procession,” or the ability for our minds to readily process certain types of visualizations, and tips how to make our own visualizations more reader-friendly.

While it is fun to see the creative ways that we can look at data to interpret it more readily, the flip side of that coin is how do we make not just our visualizations, but our websites, online digital history work, and everything on the web accessible to all? These issues have been addressed by the American Disabilities Act – these aren’t suggestions; websites need to be accessible to people with disabilities, including visual disabilities. Readings walked us through ideas in the field of design, and how design is often an iterative process of refinement that occurs through doing. And there are simple things that can be done to address accessibility, like designing for colorblindness by avoiding color patterns that are not distinct to such viewers (see graphic above illustrating red/green colorblindness). The most profound was the web-based tool that can evaluate any website for accessibility errors. WAVE, or the Website Acessibility eValuation tool, sponsored by Utah State University, is incredibly useful in that once again it is a free online platform that will automatically check accessibility errors. Now, for someone not as technically forward as many people, the useability declined as I cannot read/write code. If I did, the information would be much more useful and easy to fix.

For the evaluation of my own website, I found I had lots of contrast errors. I ended up switching themes, because I already was averse to the visual organization of the previous theme as it was. However, while this improved the visual design to me personally, it just changed the text so there was yet again errors in the readability of the text due to low contrast. And yet, the theme I chose seemed to have no way to change the text formatting all at once. That is an issue with wordpress; each theme is different and there are so many menus I get frustrated and tend to give up. Unfortunately, in the case of accessibility, it is a good thing that plug ins help with this because otherwise my website would be doomed because of my poor abilities to manipulate web content despite good intentions!

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