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Example I: Complex Diagrams and Illustrations

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Effective Practices for Description of Science Content within Digital Talking Books - Example I: Complex Diagrams and Illustrations - Illustrated Chart

diagram compares finches' beaks and food


  • The various relationships between the finches can be replicated in a table.
  • This is a case in which the table requires more work to discern the relationships than the illustration does. A b/vi person would have to review the table several times to establish the patterns that a sighted person sees almost instantly. However, the table does allow for quick review of data which a narrative-style description would not.
  • This table, like all tables, can be rendered differently. In this case, the alternate would be to have the categories run down the left-hand column instead of across the top row. Compare the two tables.
  • If the colors of the finches' feathers are important, an additional column can be added to the table.


An illustration showing 10 different finches and their variations is depicted in the following table.

Adaptive radiation: Darwin's Finches

Adaptive radiation: Darwin's Finches
  NAME     FINCH     BILL     FOOD  
  Vegetarian tree finch     Tree finches   Parrot-like   bills   Fruit eaters
  Large insectivorous tree   finch     Tree finches   Grasping bills   Insect eaters
  Small insectivorous tree finch     Tree finches   Grasping bills   Insect eaters
  Woodpecker finch     Tree finches   Probing bills   Insect eaters
  Warbler finch     Warbler finch     Probing bills     Insect eaters  
  Cactus ground  finch     Ground  finches     Probing bills     Cactus  eaters  
  Sharp-beaked ground finch     Ground finches   Crushing bills   Seed eaters
  Small ground finch     Ground finches   Crushing bills   Seed eaters
  Medium ground finch     Ground finches   Crushing  bills   Seed eaters
  Large ground finch     Ground finches     Crushing bills     Seed eaters  

Diagram with Embedded Data

diagram of the carbon cycle


  • Despite the beauty of this illustration, its main purpose is to show the storage fluxes in carbon. The data are easily laid out in tables.
  • While the illustration itself is colorful and visually interesting, it doesn't provide additional information beyond the labels and numbers. Indeed, some survey participants commented that the description provided below was excessive and that only the tables were needed. As always, the description provider must determine both the intent of image and the intended audience.


The diagram is titled "Carbon Cycle." Colorful pictures depict farms, forests, rivers, oceans and industry. Four arrows encircle the diagram, representing the cycling of carbon. Smaller arrows illustrate Storage of Carbon and Fluxes in Carbon through Earth's atmosphere, oceans and land. Amounts are measured in G t C - gigatons of carbon.

Carbon Storage and Annual Fluxes in Carbon are depicted in the following tables.

Carbon Storage

  Storage Area     G t C  
  Atmosphere   750
  Vegetation   610
  Fossil Fuels and Cement Production   4,000
  Soils   1,580
  Surface Ocean   1,020
  Deep Ocean   38,100
  Marine Biota   3
  Underwater Dissolved Organic Carbon   less than 700
  Ocean Sediments   150

Fluxes in Carbon

  Flux     G t C  
  Atmosphere to Vegetation   121.3
  Vegetation to Atmosphere   60
  Soils to Atmosphere   60
  Forest Fires to Atmosphere   1.6
  Atmosphere to Evergreen Forest   .5
  Fossil Fuels and Cement Production to Atmosphere   5.5
  Surface Ocean to Atmosphere   90
  Atmosphere to Surface Ocean   92
  Surface Ocean to Marine Biota   50
  Marine Biota to Surface Ocean   40
  Marine Biota to Dissolved Organic Carbon   6
  Marine Biota to Deep Ocean   4
  Surface Ocean to Deep Ocean   91.6
  Deep Ocean to Surface Ocean   100
  Dissolved Organic Carbon to Deep Ocean   6
  Deep Ocean to Ocean Sediments .  2