Flow Breakdown: Adding captions to images in WordPress for iOS

I usually publish to my WordPress blogs via Ulysses on both macOS and iOS. Occasionally, I check out the state of the WordPress app and wordpress.com’s Calypso web interface on iOS. A litmus flow for me is image captioning.

WordPress iOS App

In the screenshot below, three freshly uploaded images are shown in the editor. When I tap an image, I see Edit in the resulting menu. I’m on the right track, yet already confused. I’m not sure which image I’m operating on. The selection indicator is too subtle, requiring me to get closer to the screen.

Screenshot of the editor with three images inserted. A “More Options” menu at the bottom of the screen lists “Remove Image”, “Edit”, and “Dismiss”. There is a subtle blue selection band around the center image, indicating it is selected.

If the cursor is located after the selected image, the editor scrolls down to center the cursor upon exiting the Media Options flow. The image I was editing is now partially offscreen, increasing ambiguity.

Screenshot of the editor showing the last of the three images centered with a big blue cursor in front it. This is scrolled down relative to the previous screenshot.

This ambiguity creates anxiety. Which image am I editing? The “Media Settings” page offers no context.

Screenshot of the “Media Settings” page showing settings for “Alignment”, “Link To”, “Size”, “Alt Text”, and “Caption”. There is no thumbnail of the image.

My go-to anxiety flow in the face of such ambiguity is to go back and reorient. If I “Cancel” to return to the editor in order to establish context, the editor offers more ambiguity instead of reassurance by scrolling down as mentioned above. Even without the scrolling, the blue selection indicator requires me to squint. Selection visually collides with the cursor (which is image height when on the same line as an image), increasing ambiguity further.

I write descriptive captions in the interest of accessibility. I need to see the image as I do this. Here’s what image captioning looks like in Ulysses on macOS.

Screenshot of Ulysses for macOS showing the image editing interface. The interface includes the image being edited and the field “URL”, “Title”, and “Desc:”. “Desc” is filled with test. I can see both the image and the “Desc:” field while composing image descriptions.

And here’s what it looks like in Ulysses on iOS. A little scrolling back and forth between the image and description field is needed, but at least they’re on the same page. I’ll gladly scroll if it means getting images large enough for my eyes.

Screenshot of Ulysses for iOS showing the image editing interface. A large scrollable version of the image is placed above fields for URL, Title, and Description.

In both of those interfaces, the image is available for reference while captioning. Contrast them with the WP iOS app. The “Caption” screen consists of a single text input field. The image is not displayed. No information about the image is displayed. This means I’ll have to flip back and forth between the WP app and my camera roll app to write a caption.

Screenshot of the Caption editor showing an empty caption field. The image is not shown anywhere on the screen.

If I want to consult the image from within the WP app instead of flipping to a different app, the journey is: two taps back to the editor, a bad scroll interaction depending on cursor location, peer over my bifocals at images and selection indicators, and then another three taps back to the Caption field. I’d have to do this over and over to transcribe the screenshots in this post. I started this post in the iOS app and quickly tired.

Calypso on iOS Safari

The iOS app’s caption flow does not work for me. So how about captioning flow on the mobile web? Alas, Calypso on iOS Safari is buggy, erratic, and frustrating to the point that I usually give up on it and go get the laptop. Sometimes, though, I can complete an editing session. In this shot, I’m adding a caption as part of image insertion flow. The image thumbnail is on the small side for me. I need big images when writing captions, especially for screenshots. Otherwise, I have to find the image in an interface that gives me a better view and then correlate back and forth.

Screenshot of Calypso’s image editing modal in Safari on an iPhone 7+. A thumbnail of the image being edited is displayed at the top. Title, Caption, Alt text, and Cancel and Insert buttons are arranged below the image.

In the following screenshots, I’m adding a caption to an image after it has been inserted. First, delicately dismiss the Cut Copy bar without dismissing the inline image toolbar hiding behind it. This is fussy and awkward.

Screenshot showing the iOS Cut Copy bar obscuring Calypso’ inline image bar.

And, then, tap the caption button, wonder why it didn’t do anything, scroll down, realize a caption input unfurled below the fold, and start adding a caption.

Screenshot of the editor showing an image with a caption field below it containing the placeholder text “Enter a caption”.

There’s the possibility of good flow friendly to presbyopia beneath the unfortunately numerous interaction bugs. Though, even with the interaction bugs, at least I don’t have to caption an image I can’t see. There are many times I wish I could use the mobile web interface, but the scroll bleed, vscroll loss, keyboard flyup, lock ups, crashes, requests for more memory, and general unpredictability exclude it from consideration.

Neither interface meets my needs for captioning flow. I need images to be present on the same screen as the fields that describe them. I need access to image views large enough for my presbyopic eyes to transcribe text from screenshots. I need caption fields with enough room to comfortably compose detailed image descriptions.

Anxiety, Ambiguity, and Autistic Perception

This piece on interviewing autistics had me nodding along in self-recognition. It me.

I relate deeply to every point in the article, but this one acknowledges a fundamental aspect of my being that contributes to all other points:

While the autistic individual is interviewing, they will often be acutely self-aware and preoccupied by their own nervousness and internal coaching, and be simultaneously experiencing two conversations at once—one that is shared aloud between the interviewer and interviewee, and one that is an ongoing internal dialogue. Often the internal voice will overshadow the external conversation and, as a result, gaps of time in the interview will be lost. What might appear as being not being present or distracted, is typically the individual attempting to balance the internal voice with the external conversation.

Source: 533: Interviewing Autistic Individuals – Everyday Asperger’s

That ever-present internal voice is of an ever-present witness, a not-so-fair “fair witness” that audits every moment and thought, flipping through lenses and spinning self-critical narratives in real time.

Candidates on the spectrum will sometimes panic with open-ended questions, as most are very quick thinkers, able to connect information at rapid speed and reach multiple conclusions in a matter of seconds. While deliberating over a question, the candidate is also contemplating about what the interviewer expects, wants, and is hinting at. The more specific and direct a question, the better.

Source: 533: Interviewing Autistic Individuals – Everyday Asperger’s

The “reach multiple conclusions” part is significant. My mind is an ambiguity finder. I sometimes wish I could turn down or turn off my ambiguity sensitivity. When you see many interpretations and conclusions, social interactions are harder. Interviews are harder. Standardized tests—loaded with bias and assumption and often purposefully bereft of context—are harder. What others comfortably and even thoughtlessly assume, I analyze obsessively, dowsing intention and expectation.

Autistic perception is the direct perception of the forming of experience. This has effects: activities which require parsing (crossing the street, finding the path in the forest) can be much more difficult. But there is no question that autistic perception experiences richness in a way the more neurotypically inclined perception rarely does.

Source: Histories of Violence: Neurodiversity and the Policing of the Norm – Los Angeles Review of Books

“The direct perception of the forming of experience.” There’s that internal voice, that witness. I am heavily instrumented code with breakpoints on every instruction. I’m plugged into my own JTAG witnessing myself experience experience. I’m prone to recursions and loops unwound only by passing out from adrenal exhaustion.

Such an operating system finds ambiguity everywhere. We humans communicate in assumptions, tropes, and defaults, in bundles of scripts, habits, and expectations. What usually goes unacknowledged is that these “literacies are plural and context-dependent.” I suspect many autistic people intuit this on some level because we navigate a world not set up for us, one that assumes sociality and sensory processing not our own.

In The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois says that blacks have a sort of doubleness in them not found among whites. Blacks cannot just “be themselves,” but must always think about how they are being perceived by whites. This creates a sense that you are always of two minds: that you are not only thinking and doing, but that you are thinking about how others perceive you, and adjust accordingly. Whites never have to deal with this. Being the majority and having the majority power, they can just be themselves without worry about how anybody is thinking about them.

Du Bois would probably not be surprised if he learned that other minorities were put in similar situations in the U.S., but it probably didn’t occur to him that there were people out there with different kinds of minds, and that they too would develop such a doubleness.

I know all about this double-mindedness, because I experience it constantly. I not only have to think about what I’m going to say or do, but I have to think about how others might take it. I can either just say or do whatever I want as I want and hope that I don’t do something that will set people off, or I can always consciously think about everything I say or do before I say or do it, testing against what I expect the expectations are (and hoping I’m getting those right). If it takes me a moment to respond to something, it’s because I’m going through all this nonsense to make sure I don’t say or do something wrong.

Source: On the Double-Mindedness Developed Among the Different – An Intense World

The profusion of expectations and ambiguities that others sail over on a buoy of assumption overwhelms me. Whereas they accept them unconsciously, I do something akin to a real-time, zero-based audit of the assumptions coming at me: interrogating them against context and the people present, sussing intention and expectation, looking for the landmines and sinkholes, the ethnocentricities and neurotypicalisms. What look like detached “gaps of time” (as in the interview example) are very busy and very connected with moment and context.

We’re surrounded by ambiguity in everyday life. Words not only have multiple meanings, but the context in which we use words can greatly change their meaning. Even words that both sound the same and are spelled the same way can be understood very differently depending upon context.” Ambiguity is a generative, creative, and productive continuum ranging from the quiet assumptions of the quotidian to Poe’s law. The continuum is rife with dead metaphors rapidly accumulating with the exponential growth of networks. What are the assumptions of the person talking to me? What are their “normal” and their “common sense”? What memes flash through their minds when consulting their personal heuristics? What is their lived experience, and what are their triggers? What, for example, is the worldview of this white, male, abled, neurotypical, cisgender, heterosexual interviewer who knows little of marginalized experience and accepts the defaults of a life lived at the lowest difficulty setting? The ambiguities and assumptions sluicing off his words weight the moment with an anxious, gravid humidity.

The hardest part to navigate is not so much the teeming ambiguity; it’s the assumption. It’s the self-centering, automatic and unaware, that reduces ambiguity to an ethnocentric “right answer” or “right behavior” and leaves little room for autistic sociality. Instead of “foregrounding complexity as the baseline”, we bury it with myths of normality that create structural barriers and exclude people. We pathologize and marginalize the minds and bodies that sense ambiguity and assumption the most deeply and feel their results the most acutely. So much is lost in the reduction. Acknowledging ambiguity, multiple literacies, and multiple socialities renders the terrain more passable rather than less. “Ambiguity is actually something to be embraced rather than to be avoided”. It is “an inevitable feature of human discourse”. Compassionately accepting our ambiguities and differing literacies means less masking and passing and burning out—and better communication.

Overcoming mutual incomprehension and better understanding each other requires unpacking a lot of ambiguity and assumption. Bridging the double empathy gap takes work, starting with recognition that ”empathy is not an autistic problem, it’s a human problem, it’s a deficit in imagination.” Reflecting on my own experiences and those of others in the #ActuallyAutistic community—particularly with regard to empathy—I posit that the autistic tendency for rabbitholing and getting expository while in conversation is, in part, an urge to unpack ambiguity, acknowledge assumption, cross the empathy gap, and be understood.

Often times, the autistic job candidate will want to be seen, heard and understood; as is such, it is commonplace for an jobseeker to provide information that the interviewer many not deem appropriate, necessary, or beneficial. Most autistics will in fact share thoughts and insights to their own detriment, unable to stop the need to be transparent and forthcoming.

Source: 533: Interviewing Autistic Individuals – Everyday Asperger’s

Interviewing Autistic Individuals describes me. I identify with every point. I’ll conclude this with a few more to which I particularly relate. Anxiety and ambiguity, these go to 11.

Partaking in an interview can cause extreme stress for days before the interview. The interview process will more likely than not be over-thought and imagined repeatedly, with multiple outcomes and scenarios. The candidate on the spectrum will typically relive the actual interview itself, repeatedly after the event.

What might appear as a simple ‘not a fit’ or ‘no thank you,’ to the hiring agent, can be devastatingly crushing to a person with autism. It’s common to obsess over the reasons for failure and to catastrophize the outcome, incorporating all-or-nothing thinking, and self-torture, in the form of repetitive, obsessive thoughts regarding the ‘whys’ and ‘what ifs.’

Before an interview, some candidates on the spectrum will create scenarios in their mind of failure and miscommunication, and have fear of not being able to express their true intentions and true self. They often have a fear of not appearing genuine and honest enough.

Some autistics will have little to no trouble expressing self in various communication venues. But the large majority will have specific triggers to communication that can bring on various outcomes, including panic attacks, insomnia, inconsolable anxiety, and nonstop, rapid thinking.

In most cases, people on the spectrum communicate better in written form with time to process, rethink, and edit thoughts and ideas, than spoken form. When possible, some type of written assessment ought to be utilized during recruitment screening, such as an essay or instant messaging service.