sue watling

I take the point raised in a comment on a previous post  about digitisation and have been wondering if there’s a chicken and egg situation here. Which came first? The digital data or the means to distribute it? Let me give an example of where I’m coming from when I say digital data is increasing the digital divide.

A Yahoo user group has uploaded a pdf file (single format, no Adobe Reader, another issue) and sent out a group email with a link to the document. To access it the blind user has to go through a process of identifying the link, saving the link, then opening the link, which only then takes them to the login page for the group but that involves logging into Yahoo. A blind person has problems joining a Yahoo group in the first place because that involves a captcha and they can’t see it – or hear it – so someone else has to set it up for them – but when they’re on their own they don’t know their login details – as sighted people we can’t always remember our login details – and they can’t read them – and you can’t multi task with this screen reader so even if you had them stored on an email then to get back to that, then back to the Yahoo login page, would be a lengthy process (and in our fast mouse-click world an incredibly tortuous one). They want to read this file; the email has made it sound interesting and relevant and the whole nature of the group is about self help and empowerment but they can’t access it. The result is ever increasing levels of frustration at being excluded and being dependent on others. I agree that digitisation should be increasing access to the written word, like the printing press revolutionised access to text; but on an individual level that was only so long as you could read the appropriate language. We operate independently in a sighted world but visual impairment (VI) takes away that independence and while digitisation should be widening participation, the reality for VI is that access is hidden behind multiple layers of technology and you can’t separate the two. Chicken or Egg?  Which was my point in saying “increasing digitisation of text is also increasing the digital divide and putting in place yet more barriers to participation”.



2 Comments so far

  1. Profile photo of Paul Stainthorp   Paul Stainthorp on August 5, 2009 11:39 am      

    Absolutely. To push the chicken analogy even further ;-) we’ve a lovely soft-boiled egg of digital content, still in its impenetrable shell of inaccessible web applications and processes. It’s no good optimistic librarians [hello!] extolling the deliciousness of the egg, if you can’t break the shell, because society at large has specified that only specific types of teaspoon can be used… all right, I’ll stop it now.

  2. Profile photo of Paul Stainthorp   Paul Stainthorp on August 5, 2009 11:42 am      

    Incidentally (not really), some of my esteemed colleagues have been trying to navigate our much-vaunted e-books platforms (ebrary; MyiLibrary; the other one) using the new Claro[?] software. I’ll try and encourage them to blog their findings.

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