sue watling

Deja vou

January 12, 2010 | Leave a Comment

As part of the Digital Britain campaign,  Online Basics has been launched, designed to create confidence with using the Internet. Peter Mandelson  says:

Everyone should be a confident user of the internet if they are to participate fully in today’s digital society. Being online brings a range of personal benefits, including financial savings, educational attainment, improved salary prospects and independent living for older people.

Déjà vou! In the 1990s I worked in adult and community education when much the same things were being said about computers. I set up computer courses for the ‘terrified’ (no longer allowed under pc rules) and for teaching literacy and numeracy.  Our software was MS Works, Adobe Pagemaker and Paint and we had multimedia cd-roms. No Internet. You learned the basics about using a computer. Today, as a volunteer support worker, I’m frequently asked to visit a service user who is ‘really good with computers’ to find someone can send and receive emails through a learned sequence of steps; they have no holistic knowledge with which to troubleshoot and may have to wait days or even weeks for someone to sort out a problem.

How realistic is the expectation that you can learn to use the Internet effectively when you have never used a computer? Or is it merely like learning to use a library without really understanding the Dewey classification system (which I don’t). Maybe times are changing and I need to change with them.

But one thing remains the same; digital exclusion is still about access. It would take too much space to list all my criticisms of the site but I would suggest it was designed by an ME-user (Mouse and Eyes) and not tested with alternative users. Why isn’t this site a leading example of digital inclusion? Changing text size fails to alter the menu text, links are indicated with mouse-over and new windows open without warning. Aside from DDA requirements, the typos show a lack of proofreading and an exercise on searching has you keying in tesco.com with a further screen advertising Virgin Atlantic – mmm…neat piece of advertising.

Digital Britain is about digital inclusion and the reports make explicit the links between social and digital exclusions. But unless digital data is provided in formats that enable flexible delivery and content customisation, exclusion will continue across all social strata. We have the technology to enable access; what is needed now is to flip the coin and ensure that content is accessible too. Déjà vou again.



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