DSA changes; Oh Mr Willetts, what have you done?

In April Mr Willetts announced on changes to the Disabled Students Allowance. Claiming these  will ‘modernise’ the system, he calls  HEIs to pay  ‘…greater consideration to the delivery of their courses and how to provide support’ which should include ‘…different ways of delivering courses and information.’  The definition of disability in the Equality Act 2010 will be the new guideline for access to DSA. This states you are only ‘disabled’ if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.

At the present time, DSA is awarded to a broad list of criteria including students diagnosed with dyslexia. Support for these students is being withdrawn. Reasons cited include ‘technological advances’ and ‘increases in use of technology’. Clever technology!

What Mr Willets is describing is inclusive practice. Taking advantage of the flexibility of digital information to be customised to suit user preference i.e. adjusting font shape and size, altering colour contrasts, listening to content read out loud and providing transcripts or textual alternatives to all forms of multi media.  Institutions are being asked to ‘…play their role in supporting students with mild difficulties, as part of their duties to provide reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act.’ In other words. taking personal responsibility for providing accessible content.

If it were as easy as that Mr Willets, it would already be happening.

Back in 1997, Berners Lee and Daniel Dardailler, internet and www pioneers, had altruistic aims for information democracy. These two quotes are important. We need reminding lest we forget.

“Worldwide, there are more than 750 million people with disabilities. As we move towards a highly connected world it is critical that the web be usable by anyone regardless of individual capabilities and disabilities. The W3C is committed to removing accessibility barriers for all people with disabilities – including the deaf, blind, physically challenged, and cognitive or visually impaired. We plan to work aggressively with government, industry, and community leaders to establish and attain Web accessibility goals.”  Berners Lee, T (1997)World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Launches Web Accessibility Initiative. WAI press release 7 April 1997. www.w3.org/Press/WAI-Launch.html

“The users in our project are the Web users with a disability, like visually or hearing impaired people. The needs for these users are to access the information online on the Internet just as everyone else. The impact of this project on the users with disabilities is to give them the same access to information as users without a disability. In addition, if we succeed making web accessibility the norm rather than the exception, this will benefit not only the disability community but the entire population.”  (Dardailler, D 1997 Telematics Applications Programme TIDE Proposal. Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) http://www.w3.org/WAI/TIDE/f1.htm 

In principle, I understand what Mr Willetts is saying but I doubt we are coming from the same place. I’ve tried to raise awareness of digital inclusion for some time. In practice I believe attitudes like these risk knee-jerk and exclusive reactions. Like lecture capture; sticking a 50 minute recording of a lecture online without content being made available in  alternative formats.

Digital engagement mirrors ourselves as individuals. The provision of accessible online resources involves changing behaviours from unintentionally exclusive to inclusive when the affordances of technology are managed by individuals who all interact with it in different ways. The process of developing digital literacies is complex in particular when it comes to inclusive practice.  History shows how the principle of ‘reasonable adjustments’ is often seen as the responsibility of someone else. It isn’t going to be as simple as it sounds in this statement.

Barriers to a higher education just multiplied and the principles of widening participation diluted. 

Oh Mr Willetts, what have you done?

 

Yet another government digital inclusion strategy… yawn!

digital exclusion denies access to the internet

 

 

 

It’s been a while since I blogged about digital inclusion. In the meantime the Government Digital Service team have produced a checklist stating ‘if we do these things, we’re doing digital inclusion’. Looks like they’re starting out all over again. Excuse me while I yawn. Honestly we’ve been here before and nothing – yet – has changed.

It’s January 2014. All that’s happened since the Digital Britain report is the internet has become more inaccessible, assistive technology more expensive and digital exclusion increasingly invisible and silenced.  The GDS checklist appears positive and realistic. I have genuine hope this may signify change.

  • Services need to be built for the user, not government or business
  • Provide simple, low cost options for those socially and economically excluded
  • Bring digital into people’s lives in a way that benefits them
  • Make it easier to stay safe – online safety is a basic digital literacy skill
  • Better coordination between public, private and voluntary sectors
  • Reducing digital exclusion is not about the number of people who log-on once

Words are easy and if they’re digital too, you need to be online to comment.  The government has a ‘digital first’ policy with regard to public information. Do they not see the irony? There’s no mention of disability in the checklist and when Leonie Watson points this is out, the response is a link to a post from August 2013 titled Meet the Assisted Digital Team with the comment: ‘We’ll get down to the detail on assisting all sorts of disabilities soon. But at this stage all any inclusion tries to do is have (design) principles which apply to every citizen. How they are applied, and to whom, will always depend on particular departments.’ [my emphasis]

Already there are signs this new (and yet another) digital inclusion initiative will fall apart. In 2009 the Consumer Expert Group reported on the Use of the Internet by disabled people: barriers and solutions.  The research is out there. It isn’t rocket science. If you are already socially and economically excluded you are likely to be digitally excluded as well. The checklist recognises this but so did the Labour government a decade ago. What is less well publicised is the two-way nature of digital access. It’s as much about the inclusive design and development of the internet as it is about the individual hardware and software required to get online in the first place. I can see a situation like the processed food industry which continues to produce low cost high sugar/fat/additive junk while the government makes comments about individual responsibility to make healthy choices – as if it were that easy. Equality of internet access? Just be more responsible about the sites you choose – go for the ones with inclusive design – they’re better for you.

Tim Berners Lee dreamed about democracy of access. ‘The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.’ * Before Microsoft Windows came along there was a distinct chance this might have happened but progress has gone backwards ever since. Whether this latest initiative will make any difference remains to be seen.  Somehow – sadly – I doubt it.

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http://www.w3.org/Press/IPO-announce

The E word as in E-learning – what does the E stand for?

Electronic is the commonest answer. Which is misleading. It implies the two go together when they don’t; electronic has nothing to do with learning. elearning requires a new pedagogy. An inherent problem is the way existing educational theories have been moulded to fit.  They won’t. They can’t. Not only does face to face practice not sit well within virtual environments, to create workable online educational experiences is to accept the reality of elearning engagement is the diametric opposite to how elearning has been presented.

Conventional rhetoric tells us elearning has the power to transform. The HEFCE ‘E’ could well include easy, efficient, effective, extended, economic – effortless? I made that last one up but the promotion of elearning as the answer to reducing costs and doing more for less implies a seamless transition from the traditional classroom to a virtual one. The anomaly – and the true reality – is elearning means increased costs and doing much much more – in terms of the design and delivery of learning activities as well as the technical, administrative and professional support systems which are all part of an effective elearning framework.

What would I call elearning?

Enigmatic? Exacting? Exigent?

The complexities of managing online learning are enormous, even Elephantine – as in the problem of the Elephant in the room. The resourcing the time, space, place and skillsets – all essential components. The real costs of elearning are so big no one dare address them. You could call it Expensive learning. Without a dedicated team containing a blend of technical and pedagogical understanding of digital literacies, digital scholarship and digital ways of working, elearning will continue to appeal to a narrow student base, retention will remain poor and the quality of online resources be an ongoing cause for concern.

As if this were not enough, elearning privileges those with means of access and the capability of using that access appropriately. If you are limited by an outdated browser, run an old operating system, live in an area with a poor connection speeds or depend on assistive technology, elearning will be problematic.

Out of all the possibilities the biggest e of all remains E for EXCLUSIVE.

Contemplating Failure Part Two

Diversity is what makes the world go round. Or at least it should. Experiments of conformity must fail. Equality of opportunity is the fairest system; not being squeezed into narrow behaviour ranges or receiving privilege simply because you belong to a dominant group. One of the largest ever examples of discrimination is being created by the shift to digital practices and lifestyles. The design and delivery of online content increasingly privileges a narrow range of access criteria – the MEE Model – based on the assumption all users operate with a mouse, eyes and ears. This fails to reflect the diversity of ways people do use computers and access the internet but it is successfully excluding those who rely on assistive technology or non-standard methods.

Inclusive practice with digital content can directly challenge exclusive behaviours. The Web pioneers campaigned for accessibility “…if we succeed making web accessibility the norm rather than the exception, this will benefit not only the disability community but the entire population.” (Dardailler, 1997*)

I’ve been reflecting on increasingly exclusive web design and contemplating the failure of guidance from the WAI and Equality legislation; asking the question what lies at the root of exclusive digital  practice? I’m coming to the conclusion its more to do with psychology than technology. We look for the quickest option, the easiest route, familiar ways of working. But as the social shift to digital ICT continues, so does the need to raise awareness of what digital exclusion looks like.

The new e-learning package Bribery Act and Anti Money Laundering on the HR Portal elearning page https://portal.lincoln.ac.uk/C11/C0/Online%20Training/default.aspx  is an example of how commercial companies  appear to be unaware of the principles of inclusive digital practice.  Here are some examples.

The narration starts with no warning. There are no user controls to stop, pause, restart, move backwards or forwards. The narration is only on a few slides, each time starting unexpectedly. This sequential use of audio can’t be an alternative format so it’s not clear why it’s included.  The audio can be toggled on or off in the Accessibility controls but you need to open the menu to find this. The volume can also be controlled here but the option is mouse operated (no sliding scale – one click for every number between 1 and 100). There is no ‘save settings’ button. The only way out of the Accessibility menu is to close the window. Close equates Exit more than Save.

The standard keyboard command Ctrl and + to increase magnification doesn’t work; it does reveal the zoom icon in the top right which runs up to 500x in digits but makes no difference to appearance. To customise appearance to preference is through line spacing and text size in the Accessibility panel. This was not successful. Images run over text

bribery exp2

Buttons don’t resize.

bribery exp3

Colour contrasts don’t all adapt to my choices as well as text frames not resizing.

bribery exp 4

Text boxes merge.

bribery exp 6

The background colour can be changed but this lost the content on certain slides offering a green screen.

bribery exp 1

There might be a clue on slide 28 which contained images and suggests the background layer may be positioned on top of the graphic layer – only a guess but something somewhere is not right.

bribery exp 7

The keyboard controls appear to be only for moving through the bottom bar buttons; not offering alternative navigation which should be standard practice.

bribery exp 5

There are no alternative ways to navigate through the slides nor click on text which is bold or part of an image and links to additional information

accessibility features       accessibility features

Tab and Shift highlight essential structures but moving from slide to slide in this way is slow and laborious. Shift also brings up the Contents menu which Esc doesn’t close – only a mouse click will do.  These keyboard alternatives are unrealistic for navigation. There is no information about how to access the content without a mouse.

The accessibility window has an image of a wheelchair. I wonder why?

accessibility symbol

This image associates accessibility of digital content with disability and disability only with wheelchair users; neither fair nor accurate assumptions and going against the principle of inclusive practice which is achieving improved assess for all. It’s like saying transcripts are only for people with hearing difficulties – which ignores those with no speakers or headphones or who simply prefer text to audio.

There are other design issues which are questionable. External links take you into a new window with no warning and closing the window returns you to the elearning menu page – rather than the last slide.

Where a name is given as a source of further information, the name is hyperlinked to Outlook which assumes the user has Outlook installed; I don’t have Outlook on my home laptop – so without any details such as an email address or phone number there is no way of contacting the person.

The use of transitions to load pictures is reminiscent of death by PowerPoint. Slide 7 has an spelling mistake in the answer window. This suggests not only was the resource not piloted for alternative usage outside the dominant MEE model (Mouse, Eyes and Ears) it also hasn’t been proofed for errors.

spelling error in online learning resource

I’m not responsible for this resource but it’s indicative of how inclusive practice with digital data is a dying art.

I wonder if anyone else caring about equality of digital opportunities is also contemplating failure.

Contemplating Failure Part One

Screech, scratch, scrape – this is the sound of the soap box being dragged out again. For years I’ve been a lonely voice for digitally inclusive practice. Advocating the TechdDis Accessibility Essential series for making electronic documents more readable  http://www.jisctechdis.ac.uk/techdis/resources/ae  Supporting the principles of inclusive practice as improving access for all. In the beginning I’d be encouraged by all the ‘I never thought of that’ comments but recently I’ve begun to feel a failure – because nothing’s changed.

Being resilient is what matters. Equality of access to communication and information technologies matters. I’ve tried to adapt. One of the learning outcomes of the new Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age online course (TELEDAPG http://www.lincoln.ac.uk/home/cerd/teaching/teachingpractice/) is

‘Reflect on and demonstrate a critical awareness of inclusive practice on relation to inline teaching and learning resources, communication and collaborative working with and between students.’

Here is an opportunity to give the soapbox centre stage on a validated teacher education programme. My phd is moving towards the inclusive practice aspect of digital literacies and scholarship with the opportunity to develop a participatory action research project on, in and around the subject of digital inclusion.

But on the outside nothing’s changed.

The editorial from the Journal Research in Learning Technology’s special edition on digital inclusion (Vol 20 2012 available free online http://www.researchinlearningtechnology.net/index.php/rlt/issue/view/1432) starts optimistically. It identifies how ‘current digital inclusion research has failed to produce a detailed critique of what constitutes empowering support from educational institutions and their staff’. How the ‘lack of open and reflexive accounts of practice’ is hindering identification and understanding of the ‘essential empowering practices’ which are so necessary for challenging  the prejudice, stereotypes and risk-aversiveness – all of which contributes to digital exclusion. Here is the language of my sessions with staff and students on the values and ethics of a digital society but the ultimately the Journal only points out old problems and suggesting new solutions – calling for a ‘bolder approach’ by policy makers and funding agencies – precisely because so far nothing has changed!

The reason for this blog is the UL HR elearning packages. It got off to a bad start with the image on the Portal page https://portal.lincoln.ac.uk/C11/C0/Online%20Training/default.aspx Here is an example about nothing changing. Text over images is never good practice – especially when advertising ‘e-learning!

example of text over an image in a poster

 

Looking at the Staff Learning and Development Poster page http://posters.lincoln.ac.uk/group/sld it seems this one slipped through – or looking at the dates on the poster archive page – may be the sign of things to come.

examples of poster design

Could I suggest the use fo text over images quietly slips out again or the new designer visits http://odi.dwp.gov.uk/inclusive-communications/channels/publishing.php for some useful guidance on creating accessible posters.

My sense of failure was heightened with the new e-learning package Bribery Act &/and Anti Money Laundering (I hate ampersands!) Faced with the question of taking time to highlight the issues or ignoring them – I decided to take time out to climb on the lonely soapbox and register another solitary protest.

See Contemplating Failure Part Two…http://suewatling.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/2013/08/01/contemplating-failure-part-two/

Down – but not defeated…OLDsMOOC Week 4 summary

In Week 4 we’ve been sharing pedagogical patterns, engaging with the BOTWOO concept (Building On The Work Of Others), been patronised (‘This is what we all do as researchers, but do much less as teachers. Teachers don’t find it that easy’) and partially ignored (many in the DIY Multimedia group and in Cloudworld are learning designers external to education; I’m in HE but not a ‘teacher’. The diversity of participants seems unrecognised yet we’ve agreed on the importance of designing for your audience and learner context in week 3. It’s been a good week – honestly – but maybe not in terms of MOOCing.  I don’t mean to be grumpy – but OLDsMOOC is reinforcing some of my attributions and I never like it when that happens. In Week 4 I investigated the PPC Pedagogical Patterns Collector using the Pedagogical Patterns Collector guide  but didn’t get very far – other than finding myself here in Week 5 and looking at making prototypes of my learning activities. Now we have moved into the realms of fantasy. I don’t know how to access to a programmer but I know I want one!!!

As if this were not enough cause for frustration, then the Wk 5 video transcript simply depressed me. I wanted to capture the part of the Week 5 video where DL compares ‘...something you can do yourself like a PowerPoint or sequence in Moodle‘ to how you communicate your idea for a digital design to a programmer. I thought this was a useful reminder of the digital divide between technologists and the day to day experience of most academic staff, but got sidetracked on finding the transcript is an image and this defeats the objective of providing one. Week 4 transcript was pdf. Not ideal but it could be copied into Word albeit with inconvenient line breaks. Text as an image is useless and misunderstands the potential of digitally inclusive practice.  http://www.w3.org/WAI/PF/HTML/wiki/Media_Accessibility_User_Requirements  

In DIY Multimedia we’ve stressed the importance of alternative formats from the beginning and it’s been reassuring to share awareness of the importance of this element of learning design.  Providing digital content in a single fixed format assumes the MEE Model of computer access where users work via a Mouse for navigation and their eyes and ears for images and sound. This fails to reflect the diversity of ways people use computers and access the internet but the MEE Model underpins 99% of digital content.  Learning designers have a critical role to play in challenging the limitations of single formats while championing the inherent flexibility of digital data to be customised to suit individual requirements.

One of my many problems with MOOCs is the divide between their potential and the reality. I blogged last week on the EPIC 2020 and Turning Point 2012 videos which present the threat posed through mass education by MOOCs. Back in the late 1980’s, the founders of the internet heralded the internet’s potential for democratic access. This isn’t happening and some days trying to keep inclusive practice high on the agenda feels like hard work.

Tokenistic captions on NSS Official Video 2013

Dire captions on NSS Official video

 

More and more people are using the YouTube caption tool in the belief it offers information in an alternative format but it doesn’t. If it wasn’t so serious, you could say it offers a laugh – like the example above which shows the caption for all Student’s Unions, Associations and Guilds – and there are many other examples in this video alone which demonstrate just how much the caption tool is tokenism.

Multimedia has great potential for teaching and learning. It suits a range of learning preferences and offers variety and interaction with content. However, to be inclusive it needs to be provided in alternative formats and this is the step most people miss.  If you use YouTube captions take the time to check them out; the chances are they’ll be to poor to be of any real value.

Guide to Getting started with YouTube captions and transcripts  YouTube http://support.google.com/youtube/bin/static.py?hl=en&topic=2734696&guide=2734661&page=guide.cs 

not paranoia but….

I write about digital identity and the permanence of our digital footprints, but it seems the government has no problem in making digital content disappear. All links to the Government’s Manifesto for a Networked Nation are redirecting to  Go On at http://www.go-on.co.uk/index.php

Go On is the replacement for the Race Online 2012 website, designed to champion digital inclusion, but none of the content has transferred across, including the Manifesto. This is unfortunate. It’s now difficult to find ‘official’ reference to those sectors of the population considered up until recently to be digitally excluded.

google page showing links to Digital Manifesto

Early research data can be found in the Labour government’s Digital Britain reports; these can still be found in the national web archives. The Manifesto has vanished. It’s not the first time I’ve had problems revisiting content online. Last year a new report targeting ‘hard to reach’ sections of the population divided digital exclusion into three categories; young, old and those in between. It rightly identified cost and motivation as drivers but omitted disability or assistive technologies, which cut across all age ranges and constitute a major cause of exclusion from increasingly digital lifestyles. This ‘hard to reach’ document is currently living up to its name.

In George Orwell’s ‘1984’, Winston Smith is employed as a government bureaucrat tasked with rewriting history. What was true one day was changed the next, along with all references to the event. It’s not a fictional fancy to see how those with the relevant levels of access and controls could write the scripts which alter history at the click of a key. Now, if anyone can find a digital link to the manifesto….

Great day… if only the media would report on it

Great day for digital inclusion – or it would be if only the media would report on it. Neil Lewis Chief Executive of AbilityNet has highlighted the need for addressing inclusion  because of the government’s ‘digital by default’ campaign. I’ve searched on the BBC, Guardian, Telegraph and even the Daily Mail websites but the news doesn’t seem to got there yet. (incidently the Daily Mail returns no instances of AbilityNet which suggests it has never referred to the issue of digital exclusion – shame on you!)

This lack of media awareness is critical. The government’s intention for access to information and delivery of services to be ‘digital by default’ is simply not getting enough publicity;  in particular with regard to those 8-9 million citizens the government has identified as digitally excluded.

How is the population being told of the move towards an online welfare state? 

How will they find out about the plans to merge all benefits into a single Universal Credit to be applied for, awarded and managed online – unless the media pick it up and run with it?

The government is building a new computer system for this in spite of the failure of the NHS IT project the damming evidence in the System Error report which suggests ‘digital by default’ has all the potential for creating a new digital divide, one which will affect some of the most marginalised sections of society.

If you are digitally excluded you are invisible by default. As the platforms for discussion and debate become increasingly digital so those without access are being denied participation. Last week I spoke to a local group of webdevelopers, and yesterday to a group of Year 1 Social Work students, about the social impact of a digital society. We have to keep chipping away at the mountain of invisibility in order to surface these issues. Social media is one of the best places to begin.  Blogging, Tweeting, Facebooking – we need to get the message out there so those who have the power to make a difference can start to do so.

Digital inclusion is worth fighting for….

Last night I talked to the Hull Web Developers about digital inclusion. Here are the key points from the presentation.

For many people with limited mobility and/or sensory impairment, the Internet offers valuable opportunities to maintain independence.

Digital industry has adopted a ‘ME’ Model of computer access; this assumes everyone uses a Mouse for navigation and their Eyes to see the content on the screen. The result is digital exclusion.

In an increasingly digital society, exclusion from digital practices is by nature invisible.

As the government moves towards ‘digital by default’ delivery of information and provision of services, we need to promote ‘access for all’ where access is redefined as ‘quality of access’.

We also need to challenge the argument that inclusive digital design is not worth it. There are millions of people who could benefit from assistive technology if online environments were created with a diverse range of access in mind.

  • 17% of people are born with an impairment – 87% acquire one in later life (Papworth Trust, 2010)
  • 2 million people affected by sight loss; 80,000 of working age, 25,000 children (RNIB, 2008)
  • 9 million people with hearing impairment; potentially excluded from podcasts without transcripts or video without captions or subtitles. (Action on Hearing Loss, 2010)
  • 130,000 people have a stroke each year, @ 63,000 people develop physical, sensory or cognitive impairment and likely to be using assistive technology for accessing the Internet. (Stroke Society 2010)
  • 10 million people living with arthritis; developing restriction of movement and likely to be using assistive technology for accessing the Internet. (Arthritis Care 2010)

The intention of the founders on the Internet was to create a democratic environment where everyone had equal access. This is still an achievable objective.  Digital inclusion is worth fighting for and digital divides can be bridged.

Link to assistive technology videos