While protests are in the news there’s another – more invisible – coalition led disaster which is causing exclusion and distress on a daily basis. This is the government’s attitude towards people with sight loss who are struggling to operate in digital environments because of insufficient action to ensure digitally inclusive practice and accessible web design. As the government moves towards the online-only provision and management of welfare it’s doing nothing to challenge the increasingly visual nature of the Internet and digital designers assumptions of a narrow range of access criteria (i.e. everyone uses a Mouse, their Eyes and Ears – the MEE-Model). This is making it difficult to impossible for users of assistive technology, in particular screen readers, to have equity of digital access. At the same time it also ensures denial of participation in the public sphere where the platforms for debate and dissent are increasingly digital ones.
Digital discrimination is already a serious problem and will become even more critical as more services look to online provision believing it will increase efficiency and cut costs. Assumptions about access need to be challenged; not everyone can operate an out of the box laptop bought from a local supermarket or a high street retailer and the way in which the government is choosing to ignore this is an issue which needs to be made more public.
Access to digital environments remains problematic. Because I’m also photophobic the contrast of black on white is too harsh. In Word I can change the background colour. On the Internet I’ve used my browser controls to ignore specified colours in favour of my own choice with mixed results. Graphics are either not transparent or too transparent!
The inflexibility of Windows is a major obstacle. I’m working at 220% in Word which is comfortable; a bit like sunglasses on a sunny day, but the contrast between this and the unchanged size of the toolbars and menus is a continual strain. Windows is a discriminatory digital environment. I don’t know how Microsoft have got away with it for so long and the magnifier in their accessibility tools is useless.
The power of digital data is its flexibility meaning it can be customised to suit individual preference. I want to adapt my computer use to suit my own requirements. I want the same experience and ease with vision impairment that I get when my vision is not impaired but it isn’t happening. The digital connection to the internet I rely on as my primary source of communication and access to information is increasingly problematic and I’m being denied an equivalent experience.
Next, I’m going to try Dragon Naturally Speaking but in the mean time, and I never thought I’d say this, it’s a relief to turn off my laptop and do something less stressful instead!
Have a good weekend 🙂
The recent publicity over the Amazon e-book reader Kindle is notable for the furore over DRM and the lack of publicity over its inaccessibility. Reams are being written about Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) the digital watermark which limits the use of downloaded files and gives the content provider control over what happens to the content. There’s two ways of looking at this. Firstly it protects copyright by preventing unlicensed copying and distribution (ensuring profits for publishers) and secondly publishers are stepping over the mark by imposing ‘rights’ as ‘restrictions’ that are more extensive then the existing copyright laws for non-digitised text. Unauthorized distribution of digital media has been almost impossible to control and the ebook industry is tackling this from the start; looking at the much pirated music and film industry for guidance.
I have no problem with this ongoing debate. What concerns me is the way in which profits are in the driving seat. The voice of those unable to read the e-book screen is scarely being heard but their access is being denied when ebooks could make a huge difference to quality of life. Blind people use computers – get used to it. Digital data has the potential to transform communication and offer access to information for everyone not just those with eyes to see. The BBC have published three short video clips about e-book readers in the past two weeks and not one mentions access issues.
The lack of media interest in this blatant continuation of discrimination is appalling.