ALT-C 2008

The message I took from Rethinking the Digital Divide is that the divide is increasing rather than getting smaller. It’s no longer just about access to the technology, its about what you do with it when it’s in your hands. Research may show that the majority of learners own mobile phones – but that their owners are confident with using them is still largely an assumption. Also some of the sessions I attended showed that access to education remains problematic for many, including people with disabilities, those in prison, in the workplace, in communities. In prison the technology disables rather than enables; the OU now delivers content via the internet. The majority of prisoners do not have the internet; education is the bedrock of rehabilitation and they are denied access.

The debate over accessibility of online resources and the use of assistive technology continues – yet there were no exhibitors at ALT-C from any screen reading or text to speech software companies, or organisations such as Ability Net or the British Dyslexia Association.  I was disappointed that a conference on digital divisions appeared to have so little on inclusive design or holistic approaches to accessibility and the debate around alternative versions of multimedia and animation. It would have been good to have daily workshops on practicalities such as adding captions to video, demonstrations of assistive technology or what the open source movement is doing to support accessibility.

I wonder how much the learning technologists themselves are responsible for creating a digital divide; do we forget that those whose learning we believe we are enhancing are in a different place. They may not share the same level of access to the technical gadgets and wizardry, or the skills to use them to their full potential. Again, having the technology is not the same as being confident and skilled with using it and I do sometimes wonder if herein lies the roots of our digital divisions.

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