Government digital plans are back in the news. Lack of media acknowledgment of digital exclusion continues to exist. It’s ok to mention exclusion through provision but not through access. The Guardian makes this distinction explicit. Unemployed/jobseekers to sign on from home and citizen personalisation of MyGov web services Quote GB “MyGov dashboard will … allow citizens to shape information for their own needs” and “… manage their pensions, tax credits and child benefits, as well as pay council tax, fix doctors or hospital appointments, apply for schools of their choice and communicate with children’s teachers.” No GB. This can only happen for those privileged through means of access.
Ofcom announced plans for superfast broadband. While government excludes mention of its own link between digital and social exclusion (Digital Britain), and the implication that those who would benefit most will be denied access, Ofcom make explicit the equivalent of digital exclusion through lack of service provision. “…large numbers of homes and businesses are in locations which cannot get any sort of broadband, either because they are too far from an exchange or because the lines are of poor quality.” I have family in rural Holderness with a half MB connection, yet still pay a similar amount as myself for their ISP connection. That’s inequitable but not as much as being denied access to the digital data itself.
Years of international standards designed to increase web accessibility still fall short of ensuring equal access for assistive technologies. Open Source, which the government plans to use, is less regulated than traditional ‘closed’ web environments. By definition, open source encourages repurposing. This may be for the common good but if responsibility for accessible content shifts from the designers to the users, then it effectively escapes regulation. Politics of freedom aside, the socially disempowered need support. Web standards were an attempt to ensure equitable access. They might not be 100% effective but remain a matrix against which inclusive design and practice can be measured. We are all living through a digital revolution. There needs to be much greater acknowledgment of the needs of those who stand to benefit most.