I used to worry about landfill. I still do. The long term consequences of poisoning the earth with plastic and polystyrene are still unknown but can’t be good for our future. However, that’s a different subject. I worry as much these days about digital exclusion. I worry because the Internet is an increasingly visual environment and designers are ignoring diversity more than ever; as in the abandonment of text only/alternative websites and the move towards having one website for all. Tesco is the prime example. They quietly dropped their ‘accessible’ site in the summer. The result has been frustration and disappointment for users of assistive technology, used to shopping online, who are now struggling with an ‘inaccessible’ environment. The issues escaped mainstream media. That so few people know about this is indicative of the veil of invisibility that surrounds digital exclusion issues.
I’ve been talking about this; to staff, students and colleagues. Few have heard of RaceOnline 2012, with its strapline ‘we’re all better off when everyone’s online’ or the government’s Digital Manifesto which promises to ‘do more for less’ and increase the provision of online information and welfare services. Registration for housing is already online with real implications for those classified as homeless who don’t have access to technology and may not have the confidence or confidence to use it effectively. Yesterday Iain Duncan Smith announced plans to bring in a single Universal Credit to replace work-related benefits.
“The new system will mostly be administered through the internet, with people expected to make claims online and check their payments like they would an online bank account – even though an estimated 1.5 million unemployed people do not currently have internet access, according to government figures. The DWP says a “minority” of cases will still be dealt with face-to-face.” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-11728546
This worries me even more. How can 1.5 million people be considered ‘a minority’ to be further excluded by being ‘dealth with’ face-toface? How can this solve the social issues? Digital exclusion is the equivalent of digital disability; disablement by a society that fails to recognise diversity and disadvantages those already marginalised and disempowered. The strength of the identity politics of the 70’s and 80’s has become diluted and the digitisation of state provision of welfare will be a final blow to the aspirations of minority groups for equal rights. The arrogance of those who operate at ease within digital environments and don’t care about users of assistive technology needs to be challenged. But how can you challenge when you are already denied easy access to public transport and are unable to participate in the communication channels of an increasingly digital public sphere?