So many people don’t get it. The nature of exclusion is to be invisible and digital divides are no exception.
7.2 million people in the UK have never been online and an estimated 8.5 million don’t have the skills to get any benefit from the online world. Social exclusion is linked with digital exclusion.
The message from Helen Milner, CEO for The Tinder Foundation who manage the UK Online Centres and Learn My Way; introductory guidance to getting started with computers. The UK Online Centre website figures an estimated 11 million in the UK don’t have the digital skills to benefit from the online world, and nearly 7 million of these people have never been online before. Those already at a disadvantage – through age, education, income, disability, or unemployment – are most likely to be missing out.
The CfBT Education Trust tell a different story. Beyond the Digital Divide: Young People and ICT, a report from SSRU, Social Science Research Unit, claim the issue of access in now irrelevant. Debate over the ‘digital divides’ centering on whether or not school students can access the internet is redundant – internet access is all but universal…the digital divide is a myth….
An accompanying report, Providing ICT for Socially Disadvantaged Students says ‘…findings clearly indicate there is little evidence of a digital divide in the UK. They suggest the lack of access to ICT is not really an issue for school students, particularly those who are disadvantaged.’ The problem is the ICT is ‘often readily accessible’ but is not being used in an effective way from an educational point of view to enhance learning and increase attainment.
If you have BOB access, PLEASE watch this 1 minute 30 second clip from BBC4’s These Four Walls, broadcast 2 February 2014, the Joseph Rowntree documentary by Peter Gordon. These ‘stories of aspiration set against a background of poverty and austerity, with the aim of finding the real people behind familiar media stereotypes’ include digital exclusion.
It’s long been recognised digital divides are complex. Quality of access links to quality of use, but to suggest access is no longer issue goes against all the evidence from the community which shows the opposite. The invisibility of digital divides continues to trouble me. As does an apparent inability of researchers and educators to acknowledge this new category of social discrimination; an insidious exclusion because it renders people unseen and unheard.
If you’re a user of assistive technology the problem is magnified by the increasingly inaccessible design and delivery of internet content; from web builders who are inadequately taught and trained on the need for inclusive design, who are unaware of the diversity of ways in which people use computers, access the internet and need to customise their digital experience to suit their own requirements. The root of the problem is assumptions about computer use. I call this the MEE model. People using a mouse to navigate, eyes to see the screen and ears to listen to content. It’s all about MEE and very easy as Helen Milner says “…to be in a bubble and think that everyone is like us.”
Figures from the UK Online Centre suggest of the 7.1 million people who have never used the internet, 3.8 million are disabled. Someone with a disability is just over three times more likely never to have used the internet than someone with no disability.
In the Guardian Online April 22nd 2014, Robin Christopherson, head of digital inclusion at AbilityNet, said: “Even surfing the web is still fraught with difficulties since 85% of websites and 80% of digital devices do not have accessibility features built in.”
None of this is new. Back in 2009, the Consumer Expert Group report into the use of the Internet by disabled people reported urged the information to address these issues. Little has changed except the report is hidden in the national archives and unlikely to surface – except here.
Consumer Expert Group report into the use of the Internet by disabled people: barriers and solutions at http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http:/www.culture.gov.uk/images/publications/CEGreport-internet-and-disabled-access2009.pdf
Read it and weep.