I’ve got restricted vision again and ‘seeing’ the Internet differently. Tokenism, surface allegiance to accessibility legislation, is common. My pet hates include those little ‘A’s increasing in size but not to any useful extent; clicking them isn’t as easy as you might think; they are small, and where they only increase the text frame navigation and other peripheral content remains the same.
I can change my Browser settings to Largest and increase everything that’s scalable but this highlights the amount of content that isn’t. More frustration as text gets cut off or wraps on top of itself.
I need to re-set to Largest when I change sites and incidently, Largest isn’t Large enough. I know there’s the Ctrl and mouse wheel trick that zooms in and that’s how I’m operating but it takes two hands and a degree of manual dexterity, not to mention a mouse with a wheel and knowing about it in the first place! Without screen magnifying software, nothing affects the size of the menu bars and buttons. The brain tries to adjust but the combination of large and original text is difficult to interpret especially with menus such as Save and its drop down lists of options. The contrast is marked and the original text size appears even more tiny. Headaches and additional eye strain is never far away.
Onto my blog. With Browser set to Largest I find my posted text isn’t responding and I need the mouse trick. The main Dashboard then becomes a touch problematic as it appears very wide. I have to scroll or arrow backawards and forwards from left to right to see it all. The drop down menus have become separated horizontally from each other. I can’t seem to get into them with keyboard commands, making it quite a fun game to try and jump across the gap to hit the Dashboard for my blog.
Adding images is a bit of a nightmare; zoomed to a workable size the menu gets stuck and becomes unusable for example the image below shows how I can’t scroll down any further.
As you can see I made it but the whole process has taken much longer and is more complex and instead of enjoying working online it’s frustrating. I’ve achieved far less than I normally would have done in the hour and doing less causes additional problems. I’m currently looking at Dragon Naturally Speaking for times like this; I think it would be useful on lots of different levels so watch this space – if you can.
A blog link arrived via an rss feed, email, colleague (not quite sure of the correct order but thanks Julian) Are you digital natives paying attention draws attention to Digital Nation: Life on the Virtual Frontier; a production (in nine episodes) shown in the US as the BBC’s Virtual Revolution is being shown here. Programme website
I was interested in author Derek Morrison’s suggestion that “Both public service broadcasters (in US and UK) should normalise providing transcripts for resources like these” because “there is a lot of valuable commentary and potential citation in each production.” I’d like to add an additional reason. Those digitally excluded from the Virtual Revolution, through lack of inclusive design and affordable assistive technology, are those with the most to gain from alternative modes of access. I’ve watched two episodes of the BBC programme and have yet to see any mention of the ‘revolutionary’ ability of digital data to be customized to suit individual preference or need. No mention of it in the blog outline of the nine Digital Native episodes either. Talk about invisibility!
The first of four programmes in the BBC’s The Virtual Revolution was called the Great Leveller. It sounded promising but it wasn’t. The script was full of cliches such as empowering everyone and giving equal access to information while neatly sidestepping all the issues around barriers and inaccessible websites. It did get one thing right, when they said ‘the potential of the technology was to offer a paradigm shift on a par with the invention of the printing press’. It was a shame it didn’t go on to acknowledge those who have always been excluded from analogue text who will continue to be excluded from digital unless access technology gets cheaper and content produced inclusively.
The programme ended by suggesting that the original bottom-up democratic vision of the Internet was being undermined. Focusing on the domination of organisations such Google and Amazon, it claimed the web’s inherent inequality is a reflection the hierarchical nature and inequalities in the world. Well, at least that was one point you can’t argue with!
In 1994, the UK government made the decision to use technology to deliver ‘improved’ public services via the Internet. In 1995 and 2005 Disability Discrimination Acts were passed. In 2009 the Digital Britain report made explicit the needs of those who are digitally absent. The report highlights links between digital and social exclusion. These links are pertinent but there is a danger of creating a mutually exclusive binary where the real issue escapes attention. The Governments newly published ICT Strategy is evidence that this is happening.
Section 2 UK Public Sector ICT in the 21st Century states how “Technology can be used to provide access to citizens who might otherwise be excluded from services delivered using traditional methods.” So far, so good. What better use of technology than to enable those unable to see text to listen to it instead? But the document doesn’t even go there. Instead the two examples it gives are ‘using websites to inform teenagers/children about the dangers of drugs (FRANK – talktofrank.com), or providing online learning for young people excluded from mainstream education through NotSchool.net.” What about the needs of those already excluded from analogue text who continue to be excluded from digital equivalents. In 5.2 Strategic principles there is one mention of the word ‘accessibility’. The concept, so crucial to the Internet, doesn’t even qualify for a tag. From Gutenberg to Google, access continues to be denied.
As part of the Digital Britain campaign, Online Basics has been launched, designed to create confidence with using the Internet. Peter Mandelson says:
Everyone should be a confident user of the internet if they are to participate fully in today’s digital society. Being online brings a range of personal benefits, including financial savings, educational attainment, improved salary prospects and independent living for older people.
Déjà vou! In the 1990s I worked in adult and community education when much the same things were being said about computers. I set up computer courses for the ‘terrified’ (no longer allowed under pc rules) and for teaching literacy and numeracy. Our software was MS Works, Adobe Pagemaker and Paint and we had multimedia cd-roms. No Internet. You learned the basics about using a computer. Today, as a volunteer support worker, I’m frequently asked to visit a service user who is ‘really good with computers’ to find someone can send and receive emails through a learned sequence of steps; they have no holistic knowledge with which to troubleshoot and may have to wait days or even weeks for someone to sort out a problem.
How realistic is the expectation that you can learn to use the Internet effectively when you have never used a computer? Or is it merely like learning to use a library without really understanding the Dewey classification system (which I don’t). Maybe times are changing and I need to change with them.
But one thing remains the same; digital exclusion is still about access. It would take too much space to list all my criticisms of the site but I would suggest it was designed by an ME-user (Mouse and Eyes) and not tested with alternative users. Why isn’t this site a leading example of digital inclusion? Changing text size fails to alter the menu text, links are indicated with mouse-over and new windows open without warning. Aside from DDA requirements, the typos show a lack of proofreading and an exercise on searching has you keying in tesco.com with a further screen advertising Virgin Atlantic – mmm…neat piece of advertising.
Digital Britain is about digital inclusion and the reports make explicit the links between social and digital exclusions. But unless digital data is provided in formats that enable flexible delivery and content customisation, exclusion will continue across all social strata. We have the technology to enable access; what is needed now is to flip the coin and ensure that content is accessible too. Déjà vou again.
How many will spend Christmas attached to laptop or mobile phone? If Christmas is about tradition then it’s worth remembering the ghost of Christmas Past was an analogue one; family, friends and social activities like board games. Playing Trivial Pursuit without the Internet was not that far back in time. Today, the memory required for such pastimes is being challenged. Is Google Making us Stupid? and Is Google Killing General Knowledge? suggest real changes in the human brain. Should we be afraid? The ability to adapt to external change is at the core of evolution. As Nietzsche’s experience with a typewriter changed his writing style so instant digital access to communication and information is changing how we process thought. We’re no longer reading in depth. We skim and flit through pages, continually changing topics. The Stumbleupon Syndrome has us addicted to the unexpected. Google ensures we can always find what we are looking for. The Internet has taken the pressure off memorising facts as stand-alone pieces of information. Potentially the next decade should see us all with access to the tools of learning. Assessment will be less about recall and more about critical evaluation, application and reflection. Student Future carries a laptop in the way Student Past had a dictionary. In a similar vein, Christmas Future is digital. The 24/7 virtual world has us all connected. Our traditional analogue customs and habits are at stake unless we make a stand and turn off the connections. Return to family, friends and board games and stick the invitation to Google (and Facebook and Twitter etc) up the chimney. It might be harder than you think and that in itself is something we should really be afraid of.
What rights do you have when you own a book? Daniel Reetz has built his own book scanning device (Wired) and comments show how other people routinely make digital copies. Does ownership give you the right to do this? Is there a difference if you’ve borrowed a book from a library, or a friend or found it on the train Bookcrossing style It’s clear I need to get my head around the law on digital copyright; like using Refworks, or accessing the electronic journal database, it’s not one of my strongest points so any suggestions of where to start will be most welcome.
What I am clear about is that those who have control over access to information have power but it’s those who have the least power in society who seem to be most affected and have the quietest voice. As a result we hear less about the text discrimination they suffer on a daily basis and most about corporation fears regarding revenue losses. The Association of American Publishers (AAP) want the blind to pay for any additional means of access and the US Authors Guild argue that a speaking e-reader counts as an ‘unauthorized public performance’ so should be banned. Amazon are no better; offering authors the option of disabling Kindle’s read-aloud function and I’m totally unimpressed by them saying they will soon produce ‘a blind-accessible Kindle’ – why haven’t they done so already!
Google are going to pay $125 million to resolve claims by authors and publishers of Google-scanned books and will pay legal fees, as well as create a Book Rights Registry where copyright holders can register works to get a cut of Internet advertising revenue and online book sales. Why can’t Google simply pay what it takes to ensure virtual text can be listened to as well as seen? Why can’t Amazon put the needs of the visually impaired first instead of last? Why can’t there be some joined up thinking on access to digital data to end the current discrimination?
Yes, this is procrastination as the assignment is still largely undone, but it needs to be said and we all need to take responsibility for adding our voices to raise awareness of these issues.
The Digital Inclusion Commentary site uses the Write to Reply format. Part of the Teaching and Learning Research Programme (under the Technology Enhanced Learning strand) Digital Inclusion led by Dr. Jane Seale University of Southampton is looking at i) Definitions of digital inclusion ii) Why is digital inclusion important? iii) Where does digital inclusion happen?
Definitions of digital inclusion
As the affordances of technology are increasingly accepted as having major social significance, so attention is being paid to those who are excluded from participation but through a lens of inclusive (rather than exclusive) practice. The definitions of digital inclusion here recognise a complex array of factors at play but there is little focus on the role of the content creator. If digital resources are not ‘inclusively’ constructed then their creator, who is often several times removed from the user both through both location and time (in particular if resources are reused) may be uploading barriers to access, albeit inadvertently. All the pieces of the inclusion conundrum can be present but a poorly constructed resource, one that is not ‘personable’ i.e. open to customisation, can result in denied access. An example is when, setting aside the cost and availability of assistive software for visually impaired users, the appropriate screen reading software is in place and working, a poorly constructed web resource remains inaccessible.
Why is digital inclusion important?
This section links social exclusion with digital exclusion. Socially excluded groups identified as benefiting from technology include ‘older people and people with disabilities’. The phrase ‘people with disabilities’ bears no reference to the range of sensory, motor and cognitive impairments it covers. ‘People with disabilities’ can be found in every other social group identified here (the young, parents, adults, offenders and communities). They are also ‘digitally excluded’ in groups not identified as being socially excluded; arguably ‘people with disabilities’ are the most digitally excluded group of all. Not only does the category permeate every social strata, their digital exclusion contains multiple layers such as cost, availability, training and support of the appropriate hardware and software and the widespread inaccessibility of the majority of digital content. Any online forum concerned with technology and disability will testify this is one of the most excluded groups and, already living with multiple restrictions, one that may well have the most to gain from digital participation.
Where does digital inclusion happen?
Under ‘locating digital inclusion in digital spaces’ there is the first reference to exclusion through inaccessible digital content; in this instance a learning experience in higher education but should by no means be seen as an isolated incidence. The technical, economic, social and cultural tools of inclusion can be in place, but access to participation be denied through poor quality digital resources constructed with no attention to inclusive design. In these cases the location and source of digital inclusion is almost impossible to pin down and identify. The social model may locate digital exclusion in the built environment as opposed to within the individual but it also needs to be emphasised that the responsibility for ensuring accessible digital data is something that belongs to us all.
Blogging is a public arena without the audience; it’s standing on a stage speaking to empty seats. Like the saying about a thousand mile journey beginning with one step, blogging is a single raindrop. This week the Guardian promoted software that allegedly anonymises Internet use. It was a determined attempt to undermine a desire to be anonymous. Sometimes I like anonymity – not because I’m doing anything dubious but because anonymity can be a safety net, blank space to practice creativity. You can mess up and creep away to reflect without leaving your reputation in tatters. All creativity is a risk and sometimes it feels safer to disguise your identity, but to be anonymous, implies the Guardian article, you must be up to no good.
Like all art, blogging is a risk. It exposes thoughts and ideas but does separating words from thier owners diminish them? To be taken seriously, does the reader need to know who is speaking. Blogs do seem to be less about what is said but who is saying it. Identity and the message become like sex and gender; which comes first? On the other hand, choosing not to blog ensures we are digitally invisible. What will the future implications of this be?
Blogging challenges the ‘old’ order of ‘speaking in public’. Those of born astride the digital divide, with roots in the analogue past and futures in digital ones, will remember a time when having a public voice was a privilege. So inevitably blogging to an empty arena shouldn’t matter; it’s the ability to have a voice that counts. Chaos Theory and Lorenz’s Butterfly Effect could be significant here.
Good publicity for Google who are rolling out machine-generated captions on 13 of their channels including YouTube. Key phrases such as ‘The software engineer behind the technology, Ken Harrenstien, is deaf’ and ‘Vint Cerf, vice president at Google, is ….hard of hearing’ emphasise how there’s no one better to create an accessible internet than those who encounter the most barriers. Example Victor Tsaran, Yahoo accessibility engineer, seen on this video explaining how he screen reads his computer Still no captions though.
On the subject of accessibility I’ve been reminded this week of two code checkers which offer comprehensive overhauls of your html. The FAE web accessibility checker and HERA . Also this week I’ve been helped out again by the British Computer Association for the Blind. Incidently, if you haven’t come across the BCAB Guide Cats for the Blind cd series based on the musings of Les Barker, and if traditional humour is your thing, then give them a try.
I posted earlier this week about the ‘blindingly good’ WordPress site created by a VI blogger; an example of the opportunities the Internet provides for communication and access to information especially when your life gets limited by lack of sight. Digital data can, in the words of the BBC charter, inform, educate and entertain and has the potential do so much more. Equity of access should be a prime motivator to ensure no one gets left behind. If the big-name-players with online presence like Google can start making alternative versions appear as second nature that’s a giant step forward. Amazon, Tesco, M&S and the rest take note.