Being poorly connected to the internet is so frustrating. I have my usual collection of mobile technologies in a place with no wifi and a weak phone signal. A dongle and a wifi hub are offering intermittent connections but the laptop doesn’t like the wifi and the dongle offers one bar out of a potential five. The mouseover message informs me connection is poor. As if I need reminding. Sitting in the furthest corner of the smallest bedroom, next to the window, I can access email. If I’m patient I can get onto the university blogs. That should say very patient. Downloading sites reminds me of the days when you could click a document link, make a cup of tea, and it would still only be two thirds of the way through. Images reveal at the rate of one pixel line at a time. But I’m lucky. These frustrations are temporary; inconvenient but not permanent. To be honest, this needs to be a compulsory staff development activity for everyone who works with educational technology and takes fast connections for granted. One a year for at least a week they should be forced into digital wastelands and made to try and do their work in places like these. The more we become dependent on reliable internet access, the risk of exclusion being invisible increases. Ultimately the only way to remind ourselves of the tragedy of digital exclusion is to experience it.
It began in a small Yorkshire town with a 30 inch monitor and large screen magnification. The intention was to register with the Tesco Online Shopping site The expectation was half an hour maximum to work alongside Marian who has limited vision and is new to using the Internet.
Step 1 the registration process: enter the email address, postcode and clubcard number. We’re using the clubcard number on a Tesco.com card and will be coming back to this later. At this point I would like to say to Tesco that the link entitled ‘Need Help Registering’ sounds like it is offering ‘real’ help not just a couple of lines of text explaining email means enter your email address.
Step 2: lots of drop down menus with red asterisks marking compulsory fields. The explanation is in tiny letters at the bottom of the page. Easy to miss especially if you are new to online forms. Name ok. Address not ok. The screen should look like this.
But with high magnification it looks like this
Unable to read the text, or access the drop down function at the end of the form field, this is the point where the mission to register fails – or would do without someone to provide support – which sort of misses the point of accessible online environments enabling personal independence.
There are elements of this page which I like. The text resizes well. The forms fields change colour when active. This is useful and more sites should offer it. I liked how we were sent back to the spot where content had been incorrectly entered and the form fields were clearly highlighted in red with red text instructions. However, the choice of red is unfortunate. I genuinely felt I was being told off for getting it wrong.
Finally we had to agree to the terms and conditions. This posed another problem. The only visible button said No.
You might not think this is a problem but it is. Firstly, how can you tell there is a Yes button hidden on the right. You can’t know what you don’t know. Plus the scroll bars are tiny and merge into the task bar with insufficient colour contrast. Both buttons closer together would be a small step which makes a big difference to the usability of this page.
Having located the button we get a message saying Sorry we are unable to process your registration. We are having a problem with the site and are hoping to fix it soon. Or words to that effect. Unfortunately, there is no way of saving the information so at some point it is all going to have to be keyed in again. It was a disappointing to say the least.
Next: Tesco Online Shopping ‘The Saga’ Part 2.
Great day for digital inclusion – or it would be if only the media would report on it. Neil Lewis Chief Executive of AbilityNet has highlighted the need for addressing inclusion because of the government’s ‘digital by default’ campaign. I’ve searched on the BBC, Guardian, Telegraph and even the Daily Mail websites but the news doesn’t seem to got there yet. (incidently the Daily Mail returns no instances of AbilityNet which suggests it has never referred to the issue of digital exclusion – shame on you!)
This lack of media awareness is critical. The government’s intention for access to information and delivery of services to be ‘digital by default’ is simply not getting enough publicity; in particular with regard to those 8-9 million citizens the government has identified as digitally excluded.
How is the population being told of the move towards an online welfare state?
How will they find out about the plans to merge all benefits into a single Universal Credit to be applied for, awarded and managed online – unless the media pick it up and run with it?
The government is building a new computer system for this in spite of the failure of the NHS IT project the damming evidence in the System Error report which suggests ‘digital by default’ has all the potential for creating a new digital divide, one which will affect some of the most marginalised sections of society.
If you are digitally excluded you are invisible by default. As the platforms for discussion and debate become increasingly digital so those without access are being denied participation. Last week I spoke to a local group of webdevelopers, and yesterday to a group of Year 1 Social Work students, about the social impact of a digital society. We have to keep chipping away at the mountain of invisibility in order to surface these issues. Social media is one of the best places to begin. Blogging, Tweeting, Facebooking – we need to get the message out there so those who have the power to make a difference can start to do so.