Spot the difference between these two statements:
- International Day of Disabled Persons.
- International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
In 1982 the UN General Assembly decided on the World Programme of Action for Disabled People. In 2007 the official title of the Day was changed from International Day of Disabled Persons to International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Still contentious but at least it reflects the move from medical to social models of disability; a change from the association of the word disability with the deficit ‘can’t do’ (caused by the individual impairment) to the positive ‘can do’ (enabled through social change).
Language is important. We speak and attribute without thinking; we’re all subjects of Foucauldian discourse whereby ‘truths’ derive from external structures of control, legitimised and maintained through behaviours, beliefs and attitudes. Reference to disabled persons is incorrect. We are all persons. The reasons I may not use a computer mouse could be cerebral palsy, stroke, arthritis, broken bones or because I simply can’t see the cursor. To label me a disabled person because of limited physical or cognitive capacity is wrong. This is not being pedantic – its being aware of difference. Identity is on the surface; it’s what’s underneath that counts.
I’ve got mixed feelings about the SimplicITy computer with its six-button desktop aimed at ‘people aged over 60 who are unfamiliar with PCs and the internet’. Part of me thinks what a great idea – not everyone can afford a Mac and the Windows OS has become so (unnecessarily?) complex. But what would the response be if the target audience were those classified as disabled or from a named country, class or culture. In an environment where everyday language is subject to the stringent tests to determine its political correctness, then it must be technically ageist to provide a product that implies those over 60 need something ‘simple’.
Regarding current website design – while it is far from perfect and I am continually frustrated by its inaccessibility – the direction remains ‘one web for all’. While some webs may be developed with a specific group in mind – e.g. high contrast/low image for the visually impaired – then this doesn’t deny access to anyone else. I wonder if a commercial move towards the provision of customised interfaces designed for specific groups in mind is beneficial to web equity or not. Shouldn’t we be working towards one web for all and one set of web skills for all too?
I’ve been reflecting on the concept of Teaching in Public; the proposed theme of the second CERD book. Googling it only returned the C-SAP 2007 Conference Teaching in Public, the Future of HE . It looks like CERD have identified a gap in the market. So what does Teaching in Public mean? With so little out there then this is an opportunity to offer our own interpretations. Suggested strands are Education as a Public Good, The Student/Teacher Nexus and Teaching as a Public Activity; all retaining the student/teacher dichotomy.
My interest is the impact of the Internet and the development of OER. For example the Open University’s OpenLearn which includes a course on Creating OER and an OER wiki Other examples of what I would call Teaching in Public are MIT Open Courseware, TED Talks , Wiki Educator and Connextions. Add the P2P virtual university and there’s a lot out there. There are issues around assessment and accreditation but no doubt that the future of higher education is digital. Like it or not we live in a Web 2.0 world. Teaching in Public is a move from pedagogy to folksomony. Traditional educationalists should be feeling afraid. Those yet to engage with the technology should be feeling very afraid.
OER (via the Internet) does more than challenge the status quo of HEIs as the gatekeepers of knowledge. OER (and the Internet) open up communication and access to information; the keys to educational opportunities. The primary issues then become digital divides (ensuring equality of access) and digital controls (transmission via cables rather than humans). Is this where the future of HE lies? If the themes include ‘public good’ and ‘public activity’ then access issues are paramount. Digital data not only requires good bandwidth it’s notoriously inaccessible to anyone with sensory, motor and cognitive impairment. Along with the employability agenda, will the primary role of the HEI shift from the transmission of knowledge to the critical evaluation and correct acknowledgment of sources that are already freely available?
I’ve few political bones and even less economic ones so will leave those implications of OER on teaching in public to others more qualified, but will offer this; the move to a digital platform, as envisaged by Digital Britain is a mass imposition of change in practice, something notorious for creating resistance. If there should develop an underground movement of analogue protestors, what impact would that have on the future of higher education?
The recent publicity over the Amazon e-book reader Kindle is notable for the furore over DRM and the lack of publicity over its inaccessibility. Reams are being written about Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) the digital watermark which limits the use of downloaded files and gives the content provider control over what happens to the content. There’s two ways of looking at this. Firstly it protects copyright by preventing unlicensed copying and distribution (ensuring profits for publishers) and secondly publishers are stepping over the mark by imposing ‘rights’ as ‘restrictions’ that are more extensive then the existing copyright laws for non-digitised text. Unauthorized distribution of digital media has been almost impossible to control and the ebook industry is tackling this from the start; looking at the much pirated music and film industry for guidance.
I have no problem with this ongoing debate. What concerns me is the way in which profits are in the driving seat. The voice of those unable to read the e-book screen is scarely being heard but their access is being denied when ebooks could make a huge difference to quality of life. Blind people use computers – get used to it. Digital data has the potential to transform communication and offer access to information for everyone not just those with eyes to see. The BBC have published three short video clips about e-book readers in the past two weeks and not one mentions access issues.
The lack of media interest in this blatant continuation of discrimination is appalling.
I love the idea that Martha Lane Fox is advocating using digital story lines in soap operas to encourage the ‘missing 10 million’ non-engagers to get online. What a fabulous idea!
At last we can look forward to seeing characters with physical, cognitive and sensory impairment have equal access to the Internet for their shopping and banking and all the other advantages that MLF claims they are missing out on. Soap operas will do what they do best; raise awareness of pertinent, neglected issues and increase pressure on the government to do something about them.
MLF says It’s often the people facing the toughest times who have the most to gain from what the technology has to offer…and as the internet is rapidly becoming a tool for everyday life we should work together to makes sure everyone can benefit.” I couldn’t agree more. But I fear she is missing the point.
Can I suggest that the more the focus is on providing services online (government, health, education, employment, retail etc) and reinforcing the argument that if you are not part of this digital revolution you are losing out – then the more you are disenfranchising the one group who are already struggling with barriers to participation in most of the aspects of daily life we take for granted.
The Government have even set up a Race Online 2012 website. But lauding the technology as having the potential to help those ‘living in some of the hardest social and economic conditions’ is one thing. Reducing the prohibitive cost of anything other than eyes and mouse mainstream access and legislating effectively to ensure workable accessible digital environments is something else altogether. If the government is serious about getting everyone online for 2012 then they have some radical thinking to do.
The problem with the move from Prensky (digital immigrants/natives) to White (residents/visitors) is the continuation of the notion of choice; that all users have access and are capable of making choices about how they exercise it. Trinder’s comment on White’s blog suggests ‘avoiders’ and ‘outsiders’ and the concept of outsiders is my starting point. Any debate on technology must begin with acknowledgement of the first criteria; those who can access and those for whom access is denied. Excluded might be a better word than Outsider as Ousider still implies an element of choice. Exclusion is complex; it involves hardware, software, cost, training and each and every one of us who uploads digital data in a format that poses a barrier. WAI’s don’t seem to be the answer, neither do accessibility strategies. So long as access remains a bolt-on reaction rather than a foundational issue we will never realise the democratic potential that virtual environments have to offer.
If you Google ‘disability’ you won’t find the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) returned. The EHRC was set up two yeards ago to replace the three commissions against discrimination on the grounds of Race, Sex and Disability. Fears were expressed that subsuming independent groups with individual specialists into one overarching commission would not be in the best interests of the people they represented; that their strengths and identities would be diluted. I would have expected the meta data on the EHRC’s website to match a Google search on the word disability but it doesn’t bring it up. I would be the first to support a change in language and a move away from the word ‘disability’, substituting it with ‘difference’ instead. Looks like the EHRC are far ahead of me here. No, that’s odd. The word ‘difference’ doesn’t return the EHRC either.