For the inventors of the World Wide Web, internet accessibility was a priority.
“Worldwide, there are more than 750 million people with disabilities. As we move towards a highly connected world it is critical that the web be usable by anyone regardless of individual capabilities and disabilities. The W3C is committed to removing accessibility barriers for all people with disabilities – including the deaf, blind, physically challenged, and cognitive or visually impaired. We plan to work aggressively with government, industry, and community leaders to establish and attain Web accessibility goals.” Berners Lee, T (1997)World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Launches Web Accessibility Initiative. WAI press release 7 April 1997. www.w3.org/Press/WAI-Launch.html
“The users in our project are the Web users with a disability, like visually or hearing impaired people. The needs for these users are to access the information online on the Internet just as everyone else. The impact of this project on the users with disabilities is to give them the same access to information as users without a disability. In addition, if we succeed making web accessibility the norm rather than the exception, this will benefit not only the disability community but the entire population.” (Dardailler, D 1997 Telematics Applications Programme TIDE Proposal. Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) http://www.w3.org
All of this early ambition seems to have since got lost
Blog posts on digital inclusion
Loving the WAI of W3C
Don’t talk to me about transcripts. I’m a habitual being. https://suewatling.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/2014/12/06/dont-talk-to-me-about-transcripts-im-a-habitual-being/
ASS up your videos
Digging the digital dirt, for the times they are a’changing… https://suewatling.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/2014/10/04/digging-digital-dirt-the-times-they-are-a-changing/
HEFCE we have a problem. Concept threshold but not troublesome enough enough. https://suewatling.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/2014/09/19/hefce-we-have-a-problem-concept-threshold-but-not-troublesome-knowledge/
The Disparity between research into internet use and the reality of digital exclusion. https://suewatling.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/2014/08/08/disparity-between-research-into-internet-use-and-digital-exclusion/
Changes to the DSA. Oh Mr Willetts, what have you done? https://suewatling.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/2014/06/13/dsa-changes-oh-mr-willetts-what-have-you-done/
Read it and weep. Pass it on. Digital exclusion is real – it’s just invisible. https://suewatling.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/2014/05/15/read-and-weep-pass-it-on-digital-exclusion-is-real-but-invisible/
Who needs a living person when a keyboard will do
Yet another government digital inclusion strategy; yawn!
Disturbing directions, failure to recognise disability diversity https://suewatling.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/2013/10/11/disturbing-directions-failure-to-recognise-disability-diversity/
The e-word as in e-learning; what does it stand for?
Digital education; more brown ground than blue sky approaches
I’ve now provided ‘guest lecture’ spots for the Health and Social Care, Social Work and Journalism programmes. It is also nearing the end of the pilot of the short online course Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age where inclusion is a regular topic. The greatest influence is via education. Working in the community was rewarding but only ever at an individual level and change requires greater impact. Focusing on staff and students offers opportunities for spreading messages about digital divides. I feel a bit evangelistic sometimes but unless we talk about barriers to access there is the risk they will be replicated and reinforced. 2013 has been all about using my position to spread the word and try to make a difference.
The decision to resign from the HERIB Board of Management and Trustees was not easy but essential in order to free time for research and work life balance. More about my PhD can be found under the Research Tab. As well as my doctorate, my crazy idea of a work life balance was to take on a part-time degree in Creative Writing at Hull University. Although it’s not so crazy after all because the first year was a great success and in terms of creating ‘me’ time, there aren’t many other things – apart from my allotment and walking on the beach – which I would rather be doing than playing with words and experimenting with different genres. I’ve set up a separate blog where I post about poetry at alphabetdances.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk In the meantime I continue to take every opportunity to talk about digital inclusion issues to staff and students and to keep this blog going with relevant information.
The HERIB website is now live at http://www.herib.co.uk This is an example of what an accessible website can look like – in other words – no different to any other site! We are making good use of social media to promote HERIB. From the site home page you can go to HERIB’s Twitter feed at http://twitter.com/#!/herib1 HERIB Facebook site at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Herib/159984187395986 and the HERIB Blog at http://heribblog.wordpress.com
It’s been an interesting experience asking for proposals to redesign the HERIB website. Surveying the website of local companies emphasised the move to CMS and the lack of attention to accessibility; a surprising number of sites no longer even carry an Accessibility link. The statutory and professional requirement to follow accessibility guidelines seems to have fallen by the wayside. Instead there were a number of proposals which saw accessibility – in this case asking for attention to assistive technology as used by people with sight loss – as something not only additional but worth charging extra for. The best response was ‘This isn’t something we usually do.’ Needless to say we’ve gone for someone who was not only comfortable with WAI and WAG 1.0 and 2.0 but also saw the testing phase with service users as something to be welcomed rather than avoided.
I still work for HERIB as a volunteer and am now also a Trustee and a Member of the Board. I accepted the invitation to join in a formal capacity because I felt it might offer the opportunity to strengthen HERIB’s digital presence while promoting the organisation as a leader in digital inclusion and exclusion issues for people with vision impairment.
There was an interesting debate in a recent meeting about the linguistics of referring to blindness. The HERIB manager favours the term ‘sight loss’ saying that the term ‘impairment’ is negative. Society has moved on from the use of the word impairment and favoured disability. The problem with the term disability – if it is a problem – and I think it might be – is that it’s all embracing whereas I don’t believe individuals should be grouped together in a homogenous clump – with all the associated preconceptions which inevitably lead to stereotyping and incorrect attributions .
I used the term ‘vision impairment’ because I felt it emphasised the whole person as an individual but with some impaired vision. Sight loss seems a little harsh because it doesn’t give an indication of the degree of loss. There’s a myth about being registered blind which means often people believe it means you can’t see whereas the majority of people registered blind have some usable vision. It could be argued that this is pedantic and playing linguistic games but it’s important not to exacerbate social perceptions – in particular when they are incorrect. I think I still perfer vision impairment to sight loss but I now accept that it’s a subjective interpretation which might not actually have the effect I’m looking for. I think the jury’s still out on this one.
I started as a volunteer with Hull and East Riding Institute for the Blind (HERIB) in early 2009. See HERIB volunteer newsletter for background information. My role is to support visually impaired users with screen reading software. Through this I feel priviledged to gain an insight into blind culture and society and have my awareness raised of the position of vulnerable people in our society.
The label ‘disabled’ is applied to bodies considered by the medical profession to be deficient in some way. This is known as the medical model of disability whereby efforts are made to fit the disabled body into existing social structures or shut it away behind closed doors.
The social model of disability has been put forward by those who know the most about it all; those previously classed as handicapped or crippled. The social model highlights the right of every individual to be equally accepted. Barriers to acceptance and participation are put in place by society itself and social discrimination on the grounds of physical impairment should be as socially unacceptable as racism, and political and religious intolerance.
In 2005 the Strategy Unit published the Life Chances of Disabled People report; policy recommendations to improve the quality of life of disabled people. Comments on the report included concerns that ‘many of the departments and agencies which will be taking forward the recommendations continue to rely on the medical model’ (p3).
If surveyed or interviewed I think most people would inadvertently – or unknowingly – demonstrate a close affiliation to the medical model. Care in the Community is a sad joke.
Society ‘disables’ individuals by not validating the lived experience of ‘difference’ The continuum of human existence covers life in all its diversity but social recognition is limited to life that fits in a culturally determined bandwidth. Conformity is a restricted commodity; one which breeds unrealistic expectations and false conceptions of what it is have value.
We have a long way to go before we are in a position where difference can also be interpreted as diversity.
Text from this Blog’s Digital Exclusion Page
This digital divide is a multi-layered chasm. The overall goal is to create Web content that is perceivable, operable and understandable by the broadest possible range of users and compatible with a wide range of assistive technologies, now and in the future. (Caldwell et al. 2004)
Burgstahler refers to a second digital divide: This line separates people who can make full use of the technological tools available through their computer systems and the Internet, from those who cannot. This second digital divide is a result of the inaccessible design of many electronic resources. (Burgstahler 2002a: 420)
Seale refers to a double edged sword: If the staff in higher education do not design, develop and support accessible e-learning materials, then the gap between disabled and non-disabled students will widen and technology will outstrip its usefulness as a tool that can facilitate access to learning, curricula, independence and empowerment. (Seale, 2006: 27)
The social model of disability looks at removing barriers to participation and supports a philosophy of inclusion not exclusion. It is the responsibility of everyone to be proactive and anticipate alternative or equivalent resources. Otherwise the same technology that is used to widen participation will in itself become a restriction.
I wonder if associating the issue with disability has in itself become a barrier. Do people see this as something that doesn’t concern them because they don’t know anyone with disabilities or work with anyone with disabilities or have any students with disabilities in their class (or so they think)? Do people without personal experience of the disabled body always assume it’s the job of someone else to make digital data accessible, to ensure that their electronic documents somehow change into well constructed and inclusively designed pages once they appear online?
It’s nearly a decade since SENDA. Has anything changed? There’s a plethora of web information but it’s more than a case of following web standards and guidelines, it’s a need to raise awareness and alter individual practice, of giving priority to the need to reduce barriers to access for digital data instead of thinking ‘out of sight out of mind’ and carrying on just the same as before. A radical re-think is required. A disconnection of accessibility with disability and instead a focus on difference. We all access computers in different ways. Inclusive practice is about moving away from the ME-Model where creators of online content use their Mouse and their Eyes and assume all end-users do the same. Instead of accessing content using a mouse and vision check it can be accessed with a keyboard and through listening. If it can then that may make a real difference to a large number of people, many of who wouldn’t fall into any ‘disabled’ category but who just prefer a different way of operating.
Burgstahler, S. (2002) Distance learning: the library’s role in ensuring access to everyone. Library Hi Tech: 20, 4, 420-432
Caldwell, B., Chisholm, W., Vanderheiden, G. and White, J. (2004) web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0: W3C Working Draft, 19 November 2004. :http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/
Seale, J. (2006) E-Learning and Disability in Higher Education: Accessibility Research and Practice, Abingdon, Routlege