captcha by golly wow – another boob by the beeb

Captchas have always been exclusive; firstly it took time to convince  designers an alternative to the visual code was necessary and secondly when audio options were finally provided they were next to useless. If you haven’t tried an audio captcha then you should. They are typical of the tokenistic attitudes which underlie the majority of web design and development. I don’t know what’s worse – content provided in a single fixed format or an alternative version which doesn’t work.

The BBC has come up with the worst alternative yet. Try emailing an article (I tried with an article about pulling the plug on the NHS e-records system after 9 years of failures – I thought the synchronicity was apt!)  To complete the email link process you need to use a captcha. When you select the listen option a QuickTime file opens and initially it sounds good; for once you can actually make out what is being said – but once you’ve listened you realise file has taken over the window with no way of return to the original page where the captcha was in the first place. Nice one BBC. Did you not think to try it out on anyone first?

Suicide Machine

Blogs must be like buses – wait for ages then two come at once. A BBC report publicises the Suicide Machine – a service to help people disconnect from social networks. Founder Gordan Savicic says he’s had 90,000 requests and rising from individuals keen to opt out of the Internet and experience the real world instead. It had to happen. Our digital lifestyles have taken on a life of their own. Self-deletion is no longer an option. Who you gonna call? DataBusters! I’m not entirely comfortable with the suicide analogy, and a visit to the website doesn’t make it seem anymore appropriate. But maybe even the human experience of bereavement is reduced through digitisation. Like Kindle takes away the human element of book reading while still offering the same end result.  The report includes a link to Daniel Sieberg’s Declaration of Disconnection in the Huffington Post  where he refers to himself as a recovering social network addict. Suicide AND Addiction?  Scratching on the surface of the reality of the dark side of the Internet. When did you last experience digital disconnection and how was it for you?

labels r not us

I hate labels and the label I hate the most is ‘disabled people’.  I hate it because people with impairments are disabled by society’s failure to recognise categories of difference and reduce subsequent barriers to participation.  This is the social model of disability. It’s society that disables individuals; you don’t disable yourself.

Today the BBC and the Guardian have reported on a poll commissioned by Scope from ComRes, where 91% of people stated they believed disabled people should have the same opportunities as everyone else (it doesn’t say what the other 9% thought). It then goes on to tell us how ‘disabled people are largely hidden’ away and socially excluded.  Richard Hawkes, Chief Executive of Scope, said: “This is shocking evidence that shows that disabled people are still relatively invisible in day-to-day life. We are deeply concerned that the Government’s spending cuts will end up pushing disabled people even closer to the fringes of society.”

Note the label’ disabled people’ throughout. When problem with labels is they’re seen first and accompanied with all the stereotypical images and cultural attributions associated with them.  If these are predominantly negative then the reader or listener experiences them first.  Labels reinforce and reiterate. When you see the label disabled people, add socially in front of every occurrence of disabled and see how the radically the meaning changes.

Twice in one day

Examples of the invisibility of digital exclusion issues is, paradoxically, all around us.  Today I’ve read the Independent Review of ICT User Skills by Baroness Estelle Morris (June 2009) which under the chapter ‘Who are the Digitally Excluded?’ says: An analysis of this data suggests the digitally excluded tend to be:

  • older 
  • socially excluded – often through unemployment, living in social  housing, having low incomes or being single parents. 7.2m (15% of the UK adult population) are both digitally excluded and socially excluded. 
  •  with few or no qualifications

No recognition of digital exclusion through impairment and the inadequate availability of the appropriate assistive technology.

Also today I’ve seen the BBC’s online article on training blind people to take photographs. Apart from my linguistic objection to labelling people through a sensory impairment, as though that was their sole defining feature, the BBC tells the story using video. Listening to it doesn’t give adequate descriptive information about the content of the images, or what is happening on the screen, and the captions (for people with hearing impairment) only tell you the name of the photographer. Needless to say, if you are using the low graphics version of the website there is no alternative text.

The exhibition Sights Unseen runs from 19 – 23 January at The Association of Photographers Gallery, 81 Leonard Street, London EC2A 4QS.

Public journalism is best

You can learn more from the comments than news items themselves. Journalism should be impartial; a balanced account of the issues without emotive vocabulary.  The BBC have posted the headline ‘Should homosexuals face execution?’

The beeb say they wanted to “reflect the stark reality” of a Ugandan bill being debated in their parliament which would see some homosexual offences punishable by death. Comments left the reader in no doubt that homophobia is alive and well and living in the UK. The decision to print this headline was considered permissible. Substitute homosexual for a medical condition, an ethnic minority or a religion, and it would not be. The same applies for the comments. If the context was another section of society supposedly protected by equality and diversity legislation, they would have been moderated out..  

Bias and prejudice are expected in some areas of the media but you would hope for impartiality with the BBC and the Guardian (where I picked this up). Thankfully most comments were rational and reflected a more tolerant society. The contrast between the news report and reader’s opinions offers the best combination of left and right thinking creating a perfect journalistic balance.

The BBC have (as I write!) changed the headline to Should Uganda debate gay execution? The original screenshot can still be seen on the Guardian link. A response to the power of public journalism?

BBC gets it wrong again

The BBC are making a documentary on the way the web is changing the world and inviting the public to contribute ideas. The opportunity to have your say is not obvious from either the BBC Home Page or the BBC Technology Page or BBC or BBC Click; if it wasn’t in my browser history I might have thought I’d imagined it so if you’ve missed this opportunity to join in the debate then the urls are here.  BBC Digital Revolution (working title) Website and
BBC Digital Revolution Blog

Good luck. Let me know how you get on.  I’ve been trying for five days to complete my registration. I want to raise issues of access as there is no mention anywhere of how technology can disable as well as enable; about awareness of barriers to digital data or how those with the most to gain from virtual communication are being excluded; not only by the cost and availability of assistive technology but by the lack of inclusive and accessible design of web content.

Registration on this blog is clearly not an automated process; I’ve clicked the link and sent emails and still am not able to contribute. There are two issues here; firstly this public forum is not that public and secondly it looks as though contributors are being vetted – surely not!   The BBC are asking the public for ideas but don’t seem too interested in making that to happen.

vote for the VLE

Last weeks THES ran an article on the demise of virtual worlds in HE. I have mixed feelings about this. Earlier in the year I attended a conference in Second Life ( and and concluded it had the potential to provide a powerful learning experience but this had to be offset by problems with access. While many UK universities have an SL campus it was rare to visit and meet anyone. Similarly with recreations of cities or simulations designed to raise awareness of issues such as schizophrenia; dressing up in a toga in ancient Rome may be great fun initially but the experience is fundamentally unsustainable. I don’t know what the current usage is but in a similar BBC article a few weeks earlier, Technology, Twitter and the downturn, says SL traffic has declined by 67%.

The THES article quotes Dr Lowendahl as saying lecture capture and retrieval is taking over from podcasting and elearning repositories. Podcasting always was problematic in terms of access as transcripts were rarely made available, as were elearning repositories with no quality assurance and/or attention to inclusive practice. While the traditional lecture transitions poorly to an online environment the idea of capturing and indexing may be a step forward but I wonder who will take on those roles not to mention quality assure and make accessible 50 minutes of videowith associated captions/subtitles/textual alternatives?  Moving on, Dr Lowendahl also says that e-books are currently top ‘of the peak of inflated expectations’ in 2009. Concerns about ebooks and readers are well documented here on this blog.

So I wonder what predictions can be made for technology enhanced learning in 2010? Well, here’s one.  How about using more effectively the tools we already have? The good old VLE, now embedded within systems and support, provides a virtual platform for the delivery of a range of innovative digital content for teaching and learning. It may be solid and a little clunky. It may not be very exciting to play with. But it’s reliable and it does what it says on the tin. What more is needed?