Were you aware of that?
The Digital Britain Report was published on 16 June; the 245 pages necessitating some form of summary version. The BBC ran an At a Glance page and Comments from Experts, none of which addressed this missed opportunity to ensure those to whom affordable, efficient Broadband connection could have the greatest impact in terms of quality of life were given priority.
The RNIB response was a lone, but essential, voice.
“We are concerned however that neither people with sight problems nor disabled people in general are specifically mentioned at any point in the interim “Delivering Digital Britain” report.”
I’ve extracted some quotes that have particular resonance for the work I do supporting people with visual impairment to use computers and access the Internet.
In response to Action 17: Unless a service is affordable, it cannot be deemed accessible. Affordability is a particular concern for blind and partially sighted people, many of whom are among the poorest of the UK’s citizens.
In response to Action 19: This means that the issue of equipment accessibility has to be tackled. Too often inaccessible equipment, that assumes that the user can read on-screen information without providing a voiced alternative is the main barrier to uptake of services by blind and partially sighted people.
In response to Action 21: Many disabled people rely even more on public services than their non-disabled peers, for a variety of reasons. A blind person might well have greater difficulty in visiting their council, for instance, and would therefore benefit greatly from being able to access the council’s website. However, a recent EU wide survey found that only some 5% of public websites are accessible. RNIB therefore urges the government to take urgent action to improve the accessibility of public websites.
The need to address the accessibility of cost, equipment and content is a triple whammy that yet again fails to support the needs of some of the most vulnerable members of society. I struggle to understand how those with sight can so totally ignore the reality of those without this most fundamental of human rights.
I’m a minimalist type of person. I don’t like clutter and I like my online life to be similarly organised. Multiple login details are frustrating especially when they don’t work. For example when trying to access a hotmail account (to find login details which I’ve forgotten) I get the following message: ‘The e-mail address or password is incorrect. Need help? ‘I do so I click and am asked for my email address; it’s the password I’ve forgotten so I key in the address, I decipher the Captcha and I get the following two options: ‘Send yourself a password reset e-mail message.’ No good, I can’t get into my account because I’ve forgotten my password. ‘Provide account information and answer your secret question.’ But I don’t recognise the secret question never mind what answer I may have given – so I give up.
It’s a similar story with gmail. Google docs tells me ‘The username or password you entered is incorrect’ and offers me a ‘I cannot access my account’ link. I select this and Google apologises for any inconvenience I’m experiencing and gives me a range of possible reasons. I select ‘Forgot my password’ and am invited to visit their password recovery page. Here I’m not asked for my email address – which is a pity because I know that – instead they want my user name – I’m not sure what that is but I take a guess, decipher another Captcha, and am told initiating the password reset process involved following the instructions sent to my ringassociates.co.uk email address. As far as I know I haven’t come across ringassociates before so I give up.
With MySpace – I get off to a better start: ‘Forgot Your Password? No Worries… Just enter the email account you signed-up with, and we’ll mail you your password’. So I try an email address, and then another, both of which are valid, but all I get is ‘No such email address was found.’
And that’s the end – no more offers of help.
I’m tempted to try Facebook but feel that’s enough rejection for one day.
I’m sure someone somewhere has collected all these attempts to automate the help process and I’m not sure if this blog is a sad reflection on my virtual organisation skills or an example of another battle in the war of the digital divide. Either way I’m logging off and going out for a walk instead.
I’m alerted by a colleague to a blogpost – it’s blog etiquette to link so thanks to Joss for the EdTech link– and for reminding me that I’m currently feeling guilty for blog neglect – its been two weeks! In that time I’ve been involved in several blog-worthy events including the Disability Research Conference through ALT at Leeds Met which prompted an interesting debate via the JISC Dis-forum on the use of simulations in staff training for inclusive practice. Thanks to everyone for contributions; they’ll be compiled and made available online – but not today – its Bank Holiday Monday and I’m going out for a walk – in the real world.
Before I do – because I can – I want to pin down two issues from the blog link. Firstly I agree with EdTechie that blogging is about identity although the advantages and disadvantages of online identity controls would make a blog in themselves. Blogs are valuable ways of ‘getting out there’ but saying this virtual mirror should be a multimedia one because ‘Creating a multi-media posting is now so simple’ increases the pressure to make an online presence not only as ubiquitous as an email address but more ‘exciting’ too. It’s a sad day when text is no longer considered to be enough.
My second issue is the multiplicity of resistance; I don’t agree that ‘developing and online identity is a crucial part of being an academic (or maybe just being a citizen)’. Comments like these assume both confidence and competence with the technology and easy access – which in itself could be divisive.
Can we do it? No, not everyone can (or even wants too)!
The abbreviated Ed stands for education – maybe we should rename it Pedagogical Technology instead – and remind ourselves that teaching and leaning is not only about many analogue qualities but is also embedded in the policies and practices of equality, diversity and widening participation and – of course – an ever increasing staff workload.
Now, in the interests of work/life balance – where are my walking boots…………I’m late!
Digital debate has a short life span. Thank you again to everyone who contributed and caused a ‘spike’ on my rating levels! Clearly the reasons for engaging (or not) are as varied as the individuals who participate (or not); as would be expected with analysis of any human activity. I was interested to see in the responses the concept of ‘justification’ of what we do and the perceived value of having an additional ‘voice’ whether it for clarification of our own thinking or to share practice in a community-of-practice type way. Wenger identifies activities indicative of a CoP including discussing development, asking for help, documenting projects, seeking experience, mapping knowledge and identifying gaps – all of which are common features of the blogosphere.
So the conclusion that blogs are primarily about learning; either through individual reflection or collaboratively through shared activity situated within lived experience comes as no surprise. We all have a range of tools for expression and use what we feel most comfortable with. Those that have made the shift from analogue to digital sometimes take it for granted that everyone has virtual connections and if not then why not? Maybe an alternative way to scratch below the surface of blogging and identify its strengths and weaknesses would be to take a blogger’s laptop or mobile away for a month and ask them to use pen and paper to record their thoughts instead – any volunteers?
Thanks to those who have made contact re the previous blog http://learninglab.lincoln.ac.uk/blogs/sue/2009/04/16/blogging-whats-it-all-about-again/
Still I ponder on the process of blogging and the divide between the avid and the reluctant blogger. I wonder if there are clues. Are bloggers natural reflectors? Do they see blogging as a pleasure or a chore? Does it appeal more to the technical extrovert or the digitally competent introvert? Do bloggers blog strategically? I’m still curious about how people manage their blogging lives? Do they catch up on their blogroll rss feeds over lunch? Is it considered a work or an après-work activity? Or is blogging simply another indicator of a digital divide; one that isn’t about access to computers but the way in which they are used. Are bloggers also Twitters and Yammers with a Facebook profile?
Am I typical or not? The written word appeals to me; texting, email, even assignments and papers; I complain about deadlines but favour the written over the verbal every time. Words suit me; either once removed so I can cut, paste, smooth and polish – or as in stream of consciousness verbiage on demand. Words always have been my preferred method of communication.
I’m also a fan of the Internet; the idea of a network of like minded souls looking for digital connections has always appealed. Me and my laptop are best friends. I miss it when I’m not connected. If this is an addiction then it could be worse – as they say ‘if it harms none do as you will….’
It’s not that I have nothing to say – its almost the opposite – there’s too much – the top layer of my consciousness at this moment includes three paper deadlines (so why am I blogging?!) the practice based research unit on my OU course, if I can use optical illusions to demonstrate critical thinking, identifying other LD tools for prospective students and who or what has eaten the asparagus tops on my allotment. The only reason I’m sat here with my laptop on a Saturday morning is recurring iritis and several looming deadlines; shortly I’m going to plant a jostaberry and cover the asparagus bed with netting!
So it’s not lack of computer confidence or content. I’m an early adopter rather than later or laggard but I’m not consistent; I still find it difficult to get into a blog routine and I’m curious about how others manage. Back to the Cadbury crème again – how do you do yours?
Supporting visually impaired people using the internet highlights how little attention is paid to ensuring websites are accessible. It’s frustration overload; as if finding your way around the keyboard isn’t difficult enough you are then reliant on ‘listening’ to a disembodied electronic voice reading out the html sitting behind the website. It can’t make assumptions or use previous knowledge; it can only read what the designer has put there.
Online information is still designed primarily to be a visual experience. There are standards and guidelines galore but wouldn’t it be easier to ask a visually impaired person what works and what doesn’t work?
A leading supermarket has done some work on making its online shopping site accessible to the visually impaired. BUT there are still problems. It’s 2009. What happened to compliance with disability legislation that started over a decade ago? Why is it that the most vulnerable members of our society – to whom internet access can offer opportunities to re-engage through digital data – are still being discriminated against?
It’s not a technical issue; it’s a human one – it’s a social, cultural and political one. The Internet could be fully accessible and it isn’t; and that reflects badly on everyone of us working with virtual environments.
In a 10 minute slot in a Raising Disability Awareness workshop I identified some key issues relating to barriers to online access.
Key issue 1: digital data can enable and disable. Online environments have the potential to be electronic equalisers; a digitally level playing field. With the appropriate assistive technology anyone could – and should – be able to access online information and participate in online communities.
Key issue 2: barriers to particpation are numerous leaving people struggling for digital equality. The biggest barrier is the ME Model. People design using their eyes, ears and mouse. They assume their users have eyes, ears and mouse. It goes downhill from there. We all do it. We look for the quickest way to get the job done. But scanning a text article as a pdf is really not a good idea – niether is providing multimedia files in a single format – or forgetting to structure Word documents using built in headings and styles.
Key issue 3: no matter how much we talk about the benefits of inclusive design; where changes for some are benefits for all, we are no closer to creating accessible and usable online learning areas. Together, we could make a difference but individually it’s a struggle. Changes in practice don’t come easily and old habits die hard. I don’t have the answer; I don’t think anyone does but I shall keep on trying to find one.
Technology enhanced learning: a new digital divide is Chapter 7 in the Future of Higher Education: Policy, Pedagogy and the Student Experience; just published by Continuum – see future_of_higher_education_flyer
It’s been over a year since I wrote this chapter; and what a long time a year is in terms of educational technology. If I was writing today, how different some of it would be – and yet other aspects haven’t changed. The technology may move on but the concept of the digital divide remains with us – if anything the more the technology develops and becomes integrated into mainstream higher education, the greater the divide between those who are digitally confident and competent and those trying to attach a file or feeling perplexed at the mystery of zipping and unzipping folders.
In the next book, Teaching in Public, I was calling my chapter Doing the Duty; accessible learning – even though the word accessible is being superceded by inclusive – that’s another blog – even another chapter. I may challenge the unpopularity of the ‘A’ Word and simply title it Barriers to Access – because no matter what language you use – educational technology is both enabler and disabler. In the enthusiasm for what it can do, it’s all too easy to dimiss the inherent problems it bestows.
The message I took from Rethinking the Digital Divide is that the divide is increasing rather than getting smaller. It’s no longer just about access to the technology, its about what you do with it when it’s in your hands. Research may show that the majority of learners own mobile phones – but that their owners are confident with using them is still largely an assumption. Also some of the sessions I attended showed that access to education remains problematic for many, including people with disabilities, those in prison, in the workplace, in communities. In prison the technology disables rather than enables; the OU now delivers content via the internet. The majority of prisoners do not have the internet; education is the bedrock of rehabilitation and they are denied access.
The debate over accessibility of online resources and the use of assistive technology continues – yet there were no exhibitors at ALT-C from any screen reading or text to speech software companies, or organisations such as Ability Net or the British Dyslexia Association. I was disappointed that a conference on digital divisions appeared to have so little on inclusive design or holistic approaches to accessibility and the debate around alternative versions of multimedia and animation. It would have been good to have daily workshops on practicalities such as adding captions to video, demonstrations of assistive technology or what the open source movement is doing to support accessibility.
I wonder how much the learning technologists themselves are responsible for creating a digital divide; do we forget that those whose learning we believe we are enhancing are in a different place. They may not share the same level of access to the technical gadgets and wizardry, or the skills to use them to their full potential. Again, having the technology is not the same as being confident and skilled with using it and I do sometimes wonder if herein lies the roots of our digital divisions.