The Digital Inclusion Commentary site uses the Write to Reply format. Part of the Teaching and Learning Research Programme (under the Technology Enhanced Learning strand) Digital Inclusion led by Dr. Jane Seale University of Southampton is looking at i) Definitions of digital inclusion ii) Why is digital inclusion important? iii) Where does digital inclusion happen?
Definitions of digital inclusion
As the affordances of technology are increasingly accepted as having major social significance, so attention is being paid to those who are excluded from participation but through a lens of inclusive (rather than exclusive) practice. The definitions of digital inclusion here recognise a complex array of factors at play but there is little focus on the role of the content creator. If digital resources are not ‘inclusively’ constructed then their creator, who is often several times removed from the user both through both location and time (in particular if resources are reused) may be uploading barriers to access, albeit inadvertently. All the pieces of the inclusion conundrum can be present but a poorly constructed resource, one that is not ‘personable’ i.e. open to customisation, can result in denied access. An example is when, setting aside the cost and availability of assistive software for visually impaired users, the appropriate screen reading software is in place and working, a poorly constructed web resource remains inaccessible.
Why is digital inclusion important?
This section links social exclusion with digital exclusion. Socially excluded groups identified as benefiting from technology include ‘older people and people with disabilities’. The phrase ‘people with disabilities’ bears no reference to the range of sensory, motor and cognitive impairments it covers. ‘People with disabilities’ can be found in every other social group identified here (the young, parents, adults, offenders and communities). They are also ‘digitally excluded’ in groups not identified as being socially excluded; arguably ‘people with disabilities’ are the most digitally excluded group of all. Not only does the category permeate every social strata, their digital exclusion contains multiple layers such as cost, availability, training and support of the appropriate hardware and software and the widespread inaccessibility of the majority of digital content. Any online forum concerned with technology and disability will testify this is one of the most excluded groups and, already living with multiple restrictions, one that may well have the most to gain from digital participation.
Where does digital inclusion happen?
Under ‘locating digital inclusion in digital spaces’ there is the first reference to exclusion through inaccessible digital content; in this instance a learning experience in higher education but should by no means be seen as an isolated incidence. The technical, economic, social and cultural tools of inclusion can be in place, but access to participation be denied through poor quality digital resources constructed with no attention to inclusive design. In these cases the location and source of digital inclusion is almost impossible to pin down and identify. The social model may locate digital exclusion in the built environment as opposed to within the individual but it also needs to be emphasised that the responsibility for ensuring accessible digital data is something that belongs to us all.