Keep the digital inclusion flags flying #MRCSoMe

MRC Conference, UCLan, 22 January 2016

Thanks Amanda Taylor for this pre-conference photo, found on Twitter – after the MRC event at UCLan on 22nd January! Which was apt considering the conference topic; consequences of digital media within social work. The conference addressed some of the changes in practice bought about through programmes like Twitter and Facebook. How we risk finding ourselves online without realising it or how a careless comment or unguarded moment can be captured and uploaded for all to see. We might not think too much about the permanence of digital footprints but identity is no longer under our control. The need to take digital care within professional practice is is just one aspect of society which has undergone great changes in the past decade.

For the Keynote I suggested seven critical lens for exploring the social impact of the internet and digital equality.

  • digital identity – online profiles and issues of anonymity
  • digital boundaries – professional/personal and issues of authenticity
  • digital surveillance – how digital presence is tracked and recorded
  • digital assumptions – the MEE Model of digital engagement
  • digital exclusion – rendered silent and invisible
  • digital by default – shifts from face to face to online practice
  • digital equality – technically possible but socially denied

Opportunities to bring out the digital soapbox are always welcome.  The world of digital technology has moved  fast in a short time. As with all social change, we can be so busy keeping up and adapting we don’t always stop to ask the questions around the wider social implications. We become uncritical adopters of digital ways of working. However, as internet users we are already in positions of power and privilege. With that power comes responsibility to ensure a wider and more inclusive equality.

image of a bar of soap and an empty box representing a digital soapbox

I’ve been lucky enough to work in partnership with social work and health and social care teams with regard to promoting safe digital working as well as digitally inclusive practices. Together we’ve worked with students to raise awareness of how the social shift to digital-by-default risks excluding many sections of the population, including those already marginalised and disempowered who might arguably be in greatest need of support. Social work practitioners, and others who work closely with service users, are often in the unique position of being both sides of the digital divide. They may have all the advantages of digital inclusion at work and home but can come into contact with the realities of digital exclusion on a daily basis.

Digital Nation (Facts, Stats, Closing the Gap) Infographic (2015) Tinder Foundation Digital Nation (Facts, Stats, Closing the Gap) Infographic (2015) Tinder Foundation http://www.tinderfoundation.org/sites/default/files/digitalnation-2015-webb.pdf

In an increasingly digital society where the platforms of the public sphere are themselves becoming digitised, to be digitally excluded is to be silenced and rendered invisible. The tension is how on the one hand the internet offers a voice to those previously excluded and marginalised but without the prerequisite conditions of access and use, the same individuals can find themselves silenced.

After the Keynote I collected together a number of resources, included here for anyone wanting to explore the issues more closely. My own publications in this area include:

  • Watling, S. and Rogers, J. (2012) Social Work in a Digital Society. London: Sage.
  • Watling, S. (2012) Digital exclusion: potential implications for social work education. Social Work Education, 31 (1). pp. 125-130.
  • Watling, S. (2011) Digital exclusion: coming out from behind closed doors. Disability and Society, 26 (4). pp. 491-495.
  • Watling, S. and Crawford, K. (2011) Digital exclusion: implications for human services practitioners. Journal of Technology in Human Services, 28 (4). pp. 205-216.
  • Watling, S. and Rogers, J. (2012) Why social work students need to be careful about online identities. Guardian Social Care. 5th October, 2012 http://www.theguardian.com/social-care-network/2012/oct/05/social-work-students-online-inclusion 

I would recommend the following works.

Lastly, a selection of videos which demonstrate the potential of assistive technology to ensure digital equality.

Giesbert Nijhuis; quadriplegic graphic designer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x31u1seLTo0

Mike Phillips gamer and freelance technology writer born with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) in One Thumb to Rule Them All https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2BhHwk9qSvI

Thanks again to everyone I met at UCLan. Lets keep the digital inclusion flags flying.

 

 

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