Digital Inclusion

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

(for previous blog posts on digital inclusion please scroll down to the foot of this page)

For the early pioneers of the Internet and World Wide Web, accessibility was a priority, as can be seen from these two quotes below.

“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. 

“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 1997Telematics Applications Programme TIDE Proposal. Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI)

Much of this early ambition appears to have since become lost

It will soon be two decades since the internet was made available to all in the public domain. Digital divides, both in terms of access and use, current;y affect an estimated 17 million people in the UK while the number of people with a personal broadband connection world wide shows a variety of rates of connectivity.

Digital Nation Infographic from the Tinder Foundation 

Digital Nation Infographic from Tinder Foundation

Internet users in 2015 as a percentage of a country’s population Source: International Telecommunications Union – CC BY-SA 3.0 Jeff Ogden 

broadband connections

To be disconnected in an increasingly digital society is to risk being excluded on multiple levels. As public information and welfare services shift to a digital-first provision by default, those without access are denied both participation and voice. As the platforms of the public sphere become digital so the absence of a means by which to be heard becomes a form of 21st century discrimination. As digital exclusion tends to follow fault lines of social marginalisation, this therefore adds to existing exclusion and disempowerment.

Signposts to further information

Introducing digital exclusion 

Digital inclusion research

Digital Inclusion Charter – December 2014

The Charter promises …together, we commit to:

  1. Use a common definition of basic online skills and capabilities
  2. Support cross-sector national partnership programmes
  3. Identify and support best practice initiatives to grow through cross-sector working, including:
    • piloting and scaling up initiatives which bring support to where people are in their daily lives
    • embedding digital inclusion into partners’ communications activity to encourage people, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and voluntary, community and social enterprises (VCSEs) to take the first steps to going online
    • piloting practical ways to make internet access, kit and digital skills cheaper and more easily available
  4. Make things simpler for users who lack basic online skills and capabilities by using a shared language
  5. Establish as the trusted source of information about good quality help available to get people online
  6. Support the development of a national volunteering network of digital champions to enhance existing networks
  7. Support an online skills and capabilities programme for SMEs and VCSEs
  8. Share best practice and use data to measure performance and improve what we do
  9. Build the online skills and capabilities of people in our own organisations
  10. Work together to support the aims of the digital inclusion strategy

Government approach to Assisted Digital December 2013 

As part of the Government Digital Strategy, everyone who can use digital services independently will be encouraged to do so. The 18% of people who are offline will use assisted digital support. People who need this support will be able to access a service face to face, by phone, or in another appropriate non-digital way, with someone either inputting their data into the digital system on their behalf, or helping them put their data into the digital service themselves.

The Digital Landscape Research shows that 18% of UK adults are offline (defined as rarely or never being online). 82% of people are online (defined as regularly or occasionally using the internet) but some have lower digital skills and may need help, at least initially, to use digital services.

Digital Landscape Research 


  • 2CV carried out a quantitative study on how UK adults use the internet, and how they access government information and transactional services online. The researchers conducted interviews with 1,298 adults, ensuring that it was nationally representative and weighting it according to ONS’ internet use data.
  • Of the interviewees, 990 were recruited online, and these people took part in online interviews. The remaining 308 interviewees are people who are offline, and they took part in face-to-face interviews.
  • 2CV also carried out a qualitative study with people who don’t use government information and transactional services online. These consisted of 18 2-hour ethnography sessions with pre- and post-session tasks.
  • These sessions included people of a range of ages, people who are employed and unemployed, people with disabilities, people from lower socio-economic groups, and people living in both rural and urban areas. This informed 2CV’s groupings of non-users of government digital services.

Blog posts on digital inclusion in 2017

Be the change… (December 20th 2017) A complaint was made about me using one in a meeting – ergo I was not paying attention. A week later the issue of devices in meetings came up again. Different context but same person who clearly feels strongly about the subject…This time I spoke up. Explained a laptop need not signify Facebook or catching up with email – for me it was like a reasonable adjustment – when my eyes are bad it’s easier to make notes in a strong, bold font than to write by hand.

Accessibility Matters Part Two (November 3rd 2017)   Accessibility can be hard work. Accessible content requires the user to jump over hoops. It gets tiring. Frustrating. No one understands unless they’ve been there too. Most ‘accessible practice’ is lip service… tokenism. Here’s an example of the separation between theory and practice. I followed an interesting looking tweet (as you do) to a blog by Wendy Mitchell @WendyPMitchell who was diagnosed with Young Onset Dementia in her fifties. Visit Wendy’s website Which Me Am I Today for more details.

Accessibility Matters Part One (November 3rd 2017)   I’d heard negative reports about Sharepoint. Which goes to show you shouldn’t judge a tool by its reputation. Using it had two advantages – a selection of useful editing tools and when the text size is increased (unlike MS Windows and Office) the text box ribbon and menus enlarge too.  Both of these matter.

Inclusive T and L conference Part Two (May 13th 2017) Alan Hurst opened the Inclusive Teaching and Learning Conference at York St John with a reference to Michael Oliver. Great call! Oliver’s influence with regard to the construction and promotion of the social model of disability in HE was a transformational threshold

Inclusion/exclusion issues with chairs Part One, Inclusive Teaching and Learning Conference  at York St John University (May 12, 2017)   Chairs on wheels meet solid floor. Blessing or nightmare? Easy to move, don’t need lifting, don’t scrape or grate when dragged BUT …can be difficult to sit on, too easy to slide backwards before you’ve made contact or can fail to provide support if you reach out for them. Chairs on wheels might be good for some but not others. The conundrum lies at the heart of inclusive practice. One-size-fits-all models are rare.

Blog posts on digital inclusion in 2016

What’s your excluse? (23 September 2016) I’m in that cleft stick again. The one called accessibility. That’s my stick in the corner. On its own. Because most of the time we don’t think about it – don’t talk about it – and with exception of a small band of colleagues from across the sector – we don’t much care about it either

#LTHEchat Digital Inclusion and Accessibility (19 February 2016) This post follows Wednesday’s #LTHEchat on digital inclusion and accessibility. The tweetchat rationale is here and there’s a list of the shared resources at the bottom of this post for those in a hurry.

Digital Exclusion as Linguistic Lockout   (15 January 2016) I hope this answers David White’s question Do we need to include those that are not online in our thinking?  Digital inclusion matters. It really does.

Previous blog posts on digital inclusion

Loving the WAI of W3C

Don’t talk to me about transcripts. I’m a habitual being.

ASS up your videos

Digging the digital dirt, for the times they are a’changing…

HEFCE we have a problem. Concept threshold but not troublesome enough enough.

The Disparity between research into internet use and the reality of digital exclusion.

Changes to the DSA. Oh Mr Willetts, what have you done?

Read it and weep. Pass it on. Digital exclusion is real – it’s just 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

The e-word as in e-learning; what does it stand for?

Digital education; more brown ground than blue sky approaches

July 2013

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.

September 2012

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 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.

March 2012

The HERIB website is now live at 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!/herib1 HERIB Facebook site at  and the HERIB Blog at

June 2011

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.

2011 summary

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.

2010 summary

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. :

Seale, J. (2006) E-Learning and Disability in Higher Education: Accessibility Research and Practice, Abingdon, Routlege