inclusion/exclusion issues with chairs #itandlexcellence Part One

image of coloured plastic chairs on wheels

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.

Take bobbled surfaces known as textured paving. It warns those with visual impairment of a road crossing but bouncing over them can be uncomfortable for wheelchair users. Shared surfaces where pavements blend seamlessly into roads make crossing easier for those with wheels but can be confusing (even dangerous) – in particular for assistance dogs trained to stop at raised kerbs. The risk is  absence of an inclusive solution becomes an excuse for not changing practice in the first place.

photo of colleague Patrick Lynch at York St John

Yesterday I attended the Inclusive Teaching and Learning Conference  at York St John University with colleague Patrick Lynch.  The opening Keynote by Prof Ann-Marie Houghton set the scene; universal design means changes for some which create an improved experience for all. Accessible design is not an activity targeting disability. It’s a state of mind and a practice which can benefit everyone.

Digital exclusion was largely missing from the conference. There was reference to commuter students in rural areas not having high speed internet (true for some areas in towns and cities) but I missed references to inclusive design of documents (headings and styles please) or standard attention to font, text size, colour, contrast etc.

This isn’t because we’ve reached some magic tipping point where all resources are accessible. Any VLE offers a range of poorly designed lecture slides which don’t print well in b/w, have too many words on top of images or my pet hate of grey font on white (I can’t see it!!) or audio and video without text equivalents.

In one session we were told it wasn’t possible to provide transcripts for captured lectures because the technology isn’t there yet. This implies a gap while waiting for the technology to catch up yet Windows ‘speech to text’ is not bad and there’s a range of free apps which will give a workable document for editing. Yes, it’s a digital capabilities issue which is all the more reason for institutional support to develop digital ways of working but any lack shouldn’t be an excuse. Where lecturers create and upload notes and/or slides before their presentation, this is the basis for a textual version of recorded content.

It seems students need to disclose and have their ‘disability’ accepted in order to have a text alternative provided for recordings which in itself feels like an exclusive practice.  Audio/video alongside notes and/or images offers a holistic learning experience. Why wouldn’t we want to support students in this way? How many lecturers have tried extracting core information from a 50 minute podcast dealing with an unfamiliar topic!

The exception was Prof Houghton who gave the first keynote with clear, well spaced slides and ‘There’s alt-text on the images.’  Not a phrase you hear every day. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard it. Maybe I don’t go to the right conferences. Most of them are about learning and teaching in particular where it’s online….

Inclusion is about so much more than making reasonable adjustments for some. It’s about the freedom to move independently within the built environment and getting on and off public transport, it’s about dropped kerbs and street art springing unannounced from pavements. It’s about the language we use, consciously and unconsciously. It’s about the social construction of attitude and bias.

Exclusion is created by culture and society and preventing it begins with adopting inclusive design practices.

image showing road cross with no textured paving

This pedestrian crossing over a dual carriageway appears to have no textured surface to indicate the road (taken recently in Hull) 

photo of pavement water fountains
This feature lacks barriers and the water is intermittent; if you couldn’t see it, how would you know?  (Belfast 2013)

Changing the culture of HE is complex and challenging. Nowhere is this more evident than learning and teaching where responsibility for inclusive practice is too often seen as being somewhere else, anywhere else, except with us. TEL-People say it’s within Student Services who say they’re not techies and on it goes. We need to work together on this. The aim is a tipping point where inclusive design and teaching becomes the norm. We’re going round in circles. Conversations at the conference were similar to those from two decades ago. If anything, the issues have become more convoluted.

image of the cover of TechDis Accessibility Essential series of guidance for accessible online content

The lack of a go-to resource doesn’t help. Jisc TechDis is no more. Such a loss. Their Accessibility Essentials series hit the spot while Informing Policy, Improving Practice and Improve your 3 Rs – Recruitment, Retention, Results remain excellent introductions and rationale. We need more not less of the TechDis attitude and enthusiasm for inclusive practice.

Knowledge makes so much difference. Simulation has been frowned upon for failing to authentically replicate lived experience, but a day in a wheelchair or wearing glasses which mimic glaucoma, cataracts or macular degeneration can offer transformative insight. We need to remember not everyone with an impairment is registered as disabled and take care not to confuse the issues. Hundreds of thousands of people live with invisible conditions such as colour blindness, dyslexia or some form of sensory difference. While careers and consultancies are constructed from the impact of diversity, most of us want to do what others take for granted, for example use the internet and read what’s on the screen (did I say no grey text on a white background please?!)

I’m stopping now before I get really ranty but will end on a plea – if you were to make one single change, please do think about how you present content, in particular online. Plain font, decent size and good contrast are all essential. For those of you who believe Browser customisation is the answer – it can’t work unless content has been designed to adjust.

Everyone is different. It should be what makes us special rather than a problematic.

Also, if you agree please retweet, repost and reply – let’s continue the conversation.

image showing a diversity of cartoon people
image from the presentation of Prof Ann-Marie Houghton. 

Photos all my own or from the conference presentations.

 

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What’s your excuse?

pencil sketch of a bar of soap and a box

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 😦

I’m drafting a policy document for the use of Panopto. I can’t say the words (Shhhhh lecture capture) because that colours how people see the software. It influences usage. In the way VLE’s get used as digital depository dumps, recording 50 minute lectures is making minimal use of the affordances as well as being poor pedagogical practice. Try it yourself and see. Choose an online lecture. Unplug your speakers, turn off your sound and be sure to concentrate…

For the last decade multimedia has been challenging the supremacy of text. Yet for all the speed and variety of digital content, there isn’t a one size fits all method for getting messages across. This is the century of communication. Toffler called it the Third Wave. An information age following an agrarian and industrial/technological age.

blue information symbol

The 20th century has bought an obsession with the collection, curation and communication of information. Now in the 21st we have big data and learning analytics. It can only get better (or worse depending on your ontology). I’m unconvinced by this new data revolution. Its rhetorical promise is like the hyperbole heralding the arrival of the VLE and look where that got us.

The grating sound is the soap box being dragged out.  Early this year I presented the keynote at a Making Research Count Conference at UCL. The theme was living and working in digital times and included barriers to digital access. Feedback included this – which says it all…

Digital inclusion/exclusion was a huge topic about 5 years ago, but seems to have been forgotten somewhat now and, yes, it’s still so important.

Digital exclusion is invisible. With digital platforms of the public sphere those denied equality of access are neither seen nor heard. People agree social exclusion is a big issue (which it is) and digital divides are important (which they are) but when it comes to doing something then the whole shebang is seen as being outside of their remit. Let’s bring it closer to home.

drawing of a digital divide between ipad and paper

How are you getting on with the recorded lecture with no sound?

It’s a new academic year. The DSA has changed. Institutions have to consider the principles of reasonable adjustments. Software like Panopto is being hailed as a convenient answer but unless textual equivalents are provided how can it be?

I wave the digital inclusion flag with regard to online learning and teaching content but it’s lonely out here. Sort of invisible. It would be so much easier if we were all in this together but other people don’t seem interested. There’s always an excuse or it’s the responsibility of someone else. They talk the talk but don’t do anything about it.

Accessibility isn’t to be put aside until there is more time. The future will never have enough time. It will be exactly the same as it is today. It’s 2016. Equality has been a legal requirement since 1995. Part of the problem – I think – is how digital inclusion gets side-lined into being a disability issue rather than a fundamental digital capability leading to best practice and experiences for all.

We need to talk!

Why we should

  • It’s a legal requirement (Single Equality Act 2011)
  • The law takes a proactive approach – content in alternative formats should be provided not requested  Universities have to make reasonable adjustments
  • Inclusivity improves access for everyone (not just people with disabilities, international students, etc etc)
  • Multimedia is a valuable learning tooI
  • access is explicit in the sconul 7 pilliars of information literacy through a digital lens
  • It will enhance learning

Why we don’t

  • We don’t realise any of the reasons why we should
  • TechDis has been disbanded
  • It isn’t an explicit element of the Jisc digital capabilities framework
  • We’d know its important and would love to but…  we haven’t got the time, resource, money, skills, capacity, interest – fill in the blanks.

So what’s your excuse? What are your thoughts? Do you agree? Disagree? Lets get a conversation going and make 2016 the year for virtual inclusion.

Tweet @suewatling and #digitalinclusion

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digital divide image from http://www.idgconnect.com/IMG/082/17082/digital-divide-india1157-620×354.jpg?1412145199 
information symbol https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/47/Simple_Information.svg 

digital dilemmas

image of different faces

The word digital is busy. Not only does it casually prefix a host of other words (e.g. graduate attributes, citizens, skills, education) contemporary digital developments are leaving most of us behind. If students aged 18 are not arriving at university already equipped to make critical use of internet resources and devices, who within HE is going to support the development of appropriate digital graduate attributes, such as those identified in the Jisc report on Technology for Employability? The recent surge of activities around Visitors and Residents has been doing excellent work in challenging the idea of young people as digital natives. However, it is doing little to recognise and surface the NAYS, those who have Not Arrived Yet. The theory of VLE as tools to extend and enhance student learning falls flat when it comes to practice, never mind how they might also support the development of professional communication, collaboration and safety in online places.

The problem is digital development has been segregated rather than integrated. Its always the responsibility of someone else – student services, learning development, the library, ICT departments – it’s never situated within core curriculums. Most of the support for digital ways of working is optional meaning students can graduate with the same digital habits they bought into university 3-4 years previously. Why is this?

The thinking about digital aspects of higher education is not joined up. Digital competence is translated into being ‘techie’ while responsibility for becoming digitally capable is too often perceived as sitting with someone else.  All the work being done to include digital ambitions within strategic directions and investment in operational  TEL teams risks falling into big black holes which suck in excuses and  extenuating circumstances for non-engagement and exclusion.

When it comes to the effective use of digital tools for learning and teaching, the digital divides are widening. It’s not just in HE. Schools are focusing on programming rather than generic ICT while ‘There are still 12.6 million people who lack the basic digital skills to succeed in our increasingly digital society and this week’s budget focus …seems to be on digital infrastructure at the expense of skills’ 

This lies at the core of digital diversity. Until the focus shifts from systems implementation to the people using them on a day to day basis to support and enhance learning and teaching practice, then nothing much is going to change.

 

image from http://blog.jobma.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Value-of-Soft-Skills.jpg 

Tweet-tips on #lthechat digital inclusion and accessibility

This post follows Wednesday’s #LTHEchat on digital inclusion and accessibility. The tweetchat rationale is here http://lthechat.com/2016/02/15/lthechat-no-46-sue-sue-watling-digital-inclusion-and-accessibility/ and there’s a list of the shared resources at the bottom of this post for those in a hurry.

If you have a little more time, then freed from the limitations of 140 characters or less, I thought it might be useful to give some background.

It was around 2010 when I first experienced vision impairment. I thought it’ll be fine. I work with technology. I know the theory. The internet is fully accessible – right? I could enlarge text, change contrasts, use text to speech and train my Dragon. It was the beginning of a new journey which included volunteering with a local organisation for people with sight loss and seeing first hand the frustrations of digital exclusion. I worked with VLE but had no real practical application of the principles of accessibility. Now it all changed. I began to write about the risks of what Ellen Helsper at the LSE had called a Digital underclass. I knew how the social impact of the internet was as potentially exclusive as inclusive. It all depended on how you used a computer and accessed the internet. I devised the MEE Model of digital exclusion. This reflected common usage. I  refers to using a Mouse for navigation, Eyes to see and Ears to listen. When all around you follow the MEE Model it becomes easy to assume everyone else does too. The MEE Model has sequential layers of barriers.

  • The high cost and narrow market of alternative navigation devices or adaptations to make the best use of existing physical, sensory and cognitive abilities. You can’t buy assistive technology (AT) at Tesco.
  • The need for specialist training and support. AT can involve a steep and unique learning curve and it can be challenging to keep AT aligned with sequential developments in operating systems and browser controls.
  • Even with the AT plus training and support in place, if online content has not been designed and delivered with inclusive access in mind, you will remain excluded. Try using iTunes with a screen reader. Try any online shopping site with text to speech. You may be able to browse, select and move to the payment section then find it’s an add-on where text fields are not labelled and drop down menus don’t work. Turn off the volume and use YouTube with automatically generated captions, or any subtitled video where the titles cover the picture rather than sitting in a separate footer. Try zooming in (Ctrl+) and watch frames overlap , fail to resize or left to right scroll bars disappear. The list goes on.

In an increasingly digital society, where public information, health, welfare, retail and leisure are moving online, to be digitally excluded is to be marginalised and disempowered. The vision of the web pioneer for a digital democracy has simply not happened.

 ‘… it is critical that the web be usable by anyone regardless of individual capabilities and disabilities.’  (Berners Lee, 1997)

‘…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, 1997)

So when asked to facilitate an #LTHEchat it seemed natural to bring out the digital inclusion soapbox in relation to learning and teaching.

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

Over the past year or so, I’d been feeling a bit disillusioned. I’d already shifted focus from trying to change the world to making smaller changes such as building accessibility outcomes into my online TELEDA courses e.g. Reflect upon, and demonstrate a critical awareness of inclusive practice in relation to online teaching and learning resources, communication and collaborative working with and between students.  I still accepted any opportunity to raise awareness and did visitor slots for staff and students on a range of courses. Maybe I was imagining it but it seemed audiences a little bit more disinterested every year. Last month I gave a keynote on the social impact of the internet looking through a number of critical lenses, making sure these included digital divides; the hidden millions who had never been online in the UK and those with access but not the means to make essential use of it. One of the follow-up emails said it all.

Digital inclusion/exclusion was a huge topic about 5 years ago, but seems to have been forgotten somewhat now and, yes, it’s still so important.

A consequence of legislation (Single Equality Act) is tokenism as displayed in this photograph. It shows a perfect example of the law being followed but with no apparent awareness of the impossible situation created.

disabled parking road sign next to a postbox

Digital accessibility in learning and teaching is not always the most popular of topics. The response is often raised eyebrows, dismissive comments and barely concealed sighs.  So I wasn’t sure what to expect Wednesday at 8.00 pm but the fantastic #lthechat community come through in great style and by the end of the hour I felt reinvigorated again. This is the power of social media, adding Connect to the BBC mission to Educate, Inform and Entertain.

There are only a few months until the government’s proposed changes to the DSA come into place. This will remove a layer of digital support for new students and shift the responsibility for making reasonable adjustments back onto institutions. The topic of ensuring equal access to online learning resources should be at the forefront but in a way, the DSA itself has contributed to the notion that accessibility issues belong to someone else, somewhere over there, wherever student support is managed  We’re further away than ever to the idea of individual responsibility for ensuring accessible design of digital documents.

But there is hope. At a time when low levels of digital capability among staff who teach and support learning is coming to the forefront, accessibility can be built into new digital baselines and frameworks but the first step is raising awareness of why this matters in the first place.

LTHEchat offered lots of useful reminders and advice for moving forward as captured in this Storify https://storify.com/LTHEchat/lthechat-45-with

#LTHEchat questions:

  1. Why does digital inclusion matter?
  2. Who is responsible for accessible L&T content in your institution?
  3. Audio and video need transcripts. Discuss.
  4. Where to go for help? Share an online source of advice.
  5. Share a tip for creating accessible digital documents.
  6. What does accessibility mean to you?

Shared #LTHEchat resources list 

Lastly, a timely reminder of how a simple zoom can go wrong. Trying to get to the image only succeed in making it appear further away!

black screen with large text and tiny image

Thanks to everyone who makes #LTHEchat happen. Although this week’s session is over, I hope the conversations and sparks of interest and enthusiasm will be lighting bigger fires 🙂

 

Berners Lee, T (1997)World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Launches Web Accessibility Initiative. WAI press release 7 April 1997. www.w3.org/Press/WAI-Launch.html

(Dardailler, D 1997 Telematics Applications Programme TIDE Proposal. Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) http://www.w3.org

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.

 

 

digital exclusion as linguistic lockout

image of a locked gate
image from https://www.flickr.com/photos/knowprose/44510297/in/photostream/

The blog post Why digital capabilities matter attracted a number of retweets. It was short and to the point. Since them my 500 word limit has been breached. I need to try harder. Blogging should be an exercise in brevity as much as pertinent points.

The post made the digital-assumption everyone had access in the first place when this is not true. Last week I wrote about the Visitors and Residents typology and suggested a third visitors and residents column for the NAYs (Not arrived Yets) This was primarily about digital resistance or reluctance in higher education- those I call the digitally shy – but I included a wider reference to digital exclusion.

While applying V&R to learning and teaching, it must be remembered how beyond the educational sector, there are an estimated 17 million people in the UK who have no internet connection or are unable to make relevant use of it. Here neither residency nor visitation is a possibility.

David White (co-author of the V&A paper) tweeted Do we need to include those that are not online in our thinking? A timely question.  My answer to the question is unequivocally yes. Digital exclusion is a social responsibility, fundamental to all, in particular for education developers with critical approaches to social change.

Yesterday, a conversation about computerised Health Centre appointments, included the notion digital exclusion would not be an issue with high-speed broadband. Was the digital content designed for users of Assistive Technology within that area? Oh yes, I’m sure someone will have tested that. I’m not so sure. Instead I suspect this is the ‘digital assumption’ in action. It’s easy to do and we are all guilty but need be more provocative and ask the questions.

Digital inclusion does not stop at internet connections or home pages. Sites can be inclusively designed but use bolt-on transaction systems which are not. I supported someone with VI doing online shopping using the market leader in screen readers. All went well until the payment where the pages lost their labels and alt-text rendering the process impossible. I rang the shop. They offered to take the order over the phone. Which missed the point. Digital exclusion prevents independent living as much as access to resources.

A local visual impairment organisation tendered for a new website. None of the design companies knew about screen reading software. We chose the one which said they would like to learn.

A computer science course taught the theory of accessible design is a year 3 module. Which seemed a little late in the course. I asked how the designs were tested. Did they have access to a screen reader or alternative navigation aids? The reply was no; students just needed to know the theory.

David White tweeted ‘there are more fundamental inclusion issues than the digital such as English as a second language.’  I would suggest to be digitally excluded is a form of linguistic lockout. If all around you people are communicating and collaborating online but you don’t have the means of equitable access, they might as well be speaking in a different language.

Digital exclusion is to be rendered invisible. If you’re shut out from the digital platforms of the public sphere you have no voice and digital capital involves negotiating complex structural barriers of cost, support and inaccessible design. Those with digital privilege should be raising awareness of what it takes to ensure a digitally inclusive society. We need to remember how digital exclusion could happen to anyone of us at anytime.

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.