A Shift in Culture

Reporting by Marijke Large

Produced by Gerrit De Vynck, Veronica Tang and Marijke Large

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I wish I could press a button and Reboot the Universe

The digital divide refers essentially to the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ of digital technologies. Typically thought of, as the Global North possessing the skills, products and knowledge and the Global South as not even having basic necessities, let alone the ‘ability’ to use any electronics. The digital divide is a problematic concept that further perpetuates the discourse of development (global north) vs. underdevelopment (global south).

One of the many problems with the term, ‘the digital divide’ is that it tends to ‘Other’ those deemed to be on the ‘wrong side.’ Inherent in this binary is a ‘victim-saviour’ complex in which the ‘developing world’ extends its resources and power to try to see how they can close the ‘gap.’ But this method of questioning does not explain the power structures that work to produce the ‘Other’ in the first place.

How would the stats change if a category about Web accessibility  was added alongside rural and urban users?

Rarely is the digital divide applied to the disparities between the poor and/or people with disabilities and the rest who have access to technology in Canada or more generally, the West.

Technically, people with intellectual or physical disabilities that don’t have access to accessible technology could be seen as the ‘have-nots’ and people who have no barriers to access as the ‘haves.’

What do I mean by accessibility?!

Kennedy, Thomas and Evans determined that obtaining online accessibility is not a black (‘have’) and white (‘have-nots’) process. They say that, “The power of the Internet is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”

But they determine that the so-called universal design solutions are not, in fact, universal, despite the label. The complex and varying levels of intellectual disabilities require complex and varying solutions. This complexity, rooted in an albeist society may be connected to the fact that the accessibility needs of people with intellectual disabilities have historically been “poorly understood, and therefore overlooked, by such efforts” (Kennedy, Thomas, Evans).

For online accessibility to be achieved multiple players need to be on-board. First and foremost, is the need for the involvement of people with intellectual disabilities themselves.

Next, the big honchos, managers, clients, decision makers need to support web designers. If the power holders and decision makers with whom designers work, don’t share the designers dedication to accessibility, there is little designers can do.

What simply irks me is that, would this even be an issue if accessibility were built into web design in the first place? No, I think not. So, I ask, why is the Web inaccessible in the first place?

Kennedy, Thomas and Evans allude to why this is the case. The invisibility of this community in mainstream web design leads to a genuine lack of understanding of what a learning disability is, which results in a corresponding lack of awareness of the accessibility needs of these Internet users. Resulting in accessibility not being a mandatory aspect of Web design.

So, is it enough to adopt an adaptive model?! I would say no. Fellow blogger MissMediaWatch, argues that if we have to “adapt technology to ‘fit’ the ‘Other’ in, this would suggest that the discourse of inclusion and exclusion is inherent in the very design of technology.”

Taking into consideration the complex and varying factors that are at play, is it possible to overcome barriers to accessibility and make the Internet accessible for people with intellectual disabilities?

Initiatives like The Web Accessibility Initiative or the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act are showing we are moving in the right direction.

More can be done. Without further action, the Web will remain inaccessible to people with intellectual disabilities.

It doesn’t end here. This online exclusion extends to the offline world. I feel overwhelmed.

People with disabilities are more than twice as likely than people without disabilities to live in poverty in Canada. A recent study shows that 53 per cent of children with disabilities have one or no friends and spend less than two hours a week with another child. These are two of many similar statistics.

What I am getting at is the same albeist, exclusive logic affects the inclusion of people with disabilities who are trying to access a website and/or are trying to find affordable housing. When searching for the answer of why this occurs, a central thought to consider is how can we work to make change in institutional power structures that foster these inequalities.

I wish to leave you with a positive example of an initiative that is promoting accessibility design.

Recently, I was informed about a new and exciting program on campus called the READ initiative. READ stands for…Research, Education Accessibility and Design. Just as Kennedy and pals are committed to the “nothing about us without us” ethos of disability advocacy it seems like the people at READ are too.

MEDIA ACCESS FOR ALL SOME 

When Catherine Frazee applied to study journalism at Carleton University in the 1970s, a senior official at the school told her she would not be able to “elbow her way into the scrum on Parliament Hill” and shouldn’t pursue a career in journalism because she was disabled. She then gave up her scholarship and her place in the program—a decision she says is regrettable – Saburah Murdoch

Fortunately, since the seventies much has changed. New legislation, education and awareness campaigns have fostered enhanced accessibility and worked to change public perception of people with disabilities. But journalists with disabilities still face daily accessibility obstacles and social stigmas. Like Frazee, these barriers still prevent some people with disabilities from becoming mainstream journalists.

Enter citizen journalism. Citizen journalism is a utopian ideal that promises “journalism for all.”

I will provide a quick recap from a previous post in case you are not familiar with the term and how it has changed the media landscape.

According to Mark Glasser, citizen journalism is when people without professional journalism training can utilize social media tools, such as Twitter, camera phones etc., and the Internet to “create, augment or fact-check media on their own or collaboration with others.”

So, really, social media has reshaped the way journalism operates, making the field more fluid and open to diverse experiences and new forms of reporting. The interplay between citizens and the media is key. As Castells says, “media is not the holder of power, but it constitutes by and large the space where power is decided.” Applying Castells’ logic, citizen journalists can use social media to provide an alternative perspective in the media landscape, with hopes of challenging unequal power relations and changing the outcome of events by fostering transparency.

So yes, undoubtedly, citizen journalism is important, but citizen journalism is also exclusive. Why?! Simply because how citizen journalists cover events is not accessible for everyone.

I will analyze, step-by-step, what a citizen journalist must do to cover a story that is located at an event in order to see what barriers a person with a disability may face and to explore what we can do to work towards a solution.

Case Study – Covering an Event

Step One: Finding out About an Event – Social Media

Most Common Accessibility Problems

Using social media to promote an event is a given nowadays. Often, it is the only avenue event organizers will use to promote their cause.

Yet some people with disabilities still face significant challenges in gaining access to social media tools, despite new innovations to improve access. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, blogging websites and Google+ all have features that limit accessibility. Issues such as lack of captioned videos, poor colour contrast, lack of alternative text, incompatibilities with popular assistive technology products, etc., are common and affect the ability of people to access social media tools.

Kennedy, Thomas and Evans argue that “The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.” Arguably, this has not yet been achieved.

 Step Two: Getting to the Event – Public Transit  

Using public transit can be irritating sometimes and downright aggravating most of the time. If the transit is not accessible, an individual who does not have access to other forms of transportation simply cannot attend the event they plan on reporting on.

For example, MTA Metro in New York platform gaps make travel inaccessible for wheelchair users. The main issue is that the level of the train is often higher than the level of the platform, creating the situation that when a wheelchair user boards the train their wheels get struck between the two surfaces.

 *I focused on public transit as I made an assumption that if someone is using their own vehicle it will be accessible for them.

 Step Three: Getting into the Event

There are many factors that contribute to making an event accessible. Did the event hosts hire someone to translate what they are saying into sign language? Are there suitable entrances and exits (preferably the same for everybody)? Are guide dogs allowed at the venue? Are wheelchair-accessible lifts available? Are the corridors wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs?

If one or any of these questions are answered with a “no,” a citizen journalist may be prevented from attending the event.

Step Four: Reporting the Event

SPAM: Social - Poorly Accessible Media Citizen journalists are expected to live tweet and take videos and pictures from the event. You have to be at an event to live tweet from an event. If someone can’t access the information from social media sites, or use transit to get to the event, or even get into the event, this is not possible.

Considering that citizen journalism is about making the field more fluid and open to diverse experiences and new forms of reporting, how can we make sure citizen journalists have…

Accepting attitudes – Creativity – Citizenship – Equality – Success – Self Confidence – Increases Independence – Belonging – Interaction – Living Life – Initiative – Teamwork – You ?!

(Accessibility acrostic props to Glenda Watson Hyatt)

So, does citizen journalism truly challenge unequal power relations and provide an alternative perspective if it is not accessible for all?

Kennedy, Thomas and Evans are committed to the “nothing about us without us” ethos of disability advocacy movements. I could theorize the day away and not really understand the barriers that citizen journalists with disability face. The complex and varying levels of disability require complex and varying solutions. Taking this into consideration, how would you propose we search for a solution?

I wish to leave you with a positive example of how someone has used social media and journalism to challenge the media landscape’s abilist logic. After the presidential debates, Ann Coulter tweeted:  “I highly approve of Romney’s decision to be kind and gentle to the retard.” John Franklin Stephens, a 30-year-old man with Down syndrome, called Coulter out for using the ‘r’ word. This is an example of citizen journalism in action.

We need to enable all potential citizen journalists by disabling barriers.

My newest relationship: Prosumer ME & Prosumer YOU.

It’s so hard, sometimes, to give of yourself, constantly. It is harder sometimes to receive, me with all my, probably imagined, imperfections.

From this place of vulnerability, as a journalist, I ask people to share themselves with me. We are strangers, offering of ourselves something tangible, something real. I am a consumer of knowledge. They trust me with their stories, knowing that I see through a particular lens, a lens that I will use to interpret their story. I am a producer of knowledge.

In this way, I may be deemed a prosumer. I consume and produce, I drink tea like water, and then I repeat the cycle. Please don’t interpret this as me complaining. It is a privilege to share people’s stories. I truly love what I do.

It’s strange how some things, you never forget. And, others are gone by the time you finish drinking your cup of tea. For me, I remember people’s stories.

Yesterday, I met a wonderful, warm and heartfelt woman named Irene Tshinguta. She shared her story with two of my journalism friends and I. She taught me that nothing in life is certain but love. People, places, and occurrences come and go. Nothing in this world is permanent.

Here is Irene’s story.

Thousands of refugees and immigrants come to Canada every year by land, sea and air. The challenges they face are massive. Gerrit De Vynck tells the story of one woman who came to Canada from the Democratic Republic of the Congo after she became a target of the government after and incident while she was crossing the border into Zambia to sell clothes she made herself. Since arriving in Canada, alone and scared, she has built up a new life with the love and support of a local community.

By. Veronica Tang, Gerrit De Vynck, Marijke Large

I realized that by choosing to share this video, with you, the reader, the previously mentioned roles of the consumer and producer shift slightly (or should I say new roles are added). And so, I began to reflect on the relationship between me, Marijke the blogger, and you, the reader. In any blog post there is the reader (you), the subject (Irene) and the producer (me). The consumer is the reader, and so I, the writer, am the producer on the information along with my fellow journalism students and Irene.

Arguably, if you, the reader, post comments at the end of this post you are engaging in a conversation with the blogger, and therefore you are becoming both a content consumer AND a producer. According to Ritzen, Dean and Jurgenson a Producer + Consumer =’s Prosumer.

What I find fascinating is how the prosumer interacts with the story the blogger is telling. The reader, and potential prosumer, can sometimes even become a part of the story you share, and occasionally dictate what should be blogged about. I have also read comments on blogs that tell the author their content is becoming boring and repetitive.

Though it may be sometimes true, it makes me wonder if people are starting to forget that bloggers are real people telling their (mostly) real stories. By “consuming” their content we are sharing in their story. We watch their story unfold from week to week, post to post. Unlike the video I posted, where if you don’t like it, you can just stop playing it, with a blog, we also have the ability to interact and tell the blogger what we like and dislike.

So, what is the line between the blogger and the commenter in the story being told? Do the readers help co-produce your narrative on your blog? Or, as Jergenson, Ritzen and Dean might ask, would blogs be less effective, and potentially collapse without prosumers? Does the ability to comment on someone’s blog imply you have invested in them and have the right to suggest what they write about or what content they can or cannot include?

BUT, if the ideals of the blogger are generally not in line with the commenter’s they can choose to update their content according to the reader feedback through responding to the comments. It is a fine line between engaging with the readers and wanting to maintain your own, authentic voice. Ultimately, I ask, who owns the comment box?! So, in terms of the readers co-authoring the blog (prosumer alert), who do the comments really belong too?

One last thought. Does framing the reader as a “consumer” and potential “producer,” rather than just a passive reader of your blog, make you think differently about these questions?

I would love to hear your thoughts!

The Grass(roots) is always greener. The (counter) power of Citizen Journalism.

An aspiring journalist’s attempt to understand and value the role of citizen journalists within the social media landscape.

We live in a society where media users can become media makers. With the advent of social media we can now produce and consume culture in a new way.

Social media creates a different, not entirely new landscape, as Shirky argues that we have always been cultural producers. So, for example, influencing political protest over text messages demonstrates the use of a new medium, but the act of protest would have happened with or without the technology. Similarly, Castells argues social media presents a new site to examine cultural production, in this case, through citizen journalists.

It can be a Twitter update from a plane crash. It can be a photograph or video from a war zone. It can be a blog post on a WordPress site. Or, it can appear in a more traditional form, such as an editorial, on many sites: The Digital Journalist, The Huffington Post’s citizens media program called Off the Bus, CNN’s IReport, Ground Report, Now Public and many more.

So, what is *citizen journalism? Is it journalism on the cheap? Inexperienced hacks producing stories that are heavy on opinion and light on fact (some people may sadly apply this to mainstream media)? Is it a solution to mainstream media’ filter on our views? Is it a way to give voice to many that have traditionally been silenced or overlooked by the media?

According to Mark Glasser,Citizen Journalism is when people without professional journalism training can utilize social media tools, such as Twitter, camera phones, etc., and the Internet to “create, augment or fact-check media on their own or collaboration with others.” This is an example of a fairly new space where we see cultural production in action.

We need grassroots reporting, citizen journalists as news co-producers with journalists. Professional reporters can’t be everywhere, covering every angle at every event. And, so, Reporters and citizens are now working hand-in-hand during breaking news to ensure the most accurate, up to date information through social media.

So, really, social media has reshaped the way journalism operates, making the field more fluid and open to diverse experiences and new forms of reporting.

The interplay between citizens and the media is key as Castells says, “media is not the holder of power, but it constitutes by and large the space where power is decided.” Citizen journalists can use social media, to provide an alternative perspective in the media landscape, with hopes of challenging unequal power relations and changing the outcome of events by fostering transparency.

Citizen journalism provides valuable information that can democratize media, as well as countries. With the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movements, we’ve already seen the ability of social media, in the hands of citizen journalists, accomplish this.

I am going to illustrate how citizen journalists worked with journalists to co-produce news by utilizing mass self-communication, as a form of (counter) power through a case study (239).

Case Study: TED Talks: Journalist Paul Lewis explains the role citizen journalists played in investigating two murders. These examples highlight how social media and citizen journalism foster a new level of transparency and accountability in public life. Lewis explores the role citizen journalists played in the investigation of the murders.

I recognize that everyone may not have the chance to watch the full 17 minutes. So here is a short summary of the two events.

Questions to ask yourself as you watch the video:

Without a Smartphone, access to a video recorder or camera, citizen journalism is almost impossible. So, is the role of a ‘citizen journalist’ a role for the privileged?

 So then is Citizen Journalism a way to “challenge and eventually change the power relations in institutionalized society?” (Castells). 

Technically,  journalism is governed by ethics. Is the fact that citizen journalists are not accountable to those same ethics troubling? Lewis says, “Danger is that we are victim of hoaxes or their is deliberate information fed into the citizen domain.”

So, just like we need to hold journalists accountable for the information they provide we need to challenge the often “taken-for-granted virtues of “alternative” or “independent” media practices by nonprofessional or “citizen” journalists…[and] challenge the prevalent notion that citizen journalism is a sure means to subvert power relations.”

PS. If you are fascinated by the role of citizen journalists, like me, and want to read more, check out these sites! Please note that much has been written on the subject and these are only a few of many sites.

1. 11 websites citizen journalists should know about

2. 5 news stories changed by the rise of citizen journalists

3. The 11 Layers of Citizen Journalism 

 *Please note that citizen journalism/journalist is a contested term. As not all participants may not be recognized as citizens and reporters are technically citizens, too.  

Crowdsourcing the News: Paul Lewis on Ted.com – A Short Summary

Controversial events #1 + #2: Telling an alternative truth to the official version of events using social media (aka citizen journalism).

Controversial death #1: A citizen journalist captured Ian Tomlinson shortly before his death on a cameraphone at the G20 summit. Tomlinson died moments after the video as he was struck by a batton and pushed to the ground by London Metroplitan police officer. But, Lewis says, “that wasn’t the story police officers wanted us to tell.They said Ian Tomlinson died of natural causes.”

And, so, the newspaper Tomlinson had being selling for 20 years, among other papers, wrote this story. Using social media, Lewis discovered enough evidence on Twitter to track down 20 witnesses. One citizen journalist filmed the scene right before Tomlinson’s death and emailed Lewis. This led to an inquest eventually convicting the police officer.

Controversial death #2: Jimmy Mubenga: Political refugee from angola

The British government decided to deport Mubenga to Angola. Mubenga died after losing consciousness on British Airways flight 77 to Angola, before the plane took off from the runway. The official explanation was “simply that he had become unwell on the flight, taken to hospital and died.” Lewis later discovered that, in fact, Mubenga died after three security guards tried to restrain him in his seat, as he was resisting deportation. The passengers on-board obviously witnessed the incident. But how was Lewis going to find them? Lewis posted stories asking questions about the incident. And, he used twitter and asked people to retweet. One man responded from an Angolan oil field. He tweeted, “I was also there on BA77 and the man was begging for help and I now feel so guilty I did nothing.” This man came forward and spoke out.

Re-consider this: your words matter!

This past Friday, I went to my usual afternoon tea destination, Bridgehead, and decided to hit the books and get my weekly readings out of the way earlier than usual. I was particularly aware of my surroundings sounds that day. The incessant hiss and whir of the espresso maker, the stirring spoons clattering against metal cups and my neighbor’s noticeably loud conversation.

The R-Word

As an aspiring journalist, and a naturally curious person, I really couldn’t help but eavesdrop on my neighbor’s loud chitter-chatter. Their conversation drifted from their new classes, to boys and back to school. I was fairly disinterested until one of the girls used the word ‘retarded’ in a pejorative sense to put down her friend.

My ears perked up. And, I shuddered on the inside. Though I don’t identify as someone with a disability, I have witnessed how the use of the ‘r-word’ affects people in ways that hurt far worse than I can imagine.

My thoughts were racing. I know that my first reaction should have been to politely ask them not to use that word and to simply explain why.

Hi. Excuses me. Sorry to interrupt your conversation. I overheard you use the word ‘retarded’ and I just wanted you to consider that it hurts people that are affected by special needs and those that love them, even if you didn’t intend it that way. Your words matter a lot. And, really, the use of the r-word isn’t’ necessary. Luckily, there are plenty of wonderful words in the English language that you could use instead.

Yet, in that moment, I chose not to speak up.

My fear of ‘social judgment,’ and being embarrassed if they responded poorly, prevented me from say anything at all. So, shamefully, I had delayed my response until the opportunity to say something had vanished.

When this incident occurred I was in the midst of reading this class’s reading by Baym. And, it occurred to me when she said, “the mobility of some new media means that we can now have conversation that would have once been held in our home (café)” and can now be held “wherever we are” (fb, twitter, blogging)…” I realized that I could take this conversation online.

And so, as a response to what happened I decided to do a self-motivated seven day social media challenge. I decided to tweet and post on *facebook once a day about why it is not okay to use the ‘r-word.’

Currently, I am on day five of my challenge and like Baym, I have begun to realize that “through communication, people assign symbolic meanings to technologies.”

For me, that has been to personally begin to associate social media as a tool for activism. Realistically, I don’t expect the ‘r-word’ to disappear anytime soon. And, I still wish I said something in person to those girls, but maybe, just maybe, this exercise will raise a little bit of awareness.

Time to share. Do you use the R-word? Would you make a pledge to stop?

What are your thoughts on the effectiveness of online activism?

 Baym asks us to consider these questions when faced with a new communication medium. Let’s apply it to online activism.  What benefits might it bring? What are the risks? What are the challenges for users and non-users?

*As not all of you will be able to access my facebook account, I have included my daily posts (Plus, if you’re still not convinced, hopefully these posts will help).

Friday: Spread the word: The R-word hurts! http://raregemsblog.wordpress.com/2011/03/02/the-r-word-hurts/

Saturday: Not Acceptable: Watch this PSA!

Sunday: Join the Social Challenge today! Through this site you can anonymously “challenge” Twitter r-word users.  Join: http://www.thesocialchallenge.org/index.php/functions/register

Please watch:

Monday: A story: “The retard in the next booth”http://www.jcwert.com/2011/03/02/the-retard-in-the-next-booth/

Tuesday: Check out this blog called ‘Love That Max – a blog about kids with special needs who kick butt.’ Article: If you ask people not to use the word ‘retard’: http://www.lovethatmax.com/2011/03/if-you-ask-people-to-not-use-word.html

Wednesday: A moving blog post. Spread. The. Word. http://laviepetite.blogspot.ca/2011/03/spread-word.html

A little bit about this first time blogger.

Hi, my name is Marijke and I am an aspiring journalist, feminist and lover of the arts.

I am a fourth year journalism and women and gender studies student at Carleton University. As a reporter, I specialize in social affairs and have experience on the (dis)abilitie’s issues beat. I see writing as a way to not only express who I am, and what I have to offer, but a way to interpret and process the complex world we live in.

In my spare time, I am a specialty tea fanatic and enjoy outdoor concerts, hiking and board games. Also, my name, Marijke, means “lover of the ocean,” which is suiting as I grew up playing on and exploring the magnificent beach’s in Qualicum and Parksville.

I like to surround myself with quotes to live by posted in my day timer or on my computer. One of my favorite quotes is, “you were born an original, don’t die a copy.”

I created this blog as a requirement for my fourth year Social Media and Gender class. I hope that it grows into something that will last long after the course ends.

Feel free to contact me with comments, questions, and/or any other feedback. This website is a constant work in progress, so let me know what you think.

I hope you read and enjoy!

*You can also find this information in the ‘About Me’ section.