Monthly Archives: November 2012

A Shift in Culture

Reporting by Marijke Large

Produced by Gerrit De Vynck, Veronica Tang and Marijke Large


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.