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Archive for June 12th, 2012

Serindipity? It’s Madness!

Posted by Brian Kelly on 12 June 2012

The final preparations for UKOLN’s IWMW 2012 event included booking a ceilidh band for the evening social on the opening night of the event. This had been left until just over a week before the event as we were unsure of the numbers we might get in light of limited budgets for people to attend such events. However I’m pleased to say that the event will be even larger than last year with approximately 170 delegates.

I had been in touch with a number of ceilidh bands based in Edinburgh but the one that seemed most appealing was The Belle Star band.  As described on their web site:

One of Scotland’s top all-women dance bands, The Belle Star Band have got to be unique in spanning three cultures – Scottish Urban Ceilidh, Jewish Klezmer and Canadian/American Contradance. Their great sense of swing, strong fiddle-driven sound and love of playing for dancing make them the glue in any social gathering“.

Before confirming the booking I thought  I’d ask if anyone I knew had seen them. In response to my tweet I received the reply:

Wow! Yes. Blast from the past!

and following my question “Any good?” came the confirmation:

Oh yes! Sort of the female version of Madness back then, but they didn’t get a look in :-) Talent and energy and great music :-)

That was good enough for me, and we have now booked The Belle Star for Monday night’s ceilidh. The Twitter account which helped me make this decision was @disabilityarts. As Web accessibility is an important area of my work I was interested in finding out more. From the Twitter biography I found that “DAO is a journal for disabled bloggers, creatives and performers to share work and experience. Tweets are from Marian (sub-editor) and Colin (editor)“.

The serendipity of finding out that someone who recommended The Belle Star Band had similar interests was confirmed in a Twitter discussion from which I learnt about the user-focussed approaches to the redesign of the disabilityartsonline.org.uk web site and, of even more interest to me, was an article on Digitising Disability. This provided a quote on the Disability and Steve Jobs’ Legacy  by Tim Carmody in Wired.com which explained that:

“’Accessible’ means ‘something everyone can use.’ In pop culture and consumer technology, “accessible” sometimes means things that are easy for lots of people to understand or enjoy.

This view of accessibility clearly has parallels with the W3C WAI’s approach to Web accessibility for which the mantra, expressed by Tim Berners-Lee is “The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect“.

But just as we wouldn’t expect all works of art to be accessible to all, we should also not expect all Web products to be accessible by all.

Back in 2004 myself, Lawrie Phipps and Elaine Swift realised that the accessibility of Web resources shouldn’t be the prime consideration for elearning resources.  In a paper entitled “Developing A Holistic Approach For E-Learning Accessibility” we argued that the important aspect was the accessibility of the learning outcomes, not the digital resources.  The “understanding” of the content may come about through a particular pedagogical approaches, such as Social constructivism in which, according to Wikipediagroups construct knowledge for one another, collaboratively creating a small culture of shared artifacts with shared meanings“.

In a subsequent paper on “Accessibility 2.0: Next Steps For Web Accessibility” we developed out initial ideas and explored what accessibility might mean for access to cultural resources:

The Great Masturbator by Salvador Dali

How could you describe [the accompanying image] meaningfully to someone unable to see it? What is it a picture of? What is it about? How helpful is it to know that the artist, Salvador Dali, called it “The Great Masturbator”?

The Creative Case For Diversity page, which @disabilityarts brought to my attention, went on to describe the Capturing the moment, capturing the motion video which is embedded below. The article explains:

The technology is there to be exploited, to be harnessed, to be pushed. Simon Mckeown is a disabled artist who has spent much of his working life within the commercial world of gaming and computer animation and so knows a thing or two about pushing at boundaries.

But is this video accessible to a blind user? Does the web site conform with WAI accessibility guidelines? The answer is no. And this illustrates that the focus on conformance of the digital resource with a technical checklist is an over-simplistic approach to enhancing accessibility.

For me it is now timely to go the mechanistic approach to web accessibility and move towards a ‘post-digital’ view of accessibility which we touched on in a paper on Web accessibility metrics for a post digital world.  The article on “Digitising Disability” went on to explain howThe technology is there to be exploited, to be harnessed, to be pushed“. Let’s take One Step Beyond the simplicities of a checklist approach to accessibility. That step should be based on an understanding of what accessibility means from those engaged in disability studies and seeing how this might be applied in an online environment.

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