Following on from my guest lecture at the Centre for Culture and Disability Studies (click for abstract) at Liverpool Hope University earlier this month, I’ve received a number of requests for my presentation slides. As a result, I’ve added them to SlideShare and made them more widely available below. These slides are supplied with an important caveat, however. I designed the talk to balance descriptions of what worked and what didn’t work over the course of my PhD research; I also talked a great deal around the slides – that means that important content and context is missing in several areas. Nonetheless, I think the literature cited, methods overview and some of the results reported will be of interest to researchers and others in the field. If you require an alternative format, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve had a lot of hits from people looking for online learning materials to support a new term of CACDAP courses in British Sign Language (tap BSL into the search box if you’re looking for links to video resources). As a result I’ve been thinking about the BSL resources found online more generally. On Tuesday I was at AbilityNet’s ‘Accessibility 2.0: a million flower’s bloom’ conference. An early tip was Australian presenter Lisa Herrod (@ScenarioGirl), a consultant from Scenario Seven, and expert in User Experience for Deaf users. Her talk ‘Understanding Deafness: History, Language and the Web’ blew this subject wide open.
Lisa’s presentation and slides are now available via AbilityNet. A transcript will become available soon.
Lisa’s presentation was a timely reminder of the ways in which Deaf people are often overlooked in internet practice and research:
people tend to group deaf, Deaf and Hearing Impaired users into one big group of people who “just can’t hear. Most of us know someone that has diminished hearing through age or industrial damage, noise etc. But few of us understand Deafness from a cultural, linguistic perspective, i.e. from the perspective of those Deaf who use sign language as a first language and may not be fluent in English as a second language.
British Sign Language is the first language for approximately 50,000 Deaf people in the UK. This gestural language is wholly different to spoken and written English. Lisa highlighted how developments from texting through to video conferencing have had a huge and positive impact on distance communications for the Deaf community. In this sense Web 2.0 provides powerful tools for Deaf people to come together. However, Lisa also showed how internet resources can cause problems for Sign Language users due to an over-reliance on large amounts of complicated text; text that assumes a fluent native speaker. In short, Web 2.0 is effective for Signed collaboration, but the textual basis of content is still a problem.
So far, these observations have clear intersects with accessibility issues for foreign language speakers and people with print impairments such as dyslexia. However, a specific barrier unique to Deaf people online can come in the form of video captioning. In discussion, Lisa identified a vital distinction between captioning and subtitling. Captioning reports speech directly into text, whereas Subtitling is more interpretive and intended for quick and easy understanding. Where a person with dyslexia might watch and listen to a video rather than read a text, with dubbed versions available to French or Chinese viewers, interpretive subtitling allows a Deaf person to understand and take in visual content.
Another powerful message from Lisa’s presentation relates to the global status of BSL more specifically. Early in her talk Lisa refuted a common popular misconception that Deaf people across the world have the same signed language. Spoken English and American English are nearly identical, but British Sign Language and American Sign Language (ASL) are very different. In fact, ASL has more in common with French Sign Language due to a shared linguistic ancestry stemming from the 1800s. As with the development of any language, Sign Languages have grown out of small communities and expanded simultaneously from disparate beginnings. This history forcefully underlines the difference between ASL and BSL, but what does it mean for the web?
BSL speakers are a linguistic minority online. American English is a dominant internet language, and in my experience, American Sign Language also dominate searches and resources. BSL is from the same family of languages as Auslan (Australian Sign Language) and New Zealand Sign Language, but the American orientation of internet culture made it difficult for me as a BSL beginner to find resources relevant to the UK beyond established portals and communities. In these terms, British Sign Language must be prioritised online at every level. Other accessibility concerns may be solved or mediated with international expertise. But the national and linguistic independence of British Deaf culture means that accessible video/text and BSL materials must be prioritised in the UK.
Time for me to sign up for BSL Level 2.
With the all-too-immanent arrival of the next academic year, the conference season is fast approaching here in the UK. Here are two select highlights.
First up is the RNIB’s Techshare conference from the 16 – 18 September 2009 at the ExCeL centre in London. TechShare is a pan-disability assistive technology conference and exhibition. Speakers make up a virtual who’s who of accessibility, including representatives from JISC TechDis, the W3C, IBM, Google and the RNIB. Unfortunately the early-bird discount has now expired – and there are no other discounted rates (that I could find). The costs for 2 days starts at £365 (not including VAT) with a 1 day ticket coming in at £265 + VAT. On-site registration costs more. Pre-conference workshops, accommodation and dinner are extra. However, the accompanying exhibition is free to attend and is open to the public from 12pm to 5pm on 17 and 18 September. Do note, the RNIB encourage registration for attending the exhibition.
The date for the second national conference on Accessibility 2.0 has also been set by Accessibility impresarios AbilityNet for the 22nd of September 2009 at Microsoft’s base nr Victoria Station. If last year’s conference is anything to go by, ‘Accessibility 2.0: A million flowers bloom‘ will be of great interest to those looking to find the cutting-techy-edge of accessible web development, with plenty of food for thought for those of us engaged in Web 2.0 more broadly. This is also a conference with a high precedent for impact. Presentations from last year’s event were freely available in multiple formats after the conference, as were tools and news spinning out in response to presentations.
For those in Disability Studies, academic support and more social disciplines, my tip for a highlight is Lisa Herrod presenting on the use of social networks by Deaf users. BSL is available for delegates on request. Prices for the full day are:
- Full price £195
- Promotional £170
- Student £100 (includes VAT)
I’m pleased to say I’ll be attending Accessibility 2.0 for the second year. I hope to see you there.
Last week I blogged about the InterFace Symposium in Southampton. As with many events, the organisers sought to enhance delegate experiences and communities using a mix of social networks and other Web 2.0 tools (a Ning social network, Micro-blogging with Twitter, online publishing with Scribd). It can be difficult to quickly assess the accessibility of such services and make decisions as to which service is most appropriate – or at least it was until JISC TechDis and Southampton University pulled together to create Web2Access.
Web2Access is a great reference site for anyone wanting to make more informed decisions about applying web 2.0 tools in an accessible way. The resource allows you to search for information in different ways. You can search by activity (for example, collaborative writing or ) and Web2 Access will then give you a percent score on the success of those applications in accessibility terms. So at time of writing Twitter scores an overall 88% , Accessible Twitter scores 95%, Facebook 69%, Ning 72%. These ratings are subjecting and based on manual and automatic tests. If you follow links for each individual service, you can discover more detailed information about how each service scores for users with different disabilities. Alternatively you can browse by Disability or using the Search box on the website front page. There are also useful pages describing how the sites listed have been tested, answering Frequently Asked Questions and linking to useful e-Learning resources.
If you are involved in organising teaching and learning and are wanting to make more use of Web 2.0 services in your e-learning activities, or if you are interested in how Web 2.0 can supplement your existing methods, or events in an accessible way, Web2Access provides a rule of thumb for most situations.
Yesterday Apple announced the next iteration of the iPhone, the 3Gs. The good news is it’s more accessible. Tim O’Brien offers a promising and comprehensive analysis of Apple’s recent developments in his article New iPhone 3G S, More Accessibility. This comes highly recommended.
Caramel Whistle have just published the results of a thorough trawl of the web, seeking out the best Sign Language resources for students of BSL. This round-up includes Mobile Signs and some of the resources and technical vocab sites I’ve listed here previously, but more importantly he introduces some great new finds.
For me, there are two clear highlights. The first is Spread the Sign, a European website that hosts a text-to-sign search. This allows you to translate a word or phrase from a range of european spoken languages into a sign language equivalent. You can search for a term and then view the results in BSL, or see it signed in any of 10 languages, including Swedish, Turkish, Russian, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese and Czech. Importantly, video is smooth and sharp. This is a great site that rewards exploration.
The second highlight is Qia Resources for ICT. This site offers common and specialist vocabulary on Information and Communications Technology. As with Art Signs, this is useful for anyone working in media, education, computer science or a related discipline.
See the full article here: Learning-a-Language.
Another useful free tool for post graduates and academics. YouSendIt is a secure online file transfer service for sending large files that can’t be squeezed through your inbox. This service is useful for all sorts of situations, particularly if you’re looking for a high-speed (quicker, cheaper, perhaps greener?) alternative to putting a CD in the post. Their ‘Lite’ service is free and supports up to 1GB per month. Perfect if you’re looking for an easy way to share audio or video files with third parties for collaboration or transcription, without using FTP.
Since starting my BSL course last year (final exam on Monday!) I’ve been struck by the potential for mobile technologies to assist translation and memory for BSL students on the move. As a result, I was really excited to discover Mobilesign, an online dictionary developed by the University of Bristol’s Centre for Deaf Studies (and discovered via a hunch based upon yesterday’s edition of the BBC’s See Hear). From what I can glean, Mobilesign has been developed in conjunction with SignStation, a website promoting Deaf awareness and workplace materials.
Mobilesign contains over 5000 BSL signs, available through a minimal, mobile friendly interface. Suitable for phones, PDAs and any other networked mobile tech, signs can be searched for by string (any search term, or set of terms) or through the A-Z index. Through sister site SignStation you can explore by category or via a picture dictionary when you register. Registration is free.
Bristol cite an underlying bespoke content management system allowing
access to indexes of the most requested signs, related signs and regional variations. This rewards exploration, and complements other materials from CACDAP and the great resources developed by the University of Wolverhampton that I’ve linked to previously. To see all my articles linking to BSL resources, pop ‘BSL’ in the search box, or use the BSL category listed on the left.
With the European Elections fast approaching, the Open Rights Group have asked UK candidates what they think about key digital rights issues such as online privacy, surveillance state, open internet and copyright reform. To view responses, visit the Open Rights Group EU Election pages.
The Open Rights Group is a grassroots technology organisation which exists to protect civil liberties wherever they are threatened by the poor implementation and regulation of digital technology. This is an important area for advocacy and got me thinking. When we consider digital rights – particularly Internet access as a human right – government action to ensure equitable internet access and close digital divides appears straightforward. However, the intersection between the internet and disabled people as users is not the sum, total interface between digital infrastructure and disability.
Last year at the biennial Disability Studies Association conference in Lancaster (UK), Australian academic Dr Helen Meekosha presented the keynote Contextualizing disability: developing southern/global theory. This paper advocated global perspectives on disability, challenging gaps in western/northern disability discourse. Meekosha observes that global levels of disability are not a given, they are dependent on factors such as war, disaster, economics and climate change. In view of this, the decisions made by elected governments on defence, trade, international aid and the environment have repercussions for levels of disability around the world. I would argue that digital legislation is bound into this policy ecology. For example, in environmental terms… (I’m thinking of Nicolas Carr’s assertion that the average Second Life avatar consumes as much energy as the average Brazillian and the revelations that the CO2 emissions of the ICT industry outstrip aviation) …green computing could be concieved as a human rights and disability issue.
However, Meekosha identifies more direct causal effects relating technology and disability, specifically through outsourcing to ‘eSweatshops’. She also observes:
Disability scholars rarely venture into this territory – leaving these issues to scholars in feminism and international development.
Citing the excellent article ‘A New Front in the Sweatshop Wars?‘ by Farrell & Olsen, (2001) Meekosha highlights the emergence of eSweatshops, dedicated to data processing, as a physically damaging, disabling environments. Farrell and Olsen scope high-profile academic digitisation projects that have been sub-contracted to countries such as Barbados, India, Mexico and Cambodia whilst observing the lack of any regulation. In one instance they describe disabled people targeted for employment by a Harvard sub-contractor. This is a complex area of competing interests, deftly handled by Farrell and Olsen. More recent literature from organisations such as Cafod focuses on manufacturing sweatshops, for ICTs and software. It’s a reminder that digital resources, tools and structures can infringe rights and create impairment, outside traditional views of inaccessible systems and accessibility discourse.