Tagged: inclusion

Disability and Rehabilitation: Special Issue on Universal Design

Disability and Rehabilitation have published a Special Issue on Universal Design (vol 36, no. 16, 2014), edited by Rob Imrie and Rachael Luck. This includes my paper Web accessibility standards and disability: developing critical perspectives on accessibility‘ (abstract follows below). If you would like to download the paper, but do not have access to the journal you can access one of 15 ePrints I have to give away (this access has now expired 22/01/2015). Alternatively, get in touch with me directly via selewthwaite [at] gmail.com. Here are the details:

Abstract: Web accessibility standards and disability: developing critical perspectives on accessibility.

Purpose: Currently, dominant web accessibility standards do not respect disability as a complex and culturally contingent interaction; recognizing that disability is a variable, contrary and political power relation, rather than a biological limit. Against this background there is clear scope to broaden the ways in which accessibility standards are understood, developed and applied.
Methods: Commentary.
Results: The values that shape and are shaped by legislation promote universal, statistical and automated approaches to web accessibility. This results in web accessibility standards conveying powerful norms fixing the relationship between technology and disability, irrespective of geographical, social, technological or cultural diversity.
Conclusions: Web accessibility standards are designed to enact universal principles; however, they express partial and biopolitical understandings of the relation between disability and technology. These values can be limiting, and potentially counter-productive, for example, for the majority of disabled people in the “Global South” where different contexts constitute different disabilities and different experiences of web access. To create more robust, accessible outcomes for disabled people, research and standards practice should diversify to embrace more interactional accounts of disability in different settings.

Imrie and Luck’s special issue is a landmark collection in the conceptual development of Universal Design.  Amongst the papers, ‘Parallels and problems of normalization in rehabilitation and universal design: enabling connectivities’, by Barbara E. Gibson is available as an Open Access PDF. Other titles include:

  • ‘Designing inclusive environments: rehabilitating the body and the relevance of universal design’, by Rob Imrie, Rachael Luck
  • ‘Universally design social policy: when disability disappears?’ by Jerome Bickenbach
  • ‘Universal design and the challenge of diversity: reflections on the principles of UD, based on empirical research of people’s mobility’ by Myriam Winance
  • ‘Universal Design and disability: an interdisciplinary perspective’ by Inger Marie Lid
  • ‘DeafSpace and the principles of universal design’ by Claire Edwards and Gill Harold
  • ‘About the nature of design in universal design’ by Ann Heylighen
  • ‘Situating universal design architecture: designing with whom?’ by Paul Jones

Further presentations and podcasts from the series of seminars that led this this special issue are available via the universalising design project website which rewards exploration. Comments and questions, as ever, are welcome! 

Call for Contributions: 6th Nottingham Research Network Conference

The Nottingham Research Network (Special Educational Needs, Social and Educational Inclusion, Health and Disabilities) has issued a second call for papers for their 6th annual conference, scheduled for Friday 13th January 2012.  This free conference is a collaborative and friendly event that welcomes presentations from people outside academia, as well as those who have not presented before. At previous conferences delegates have represented local schools, councils, student and housing groups, charities, advocacy organisations, support workers, and academics from a variety of disciplines across Nottingham Trent University and the University of Nottingham (to name but a few). I have a lot of affection for this conference – the inaugural conference was my first experience of having my presentation interpreted by a BSL interpreter – and this early postgraduate presentation subsequently led to my becoming involved with Human Factors research in Engineering, alongside my own work in Learning Sciences and Disability Studies. It is this kind of juncture, between social sciences and hard sciences, as well as the applied and practical aspects of the conference that make it so important to Nottingham.

This years’ theme is “Creative Approaches to Building Relationships”. At present there is no online presence for the conference (the network has  previously been active on Ning) so I’m reproducing the call for papers in full here.

The Nottingham Research Network
(Special Educational Needs, Social and Educational Inclusion, Health and Disabilities)

6th Annual conference
“Connecting people with shared interests to promote increased collaboration”

Call for contributions on the theme of


University of Nottingham
(Jubilee Campus)

Friday 13th January 2012 from 9.00-16.00

We welcome proposals for presentations, workshops and/or innovative approaches. We are keen to encourage new presenters. Please contact us by September 22nd:

  • Anne Emerson, Communication for Inclusion Research Unit, Division of Psychology, Nottingham Trent University.
  • Edward Sellman, School of Education, University of Nottingham.
  • Jackie Dearden, Children’s Services, MALT Central, Community Educational Psychology Service, Nottingham.

The conference is a local one, aimed at increasing communication between researchers, practitioners, learners and others in the field. However, the network is a successful one – entering the 6th year of this annual conference. If you are looking to establish a similar city wide, or sub-regional network, I recommend getting in touch with one of the contacts above for information.

In Memoriam: On the closure of SKILL, the UKs National Bureau for Students with Disabilities

I’ve written this post as part of Blogging Against Disablism Day, an annual event hosted by the Goldfish. Be sure to check out other contributions via her excellent blog.  This post is about the closure of Skill, the National Bureau for Students with Disabilities in the UK, the only pan-disability organisation dedicated to promoting equality for disabled people in education, training and employment.  Approximately two weeks ago the following message was posted to their website:

It is with great sadness that Skill: National Bureau for Students with Disabilities announces that it has ceased operating. Following a period of financial difficulty, Skill’s Board of Trustees has decided that it is no longer viable to keep the charity open. The Chair of Skills’ Board of Trustees, Peter Little OBE said “This is sad day for all of us. We had recently appointed an outstanding new Chief Executive and agreed a clear strategy to reduce our costs and turn around our finances, but in the end time was against us” […] It is hoped that others may step in to fill the gap this has left in the support available.

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2011
Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2011

Does this constitute a suitable topic for Blogging Against Disablism? Well, read on. Unfortunately, I believe this loss will result in a kind of structural disablism rising unchecked.  In the first place, I had hoped that this closure would elicit some coverage in national Education media, but it appears, to me at least, that current news frenzy dedicated to rises in tuition fees and wider issues of university funding have foreclosed on any coverage of this significant loss to the sector as a whole, and disabled students in particular. And this is a significant loss.

I was not aware of the financial difficulties facing Skill, and I have had few dealings with them directly. In these dealings, however, I have had a privileged view into some of the work they undertook – work that is extremely important – but receives little publicity.  In my PhD thesis I identify Skill’s role consulting on the redefinition of UCAS and HESA’s much disputed disability codes – the cornerstone of the self assessment process that all students face when applying to Higher Education Institutions. In this consultation, they represented disabled students views, in a way no one else, seemingly, can.  But this is by no means the most important work they’ve done.  A recent response to government consultation, an evidence submission on The future funding for Higher Education is more typical of their output and their website  continues to host a myriad of important documents for students and educators.

It is the loss of their expert advisors and staff that is the most worrying development, however, especially within a climate of cuts that are disproportionately hitting disabled people and students across the country.  It is not simply that disabled students are members of both these groups. As the number of disabled students in higher education has grown under the auspices of equality legislation, a serious and unanticipated threat to disabled students’ participation has manifested in the administrative incompetence of the Student Loans Company.

On the 5th of February 2010, the BBC reported that:

Almost 12,500 disabled students in England are still waiting for grants to pay for specialist equipment, figures from the Student Loans Company show.

Disabled students wait for specialist equipment grants (BBC)

Since then, the SLCs failure to process 209,000 student’s grants and loans in autumn 2010, left half of all applicants waiting weeks, and in some cases, months for financial assistance.  This had a direct and disproportionate impact on disabled students, threatening study and subsistence. As the Guardian reports:

At one point last year [2010], 87% of the 4 million calls to the SLC were going unanswered. Disabled students were disproportionately affected, with three-quarters of the 17,000 disabled students who applied for loans failing to receive them three months into the start of term. (Guardian).

Horrifyingly, with a view to the this academic year (beginning September 2011), the same Guardian article reports that the Student Loans Company Faces Ongoing Risk.  The authors note that in 2010 the Student Loans Companry was only responsible for processing the applications of new students. From this year the SLC will be responsible for applications for grants and loans from all students in England. The system was previously administered by local authorities.

In this context, the loss of any disability advocacy seems perilous.  Who will step in to fill the gap?

***update*** As of the 6th July 2011 the Disability Alliance has adopted Skill’s critical services for Disabled Students. Their Skill web space is under construction

Thoughts and comments are very welcome, as always.

#9 Critical Approaches to Accessibility for Technology Enhanced Learning by Sarah Lewthwaite

To take advantage of Routledge’s free Education journal access over the course of April 2011, I’ve presented 19 papers to highlight research with powerful applications in the fields of technology, disability and education.  Comments and suggestions are, as always, welcome. This is my final post in this series.

Lewthwaite, Sarah (2011) ‘Viewpoint: Critical Approaches to Accessibility for Technology Enhanced Learning’. Learning, Media and Technology. Vol 36, Issue 1, pp 85-89.

Learning Media and Technology
Learning Media and Technology

Last year I was invited by Neil Selwyn to submit a viewpoint article for the journal of Learning, Media and Technology, based on insights from my PhD research.  Learning, Media and Technology is one of the journals listed as part of Routledge’s Education Free for all, so my article and others are available for download to everyone regardless of subscription status until the end of the month.

Readers may know that editor Neil Selwyn has published substantially in the area of digital inclusion, frequently supplying a critical analysis on the political forces that shape technology discourses. I particularly recommend his research on low and non-users of technology (unfortunately, not openly available online).  As such, I was delighted to be given the opportunity to contribute to the journal. But that’s enough gushing. My article conducts a brief review of accessibility discourse, and should offer a welcome orientation for readers interested in e-learning and technology enhanced learning. The Journal of Learning, Media and Technology also rewards exploration – so if you’re part of the twitterati, facebook-elite or blogosphere and want to know more about your modus operandi, be sure to check out the journals’ contents.

#8 ‘Digital Agility and Disabled Learners’ by Seale, Draffan and Wald

Over the course of April I have been highlighting influential disability, technology and education research published by Routledge. All the papers cited are available for free this month to all.

SEALE, J., DRAFFAN, E. A. & WALD, M. (2010) Digital agility and digital decision-making: conceptualising digital inclusion in the context of disabled learners in higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 35, 4, 445-461.

Studies in Higher Education
Studies in Higher Education

My last post outlining a selection of papers on disability and the internet was focussed on research that has taken place prior to the advent of Web 2.0. If you’ve been following my blog – you’ll also know that the vast majority of papers listed have sprung from the pages of Disability and Society. Today’s offering is strikingly different. Digital Agility and Digital Decision-Making is a paper based on landmark research undertaken by the team behind the LexDis project: Mike Wald, EADraffan and JaneSeale. LexDis been concerned with the use of technology amongst disabled learners in higher education. The strength of LexDis is that it demonstrates the capabilities of disabled students, their strategies and tactics for technology use with regard to the media they actually use – with participants actively engaging in the development of the research.

Digital Agility and Digital Decision-Making recognises and theorises disabled users’ agency, how disabled students’ ”break and enter” otherwise closed systems, the cost/benefit analyses they conduct when applying assistive technologies and so on. In this way disabled students’ ‘digital agility’ is recognised (arguably, for the first time) and presented in a lucid and viable framework.  This does not mean that barriers to accessibility can be left unresolved, or that digital skills should not be taught – but the authors identify the value of an empowerment model of development that recognises disabled people as collaborators and agents, rather than passive recipients of digital services.  As such this paper is highly recommended for anyone interested in HCI, user experience, accessibility, e-learning or assistive technology.

If you are accessing this page outside of Routledge’s free for all – be sure to check the documents stemming from the Lexdis Project itself. These are freely available day in, day out. The reports, methodology documents and other papers published from the research all reward attention.

Finally, another essential aspect of JISC funded and JISC TechDis work springing from Southampton’s accessibility Gurus  is the Web2Access website. A task-based resource which allows educators (and anyone else) to describe the task they want to achieve with students or other users, and then presents evaluative information about Web 2.0 technologies available. I’ve blogged about this before, but it’s worth saying twice: It’s a great tool.

#7 Three papers on Disability and the Internet

Disability and Society
Disability and Society

Today I highlight three papers from Disability and Society that investigate digital disability prior to the advent of Web 2.0. All three papers nominated today represent research that is resolutely Web 1.0, concerning text-based and often distance environments. Some are based on research that took place in the late 90s in a discourse that is fast moving, as a result, these papers are presented with a caveat: Things have moved on. Nonetheless, any research into disability and the web owes a great deal to this fundament of internet research which attends to the social and contextual facets of disability that are central to user experience, but all too frequently fall outside the boundaries of accessibility and user experience research.

Each paper is freely available to all for the remainder of April 2011 as part of Routledge’s Education Free For All event. However, readers may like to know that outside this period Anderberg and Jonsson’s Being There and Natilene Bowker’s trailblazing PhD Thesis remain open to all out-of-hours.  Further research by the authors listed can also be found with the help of your good friend Google Scholar.

BOWKER, N. & TUFFIN, K. (2002) Disability Discourses for Online Identities. Disability & Society, 17, 3, 327-344.

Bowker and Tuffin grapple with the invisibility of some disabilities online in this research-based examination of disclosure and social context. They identify a ‘choice to disclose’ repetoir amongst participants relating to relevance, anonymity and normality. Although notions of ‘anonymity’ have been eroded in today’s networked environments where identity is often consolidated, the Web’s continuing role as a space in which the positioning of identity may take place within a subjectivity removed from impairment continues to inform notions of disability online. [readers may want to follow this treatise with Nick Watson’s Disability and Identity, for an alternate view].

SEYMOUR, W. & LUPTON, D. (2004) Holding the line online: exploring wired relationships for people with disabilities. Disability & Society, 19, 4, 291-305.

Seymour and Lupton’s research is amongst the earliest presented here, concerning interviews with 35 people in the late 90s. The authors develop their line of analysis along a continuum of other communication technologies – such as the phone. However, their discussion critically develops many of the embodiment and binary issues of disabled/non-disabled that in my view, have not yet been sufficiently theorised in critical disability studies.

ANDERBERG, P. & JONSSON, B. (2005) Being there. Disability & Society, 20, 7, 719-733.

Anderberg and Jonsson’s unhelpfully vague title and lack of keywords should not deter readers. Their phenomenographic investigation focusses on the experiences of 22 participants with significant mobility impairments. Their results speak clearly of the affordances internet technologies give some disabled people in terms of independence and interactions unmediated by Personal Assistants.

#6 ‘The Anti-Social Model of Disability’ by Dewsbury et al.

DEWSBURY, G., CLARKE, K., RANDALL, D., ROUNCEFIELD, M. & SOMMERVILLE, I. (2004) The anti-social model of disability. Disability & Society, 19, 2. p.145-158

Disability and Society
Disability and Society

There continues to be a marked seperation between Engineering/Computer Science and Disability Studies in academia. Despite the advance of accessibility discourse and significant developments in Science and Technology Studies, where Computer Science and Disability Studies do meet, the knowledge exchange is often limited, failing to fully utilise the strengths of either discipline. Dewsbury et al’s paper may go some way to explaining one aspect of this disciplinary bifurcation. They consider the Social Model of Disability (the ‘big idea’ of the disability movement [Shakespeare & Watson, 2002]) from a design perspective and attack this representation of disability, and it’s wider sociological framing, claiming it ‘ironicises ordinary experience, treating it as somehow partial and flawed in its ignorance of what is really going on’. In this way the authors identify the social model as profoundly ‘anti-social’.

As a sociologist, I fundamentally disagree with many of the authors vehement assertions about sociology (in particular, I feel they fail to engage with the fundamental practical ethics that Disability Studies is built upon – a determination to elevate practice over theory, despite referring to their own practical politics). Nonetheless, Dewsbury et al. offer a powerful reminder that there are alternative and grounded routes into disability praxis that can deliver real positive benefits for disabled people. Importantly, they also critique the dangers of sociological hyperbole and the rabbit hole of theory – such dangers have also been forcefully identified by many disability academics and activists, and here the useful confluence of disciplinary exchange begins for an engaged reader. Dewsbury et al., manifest an engineering perspective, seeking routes into design, and testing disability theory at the same time, proffering significant food for thought for all in the process.  Reader responses are very welcome. If you can recommend further reading on this disciplinary intersection, please signpost below!

#5 ‘Hierarchies of Impairment’ by Mark Deal

DEAL, M. (2003) Disabled people’s attitudes toward other impairment groups: a hierarchy of impairments. Disability & Society, 18, 7, 13.

Disability and Society
Disability and Society

This is the second paper I’ve nominated from the pen of Mark Deal, and it’s another cracker. In this paper Deal discusses Hierarchies of Impairment. Once again, this term is essential to building an analytic vocabulary of disability for lay people, academics and techies alike. Hierarchies of Impairment have been researched since the 1970s, however, where previous work has explored how different impairments receive different status in society (and, as a result, with regard to technology, different resources and research attention) Deal extends this analysis to incorporate the attitudes of disabled people themselves. Deal’s research has powerful applied implications – particularly for those of us seeking to create inclusive environments. It identifies how we might desconstruct mainstream notions of ‘disability’ to identify those most marginalised within society. It also highlights how disablism (and aversive disablism) can function between disabled groups, allowing an analysis of representation. For those of us in technical disciplines, Deal’s thesis also allows us to evaluate the ways in which hierarchies of impairment are re-orientated by new contexts (for example, the internet) and different cultures.

A forthcoming publication co-authored with Henny Swan pushes this envelope with respect to Web Standards and the Majority World. Watch this space.

A final word: Hierarchies of Impairment is only available for free via Routledge this month to non-subscribers (April, 2011). If you’re accessing this page outside these dates, investigate Mark Deal’s excellent PhD thesis (2006) Attitudes of Disabled People Toward Other Disabled People and Impairment Groups which is available through the Enham website.

#3 ‘The use and non-use of assistive technologies’ by Soderstrom and Ytterhus

The third instalment in an academic free for all.

SÖDERSTRÖM, S. & YTTERHUS, B. (2010) The use and non-use of assistive technologies from the world of information and communication technology by visually impaired young people: a walk on the tightrope of peer inclusion. Disability & Society, 25, 3, 303-315.

Disability and Society
Disability and Society

This paper by Sylvia Soderstrom and Borgunn Ytterhus presents an essential insight into the importance of social context for the take up of technology, and the place of assistive technologies within this matrix. They remind us that users do not exist in a vaccuum, that, in affluent societies ‘how people use technology is symbolic of various values and identities’. This qualitative study is relatively small, but its results are referent to a swathe of complex socio-technical relations. In this sense it is powerfully illustrative. Where ICT is found to broadly symbolise competence, belonging and independence – the specific nature of specialised assistive technologies can symbolise restriction, difference and dependency. The implications of such findings have resonance across Human Factors, HCI and education, and emphasise the peer-to-peer nature of in/accessibility and its delivery.

#2 ‘Identity and Disability’ by Nick Watson

The second post in my solo April blog festival.

WATSON, N. (2002) Well, I know this is going to sound very strange to you, but I don’t see myself as a disabled person: identity and disability. Disability & Society, 17, 5, 18.

Disability and Society
Disability and Society

In March 2011 Aleks Krotoski, UK technology journalist and researcher wrote a piece about Disability and the Internet for the Observer. Although I recognised many of her arguments and observations, I disagreed with several key aspects of her analysis. In particular, her assertion that disabled people ‘pass’ as non-disabled online. Hers is a very blunt statement – and it is this concern, that disabled people who do not present themselves (or see themselves) as disabled online might in some way be complicit in maintaining, rather than challenging a disabling status quo that Watson’s research tears into.

Here Watson challenges a ‘passing’ interpretation of the actions of disabled people – presenting disabled people’s own accounts and identifying in the process an opposite interpretation, a political assertion of disability as normal. Watson’s research gives important nuance to this crucial area. For anyone writing, designing or researching disability and technology – this paper makes essential reading.

Note: My PhD explores this territory with respect to Social Networks. For an additional alternative reponse to Kotoski’s article, see how Ouch’s Disability Bitch goes into CyberSpasm