Tagged: UX

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! 

Free access to Education, Tech and Disability research: Fill your boots!

The letters OMG are carved into a dense encyclopedia
Detail photo by See-Ming Lee of book sculpture "OMG LOL". From Eyebeam Art & Technology Center Open Studios.

Last year, academic publisher Routledge offered 30 days of free access to their education journals.  This year, they’re offering similar access with a couple of additional constraints. Firstly, to access the journals you have to register on their site, secondly, articles are only available for 14 days this time around. On the plus side – you can register and begin the 14 days  of access at any point up until the 30th June 2012.

Dedicated readers may remember that last year I highlighted a set of papers that I felt would be of interest to education, technology and disability professionals outside of academia. Normally, the cost of accessing closed, subscription journal articles is far too much for people to bear, with articles usually retailing at around £23 ($36). So my advice? Sign up and take two weeks to fill your boots!

To recap: some great (mind expanding) papers for people working in the area of disability, technology, user experience, accessibility, technology enhanced learning and human computer interaction will be available. I still heartily recommend these papers and special issues, I’ve blogged about each as follows:

  1. Aversive Disablism: subtle prejudice towards disabled people by Mark Deal
  2. Identity and Disability by Nick Watson
  3. The use and non-use of technology assistive technologies by Soderstrom and Ytterhus
  4. Disability, Technology and e-Learning edited by Jane Seale… Note: Jane is currently editing a second special collection of papers about digital inclusion and learning for Research in Learning Technology with William Dutton of the Oxford Internet Institute. Peer-review is underway. As Research in Learning Technology is now an open access journal this will be freely available when it is published.
  5. Hierarchies of Impairment by Mark Deal
  6. The anti-social model of disability by Dewsberry et al
  7. Three papers on disability and the internet including: Disability Discourses for Online Identities by Bowker and Tuffin, Holding the line online: exploring wired relationships for people with disabilities by Seymour and Lupton and Being there by Anderberg and Jonsson.
  8. Digital agility and disabled learners by Seale, Draffan and Wald
  9. Critical approaches to accessibility for technology enhanced learning by me, Sarah Lewthwaite.

Next week I’ll be recommending ALL NEW additional research papers that Routledge have published in the field since last year’s Open Access festival. If you have any additional papers you’d like to list, or any other comments, please post, I’d love to hear from you.

The Platonic Upper Cut

Watching some of the tweets rolling out of South By South West (SXSW) I was reminded (again) of the continuing relevance of cyberfeminist theory for Human Factors, HCI and UX researchers. In particular, Katherine Hayles work “How we became post-human: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics” (1999) springs to mind, in terms keeping an eye to the messy complexity of users, in balance with the ‘perfect’ world of code. I think this has particular relevance for those creating scenarios and personas or otherwise seeking to ‘abstract’, summarise or theorise a user group.

At the risk of alienating all but the most committed readers – here’s a snipped from my thesis where I discuss Hayles’ work. Here, I highlight problems with collecting onscreen information without consulting a user about the purpose, meaning and motivation behind their activities.  Please excuse the appallingly academic language, I have added some links to expand on particular terms that may have different meanings for different readers.  Comments are welcome.

The following excerpt is taken from p 125-127 from:

The sections quoted are from:

  • HAYLES, N. K. (1999) How we became posthuman : virtual bodies in cybernetics, literature, and informatics. Chicago, Ill. London, University of Chicago Press.

Onscreen Data:

…In analysis, the results of screen capture have been used primarily for illustrative purposes, for reference and data triangulation (Merriam, 1999). This has been for several reasons. Firstly, from an ontological position, I have felt it important to recognise that shifting the focus of research from the individual to their onscreen representations would fail to report authentic understandings of this content. Privileging my own view on student screen phenomena arguably instigates a research hierarchy that privileges the researcher’s observation over the student construction of meaning that those artefacts realise.

There is also a further ontological issue at stake here, available to us through arguments posited by Hayles (1999). Hayles actively seeks to complicate the abstract dichotomies present in dominant technology discourse. In a statement of intent, she problematises the leap from embodied reality to abstract information, with important implications for research straddling these spaces:

Abstraction is of course an essential component in all theorising, for no real theory can account for the infinite multiplicity of our interactions with the real. But when we make moves that erase the world’s multiplicity, we risk losing sight of the variegated leaves, fractal branchings, and particular bark textures that make up the forest. (Hayles, 1999: 12)

Hayles continues to identify two moves that she deems central to the construction of an information/materialist hierarchy that distorts understandings of the real world and its online equivalents. She terms these the ‘Platonic backhand and forehand’:

The Platonic backhand works by inferring from the world’s noisy multiplicity a simplified abstraction. So far so good: this is what theorising should do. The problem comes when the move circles around to constitute the abstraction as the originary form from which the world’s multiplicity derives. Then complexity appears as a ‘fuzzing up’ of an essential reality rather than as a manifestation of the world’s holistic nature. (Hayles, 1999: 12)

This back-to-front semblance of the real world in theory is important, but not complete. When considering the interface between ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ realms, the ‘platonic forehand’ comes into play:

Whereas the Platonic backhand has a history dating back to the Greeks, the Platonic forehand is more recent. To reach fully developed form, it required the assistance of powerful computers. This move starts from simplified abstractions and, using simulation techniques such as genetic algorithms, evolves a multiplicity sufficiently complex that it can be seen as a world of its own. The two moves thus make their play in opposite directions. The backhand goes from noisy multiplicity to reductive simplicity, whereas the forehand swings from simplicity to multiplicity. They share a common ideology – privileging the abstract as the Real and downplaying the importance of material instantiation. When they work together, they lay the groundwork for a new variation on an ancient game, in which disembodied information becomes the ultimate Platonic Form. (Hayles, 1999:12-13)

When conceptualising online spaces, it is thus desirable to recognise any instinct towards the abstraction of the Real, and, arguably, over-estimation of the complexity of online representations. For this reason, my interviews privileged students and the meanings that they ascribed to online phenomena and activity, rather than the ‘authentic’ onscreen phenomena itself. Where dissonance between onscreen phenomena and student talk occurred, this was raised within the interview. In this way, the interviews could be characterised as ambulant; moving through online spaces, charting them with respect to the guidance offered by participants.


Multiple Perspectives on Interaction Design for Older People

This week the 27th International Technology and Persons with Disabilities (CSUN 2012) conference begins in San Diego. I will be contributing to three sessions (a discussion panel and two papers) all now highlighted on my diary page and available on the conference web pages. It looks like papers will not be available until after event itself. As a result, mine are available here for preview and comment. Hopefully they will be of interest to general accessibility/social media readers as well as delegates. First up (and previously blogged) was:Peer-to-Peer Accessibility in Social Networks“, a paper for a session that will be exploring how web accessibility can be socially mediated by peers within social networks, using evidence from research with disabled students at UK Universities. Second, a preview of the panel discussion Does Accessibility have to be Perfect?” has been previewed for discussion over at Henny Swan’s blog. Please head over there and check it out.

Finally, I will be presenting a paper on aspects of the MyUI.eu project. The paper is entitled “Interaction Design for Older People”. Beneath this rather generic title, I will be specifically focussing on the tensions raised by multiple perspectives on disability and aging in interdisciplinary work. The paper’s introduction is reproduced below. A PDF of the full document (approximately 1,000 words) available below, both for download and embedded in Google’s PDF viewer. If you would like to read the paper in a different format, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Interaction Design for Older People

This paper highlights an approach to promoting e-Inclusion which focuses older users in context. It is based on research conducted as part of the user-centred, collaborative work of the MyUI project (Mainstreaming Accessibility through Synergistic User Modelling and Adaptability). The research has raised important conceptual issues during its conduct, particularly regarding the ‘practical ethics’ of modeling disability and age-related impairments. In short, there is no neutral language with which to describe disability [1, 2, 3], as such all research is conducted through a particular ideological lens. In this interdisciplinary and cross-cultural research, the application of critical perspectives, grounded in social theory and disability studies, has offered fresh insight into the conception of impairment and disability amongst the technically-based prerogatives of human factors and HCI research. This paper introduces the MyUI project and the value of applying post-structuralist approaches from critical disability studies for human factors research.

‘Interaction Design for Older People’ PDF