Edge 3 Accessibility Panel Video (Subtitled)

Following on from my last post on the availability of video from the EdgeConf London Accessibility panel earlier this month, I’m pleased to report that captioned and edited versions of all sessions are now online.  The newly subtitled Accessibility panel is embedded and linked below. The full playlist is available from the Google Chrome Developers YouTube account. Importantly, with all sessions now transcribed, you can search session transcripts via the EdgeConf site to discover relevant content more quickly.

Edge 3 Accessibility Panel Video

Yesterday the third Edge Conference was held in London. Footage from the afternoon’s Accessibility panel is now available via Google’s Web Developer account on YouTube (embedded below). From left to right, the panellists are Derek Featherstone (Simply Accessible) who also gives the opening address, myself (King’s College London), Chris Heilmann (Mozilla, our moderator), Alice Boxhall (Google), Andrew Ronksley (RNIB) and Matthew Tyler Atkinson (Paciello Group). If you’re listening to the video without visual cues, listen out for our (helpful!) accents. Derek is Canadian, Chris is German, myself, Andrew and Matthew are the Brits and Alice has the Aussie accent. As ever, comments are welcome! More reflections on the panel and conference as a whole to follow soon.

Edge 3 Conference: Accessibility Panel Broadcast

Edge London Logo
Edge London logo

It’s a big week in accessibility. CSUN 2014 (the 29th Annual International Technologies and Persons with Disabilities Conference) is now in full swing over in San Diego, California. Be sure to follow #CSUN14 on twitter to get your distance fix of accessibility tech news.

In addition, the third Edge conference is nearly upon us, taking place on Friday March 21st, 2014 here in London.  In the conveners’ own words:

Edge is a new kind of non-profit one-day conference on advanced web technologies for developers and browser vendors, raising funds for CodeClub.

As previously mentioned, the conference is hosted by FT Labs, Microsoft and Google in a collaborative spirit and intended for an expert audience. The event is now sold out. However, if you are interested following the conference online, all sessions will be broadcast live on YouTube and through the Edge website.  The Accessibility panel is due to start at 16.30 GMT. I’m in distinguished company; others on the panel include Chris Heilmann (Mozilla), Derek Featherstone (Simply Accessible), Alice Boxhall (Google), Andrew Ronksley (RNIB) and Matthew Tyler Atkinson (Paciello Group). It’s worth noting too that there are accessibility Big Guns slated to speak during other sessions.   Patrick Lauke (Paciello Group) is taking part in the Pointers and Interactions panel (beginning at 15.15 GMT), and Jeni Tennison (W3C) is delivering the opening talk on Future Web (17.30 GMT). In this respect our panel is by no means an accessibility ghetto; I’d be surprised if discussion of accessibility issues are limited to our afternoon slot.

If you’re reading this post in retrospect, or from the shameless luxury of the Grand Hyatt in sunny San Diego (*waves*) you can still access recordings of the day after the event. All panels, questions, discussions and so forth will be made publicly available. I’ll post links here when I get them. In the meantime, follow @EdgeConf on Twitter if you want a more immanent update.

Call for Papers: Disability, Technology and the Global South

Call for Papers: Disability and the Global South

An International Journal

Special Issue: Disability, Technology and the Global South.

Editors: Sarah Lewthwaite (King’s College London) and Anupama Roy (State University New York at Oswego)

Disability and the Global South is the first peer reviewed international journal committed to publishing high quality work focused exclusively on all aspects of the disability experience in the global South. It provides an interdisciplinary platform prioritising material that is critical, challenging, and engaging from a range of epistemological perspectives and disciplines. Disability and the Global South is an open access journal.

In this special edition we call for papers addressing the areas of disability, technology and the global South. Contributions will voice a range of global perspectives, recognising diversity rather than a ‘globalist account of a unified technology-driven world order’ (Selwyn, 2013). This special issue will examine the relations between technology, disability and impairment at the levels of design, development, resourcing, manufacture, distribution, governance and use in and across diverse locations. At present, notions of enabling and assistive technologies, their function and use, are mostly assumed by the global North. There is a scarcity of literature documenting technology initiatives that are rooted in the global South or expressing Southern, non-Western perspectives. This special issue seeks to voice research and critical positions on areas currently missing from global debate over the relations between technology and disability, and highlight overarching global issues that are currently silenced in technicist geo-politics.

We encourage contributions exploring a range of themes, including (not exclusively):

  • The intersection of disability and the resourcing, development, production of technology and its supply chain
  • Disability rights, technology governance and development policy
  • Universal Design
  • Web accessibility and web standards
  • Assistive technologies
  • ‘Digital Divides’
  • Disability and gaming
  • Data-farming, eSweat-shops
  • Learning Technologies, e-Learning, Disability and Education
  • Disability perspectives on global technology initiatives such as One Laptop Per Child
  • Disability perspectives on emerging development and technology disciplines such as ICT4D (Information and Communications for Development), M4D (Mobiles for Development).

The editors also welcome abstracts on any related areas and are happy to discuss potential submissions by email. We invite researchers and scholars from social science and technology disciplines such as disability studies, science and technology studies, development studies, communication and media studies, HCI, accessibility and Web Science, alongside activists and practitioners to submit papers and engage in debate around all aspects of disability and technology, prioritising viewpoints, experiences and knowledge from those in the global South.


First complete drafts of full papers due by: Monday 30th June 2014

Following peer review, comments returned to authors by: Monday 1st September 2014

Final revised copy to be submitted by authors: Monday 1st Dec 2014

Likely publication: Feb/March 2015

We welcome informal inquiries. Abstracts and inquiries should be submitted by email addressed to:  Sarah Lewthwaite (King’s College London): sarah.lewthwaite@kcl.ac.uk and Anupama Roy (State University New York at Oswego): onupama@gmail.com.

Review: Disability and New Media

Disability and Society have just published their latest edition; Journal issue 1, volume 29, featuring my review of Ellis and Kent’s 2011 book Disability and New Media, which was released in paperback last year. This book is recommended reading. My review concludes as follows:

In summary Disability and New Media presents an essential new history of digital media. Ellis and Kent offer a meticulous account of the structural enaction of disability in the design and delivery of new media. The book focuses mainly on the socio-technical properties of these technologies rather than the person-to-person experiences of prejudice and exclusion that may be perpetuated across a network. However, this account testifies to disabled people’s digital rights, tenacity and the importance of accessible digital media for all. The authors highlight valuable concepts, hidden histories and developments that inform all our lives. As such, this book makes useful reading for computer scientists and disability scholars alike, highlighting the need to develop this field. Disability and New Media does not represent a definitive guide to social media, new technologies and disability. Such an omniscient review is not possible when the very newness of the technologies in question resist definition and when the authors have at one point lost some critical focus. Nonetheless, this book represents a significant inquiry, offering a gateway for scholars and activists investigating the affordances of media that increasingly shape our understanding of our world and ourselves.

The full review can be found at:

Sarah Lewthwaite (2014): Review: Disability and new media,
Disability & Society, DOI: 10.1080/09687599.2013.864864

You can buy Disability and New Media on the Routledge website. The authors, Katie Ellis (@KkatieEllis) and Mike Kent (@cultware) can also be found on Twitter.

Universalising Design @ Open University

On February 21st 2014 I’ll be presenting and the third in a series of ESRC seminars considering “Designing inclusive environments: shaping transitions from theory into practice” at the Open University in Milton Keynes. This ESRC seminar focusses on deepening understandings of Universal Design, as part of the European “Universalism: Universal design and equitable access to the built environment” project, convened and led by Rob Imrie at Goldsmiths College, London, and Rachel Luck at the OU. This seminar focuses on “Translational practices and the operationality of universal design”.

My presentation will focus putting practice into theory, with a focus on hierarchies of impairment and the application of web accessibility standards in practice in UK higher education. Other presenters include Bill Gaver, Mark Rouncefiled, Simon Holland, Guy Dewsberry, Dean Cowan and Jamie Brooker. The full schedule is available on the Universalising Design website.

Edge 3 Conference @ Microsoft London

Edge London Logo
Edge London logo

I’ve been invited by FT Labs to participate in the Accessibility panel scheduled as part of the third Edge conference at Microsoft in London on Friday March 21st, 2014.  In their own words:

Edge is a new kind of non-profit one-day conference on advanced web technologies for developers and browser vendors, raising funds for CodeClub.

The conference is hosted by FT Labs, Microsoft and Google in a collaborative spirit and intended for an expert audience. After the event, all panels, questions, discussions and so forth will be made publicly available. More information is available on the Edge London website. Follow @EdgeConf on Twitter for updates.

Article: Why Accessibility Standards Need to Be Contextually Sensitive

Screenshot of Kelly, Hassell, Sloan, Lukeš, Draffan, and Lewthwaite, (July 2013) 'Bring Your Own Policy: Why Accessibility Standards Need to be Contextually Aware' Ariadne Issue 71.
Screenshot of Kelly, Hassell, Sloan, Lukeš, Draffan, and Lewthwaite, (July 2013) ‘Bring Your Own Policy: Why Accessibility Standards Need to be Contextually Aware’ Ariadne Issue 71.

Earlier this summer, a paper co-authored by Brian Kelly (@briankelly) David Sloan (@sloandr) Dominique Lukeš (@techczech) EA Draffan (@EADraffan) and myself (@slewth!) was published in issue 71 of Ariadne, the online quarterly publication for Information Professionals. ‘Bring Your Own Policy: Why Accessibility Standards Need to be Contextually Aware’ is open access.

In our paper, we argue that rather than having a universal standard for Web accessibility, Web accessibility practices and policies need to be sufficiently flexible to cater for the local context. The issue’s editorial describes the paper as follows:

Brian Kelly, Jonathan Hassell, David Sloan, Dominik Lukeš, E.A. Draffan and Sarah Lewthwaite advise Bring Your Own Policy: Why Accessibility Standards Need to Be Contextually Sensitive and argue that, rather than having a universal standard for Web accessibility, Web accessibility practices and policies need to be sufficiently flexible to cater for the local context. The authors explain that despite the increased pressures on conformance with Web accessibility guidelines, large-scale surveys have shown that they have had relatively little impact. Having reviewed previous critiques, they examine the code of practice BS 8878. They argue for a wider application than just to Web content, and that an alternative strategy could be adopted which would employ measures that are more context-sensitive. The authors point out that little attention has been paid to the principles underlying Global Accessibility Standards and that in non-Western environments may even prove to be counter-productive. They highlight the alternative of more evidence-based standards and examine their disadvantages. Having used the example of simple language to illustrate the difficulties, the authors offer another example in the provision of accessibility support to publicly available video material. They argue that standardisation of the deployment of Web products is more important that the conformance of the products themselves. The authors summarise the aims of BS 8878. They explain the scope of the framework that it adds to WCAG 2.0 and how it encourages Web site designers to think more strategically about all accessibility decisions surrounding their product. They conclude that globalisation is not limited to users: owners of sites do not wish to be constrained in their choice of international suppliers and products, but the latter are by no means standardised globally – but the benefits of an international standard are enormous.

If you’d like more information, Brian Kelly supplies a thorough overview of the paper and its genealogy on the UK Web Focus blog, highlighting the peer-reviewed papers that led to this publication and outlining each author’s contribution. I’m continuing to focus on this area (see forthcoming publications), so any thoughts on the article are very welcome. Comment below, or email me directly.

Web Standards and the Majority World / Rhetorical AccessAbility: Out Now!

Front cover of Rhetorical AccessAbility edited by Lisa Meloncon
Front cover of Rhetorical AccessAbility

A new book Rhetorical AccessAbility: At the Intersection of Technical Communication and Disability Studies, edited by Lisa Meloncon at the University of Cincinnati is out now!

I penned a chapter for this book in collaboration with Henny Swan, Senior Accessibility Specialist (iPlayer and Mobile) at the BBC. Together we consider ‘Web Standards and the Majority World’, taking a socio-cultural look at the values that web standards convey to a global audience.  In particular we were interested in examining the ways in which Web Standards can export Minority (that is developed/Northern/post-industrial) notions of disability to the Majority world, with potentially counter-productive results. We make our arguments by attending closely to Web Standards as a form of technical writing through the lens of critical disability studies and research. Disability scholars might be interested to know that aspects of this chapter were informed by MMU‘s inaugural Disability and the Majority World conference, an event (now with accompanying journal Disability and the Global South) developed by Dr Shaun Grech that seeks to globalize disability studies.

Rhetorical AccessAbility is published as part of Baywood’s Technical Communications Series (Edited by series editor Charles H. Sides). The publishers’ book summary follows.


Rhetorical Accessability is the first text to bring the fields of technical communication and disability studies into conversation. The two fields also share a pragmatic foundation in their concern with accommodation and accessibility—that is, the material practice of making social and technical environments and texts as readily available, easy to use, and/or understandable as possible to as many people as possible, including those with disabilities. Through its concern with the pragmatic, theoretically grounded work of helping users interface effectively and seamlessly with technologies, the field of technical communication is perfectly poised to put the theoretical work of disability studies into practice. In other words, technical communication could ideally be seen as a bridge between disability theories and web accessibility practices.

While technical communicators are ideally positioned to solve communication problems and to determine the best delivery method, those same issues are compounded when they are viewed through the dual lens of accessibility and disability. With the increasing use of wireless, expanding global marketplaces, increasing prevalence of technology in our daily lives, and ongoing changes of writing through and with technology, technical communicators need to be acutely aware of issues involved with accessibility and disability.

This collection will advance the field of technical communication by expanding the conceptual apparatus for understanding the intersections among disability studies, technical communication, and accessibility and by offering new perspectives, theories, and features that can only emerge when different fields are brought into conversation with one another.

Intended Audience: Scholars and practitioners of technical communication, disability studies, rhetoric, and usability/user experience. Suitable for advanced undergraduate and graduate classes in: web design; document design/information design; topics courses in technical communication and disability studies; cultural studies courses in internet or digital culture; introduction to the field of technical communication; research methods; and rhetorical theory.

Further details include the following reviews in praise of the book.

Rhetorical Accessability is an important book, not only because it elucidates a range of critical work being done at the intersection of technical communication and disability studies, but, more importantly, because it demonstrates convincingly how work in these areas—which some still consider highly specialized concerns—directly affects every one of us, every day, whether we know it or not. By foregrounding the productive interplay of theories from disability studies and technical communication, the authors highlight how issues of inclusive content, accessible design, medical discourse, and technological embodiment are at work in all of our daily lives. In so doing, Rhetorical Accessability represents a major step toward a broader field of writing studies, toward work on crucial issues in writing that span personal, academic, civic, and professional discourses, that unite scholars of rhetoric, composition, technical communication, literacy studies, linguistics, and other fields.

Paul Heilker, Director of the PhD in Rhetoric and Writing, Virginia Tech.

On every page, this groundbreaking collection—the first of its kind in the field of technical communication—reminds us that disability studies deserves to play a central role in our pedagogies, workplace practices, and scholarship. Lisa Meloncon has assembled an excellent, wide-ranging collection of chapters from both established experts and new scholars. The topics and theoretical lenses are diverse and broad. The chapters are deeply grounded and well-informed. They combine theory and practice in true tech comm fashion. The coverage of web accessibility is excellent, comprising multiple chapters and topics (e-readers, laws, guidelines, accessibility statements, online writing instruction). I’m already planning to add this book to the list of required readings for my graduate course in Web Accessibility and Disability Studies.”

Sean Zdenek, Associate Professor of Technical Communication and Rhetoric, Texas Tech University.

I can’t wait to read my copy. Congratulations to Lisa and all involved!

Student experiences of disability and social networks in Higher Education

My 2011 PhD thesis “Disability 2.0: Student dis/Connections. A study of student experiences of disability and social networks on campus in Higher Education”  is now publicly available via the University of Nottingham’s eTheses repository. The thesis document is an accessible PDF, weighing in at 7.5MB. The fully bibliographic reference is:

  • Lewthwaite, Sarah (2011) Disability 2.0: student dis/connections. A study of student experiences of disability and social networks on campus in higher education. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham. http://etheses.nottingham.ac.uk/2406/

This is the thesis abstract in full:

For many young people, social networks are an essential part of their student experience. Using a Foucauldian perspective, this qualitative study explores the networked experiences of disabled students to examine how dis/ability difference is ascribed and negotiated within social networks. Data comprises 34 internet-enabled interviews with 18 participants from three English universities. Accessible field methods recognise participant preferences and circumstances. Data is analysed using discourse analysis, with an attention to context framed by activity theory.

Disabled students’ networked experiences are found to be complex and diverse. For a proportion, the network shifts the boundaries of disability, creating non-disabled subjectivities. For these students, the network represents the opportunity to mobilise new ways of being, building social capital and mitigating impairment.

Other participants experience the network as punitive and disabling. Disability is socio-technically ascribed by the social networking site and the networked public. Each inducts norms that constitute disability as a visible, deviant and deficit identity. In the highly normative conditions of the network, where every action is open to scrutiny, impairment is subjected to an unequal gaze that produces disabled subjectivities. For some students with unseen impairments, a social experience of disability is inducted for the first time.

As a result, students deploy diverse strategies to retain control and resist deviant status. Self-surveillance, self-discipline and self-advocacy are evoked, each involving numerous social, cognitive and technological tactics for self-determination, including disconnection. I conclude that networks function both as Technologies of the Self and as Technologies of Power. For some disabled students, the network supports ‘normal’ status. For others, it must be resisted as a form of social domination.

Importantly, in each instance, the network propels students towards disciplinary techniques that mask diversity, rendering disability and the possibility of disability invisible. Consequently, disability is both produced and suppressed by the network.

The research was funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and completed at the Learning Sciences Research Institute at the University of Nottingham. I am continuing to work in this area, so, as ever, comments are welcome, or get in touch directly. I look forward to hearing from you!