Tagged: a11y

Rhetorical AccessAbility

This post is a trailer for a new book ‘Rhetorical AccessAbility: At the Intersection of Technical Communication and Disability Studies’, edited by Lisa Meloncon at the University of Cincinnati. I penned a chapter for this book in collaboration with Henny Swan. 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 Disability and the Majority World conference, a recently inaugurated event that seeks to globalize disability studies.

Publishers Baywood have now listed Rhetorical Accessibility as available for pre-order as part of their Technical Communications Series (Edited by series editor Charles H. Sides). The publishers’ book summary follows. Further details (including a table of contents and Author information) will become available from Baywood over the next few weeks via the Rhetorical Accessibility pages.


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.

A11yLDN MeetUp: Video now on Vimeo

On Thursday evening last week I made a short presentation at the a11yLDN (Accessibility London) MeetUp on Aversive Disablism and Hierarchies of Impairment, two concepts from Disability Studies that I believe have powerful applications for web accessibility practitioners and activists amongst others.  This was a great collaborative event, with diverse presentations from some excellent speakers. Despite working on a shoestring, organisers have now made videos of each presentation available on Vimeo. My talk is embedded below.

a11yLDNmeetup 01.12.2011: Disability Studies and Accessibility: Two Critical Concepts by Sarah Lewthwaite from a11yLDN on Vimeo.

Mine is a pocket size talk at 10 minutes, unfortunately the sound quality is quite low in places so if you want to know more about Avserive Disablism and Hierarchies of Impairment in an alternative format please consider at the following links:

Other presentations from the a11yLDN event are available on the A11yLDN video account. I highly recommend having a look at the presentation schedule from the day on the Accessibility London Website and browsing the videos according to your interests. In addition, you may want to subscribe to the website feeds, twitter or follow the organisers (Makayla Lewis and Graham Armfield) twitter accounts – as there are plans to repeat the event on a monthly basis, with the next meeting due in January.

Event: #a11yLND Meetup December 1st 2011

Accessibility London Meetup
Accessibility London Meetup

A quick update for you this morning: firstly, welcome to my new blog – I’ve been migrating 32 Days Remaining to Slewth Press at a new and bespoke URL:  slewth.co.uk. This process will soon have its own dedicated post reflecting on the particular steps and plugins I’ve used  to make the WordPress work for me. In the meantime, any formative feedback is very welcome, so please consider a comment below, tweet or email via the Contact page.

Secondly: I’m delighted to announce that I will be delivering a lightning presentation at the Accessibility London (#a11yLDN) Meetup. I’ll be delivering at 10 minute talk on “Disability Studies and Accessibility: Two Critical Concepts”. During the presentation I’ll introduce Aversive Disablism and Hierarchies of Impairment and the relevance of these concepts for Web Developers.

The event is free and runs from 7pm-9pm on Thursday December 1st at City Univeristy, London. It features a very distinguished group of presenters and looks to be a very interesting and stimulating event. To find out more visit or register visit event bright who will release the final batch of tickets today. In case it’s useful, please note, in addition to the Accessibility London website, there is also a twitter account @a11yLDNMeetUp for live updates and further links. I hope to see you there.

Feel Good (Braille) Business Cards on a Budget

I recently ordered a new set of business cards to match my new prefix (Dr) and new email address. Previously I’ve relied on institutional business cards – however, as I’m now freelance, significant decisions have had to be made regarding content, design, usability and accessibility. Cost and convenience have also been important. As with all such things, time was short as I noticed several impending events careering towards me; (see my Twitter account @slewth for forthcoming tweets from the a11yLDN unConference on Weds 21st Sept 2011).

The need for speed led me to moo.com. Moo supply a huge range of designed templates, with options for those wanting to make their own. They print to both Premium and high quality Green standards.  They can rush a print job and supply a sprint delivery also.

I chose the Less is More design by Jonathan Howells on several grounds: it uses a large, legible font, the contrast is reasonable and, importantly, there’s plenty of analogue hack space on the reverse.  The cards arrived today – so I’m halfway there.

Less Is More business card
The front of my new business card using large black and white text on a mid tone grey background.
Less is More business card: reverse view
Less is More business card reverse view: the words 'My Card' and a large blank space that I intend to hack.

As committed readers will know, I also want braille for my business cards.  My previous investigations in this area have led me to Azzabat, who have supplied me with transparent braille stickers that can be applied over a standard business card (or anything else). Azzabat frankly rock the opposition.

University business card with braille sticker
My previous university business card with transparent braille sticker overlaid. Braille on this side represents my name, phd status and the LSRI over four lines.
University business card with braille: reverse view.
My university business card with braille label: reverse view. Four lines of embossed braille give my phone number (top line) and email address (over next three lines).

There are no set up fees, customer service is excellent and I recommend them highly, especially for institutions and other organisations. Importantly, as their labels are clear, they can be stuck to both sides of a business card (as pictured) – this is vital given the large (36 size) font necessary for braille  – as it allows more space for contact information to be represented.  Azzabat have a minimum order of 100 units with labels retailing at £0.85 ($1.33) per unit. This is well below other equivalent brailling services for business cards, but on this occassion I needed a cheaper option.

As a result, I’m taking a D.I.Y. approach. With a view to creating my own (opaque) labels  for the reverse of my new cards. I’ve just ordered the RNIB‘s Braille King Pocket Frame.  This is a small device that allows the user to create braille. The demonstration video below shows how it is used.


The Braille King Pocket Frame retails at £14.39 ($22.5). I’m really looking forward to trying this out. I’ll post the results back to this blog when the device arrives. Comments, as always, are welcome.

Student Experiences of Disability and Social Networks in Higher Education

There has been a blogging hiatus here at Lewthwaite Industries, but perhaps with the best reasons. In May I submitted my corrections and in June I joined the pass list, submitting hardbound copies of my thesis in June (with thanks to the excellent Print Quarter in West Bridgford). In July I will be graduating and receiving my PhD. Whilst this has been taking place I’ve been working with Nottingham’s Human Factors Research Group, contributing to the MyUI project, a European project dedicated to developing adaptive interfaces for older users. I’ve also been developing publications from my thesis along with further research options on disability and social networks – but more on both of these developments later.  Perhaps most importantly, it’s time to introduce my thesis: “Disability 2.0: Student dis/Connections: a study of student experiences of disability and social networks on campus in higher education”. Here’s the abstract, a slightly expanded version is included on my ‘research’ pages above:

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.

I have a huge list of people to thank for insight and support over the course of my doctoral study – I also have a substantial bibliography (although I’m sure this can only get larger). Danah Boyd already maintains a substantial bibliography of social networking research, and there are significant accessibility reading lists freely available through several institutions – however, I will be developing a ‘disability’ and ‘network’ specific library here at 32 Days over the coming weeks, as this is a literature I’ve received a lot of requests about and I’m sure it will serve other researchers developing the field. I’m currently looking into the best ways to share my work whilst observing copyright obligations for the publications I have in train. Once again, more on that later.

#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.