iTunes is pretty (useless) when you're blind: Digital design is triggering disability when it could be a solution
Ellis, K. and Kent, M. (2008) iTunes is pretty (useless) when you're blind: Digital design is triggering disability when it could be a solution. M/C Journal: A Journal of Media and Culture, 11 (3).
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This article critically examines the promise of Internet-based digital technology to open up the world to people with disabilities, and the parallel danger that the social construction of disability in the digital environment will simply come to mirror pre-existing analogue discrimination. This paper explores how technologies and innovations designed to improve access by the disabled actually enhance access for all users. The first part of the paper focuses on ‘Web 2.0’ and digital access for people with disability, particularly those with vision impairment. The online software that drives the iPod and iPhone and exclusively delivers content to these devices is iTunes. While iTunes seems on the surface to provide enormous opportunity for the vision impaired to access a broad selection of audio content, its design actually works to inhibit access to the platform for this group. Apple promotes the use of iTunes in educational settings through the iTunes U channel, and this potentially excludes those who have difficulty with access to the technology. Critically, it is these excluded people who, potentially, could benefit the most from the new technology. We consider the difficulty experienced by users of screen readers and braille tablets in relation to iTunes and highlight the potential problems for universities who seek to utilise iTunes U. In the second part of the paper we reframe disability accessibility as a principle of universal access and design and outline how changes made to assist users with disability can enhance the learning experience of all students using the Lectopia lecture recording and distribution system as an example. The third section of the paper situates these digital developments within the continuum of disability theory deploying Finkelstein’s three stages of disability development. The focus then shifts to the potential of online virtual worlds such as Second Life to act as a place where the promise of technology to mediate for disability might be realised. Goggin and Newell suggest that the Internet will not be fully accessible until disability is considered a cultural identity in the same way that class, gender and sexuality are. This article argues that accessibility must be addressed through the context of design and shared open standards for digital platforms.
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