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Disability and Web 2.0: Opportunity lost?

Ellis, K. and Kent, M. (2008) Disability and Web 2.0: Opportunity lost? In: Cultural Studies Association of Australasia Annual Conference (CSAA) 2008, 6 - 9 December 2008, Kalgoorlie, W.A


“The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”
-Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the World Wide Web

This paper explores how this early promise of the World Wide Web for access for all people regardless of disability has been challenged by more recent developments in the online environment. When the social model of disability was established in the 1970s, technology in a broad sense was identified as having the potential to alleviate impairment and hence change institutions, practices and ideas. The benefits of the Internet, and web 2.0 in particular, for people with disability have been recognised in relation to building community through social networking sites and virtual worlds. However, the tendency to focus on mobility has resulted in a lack of understanding around accessibility for other impairments such as those with vision impairment and dyslexia as web 2.0 sites become more complex and harder to translate using assistive technologies.

The increasingly complex online environment that produces a richer experience for Internet users creates accessibility problems that the original World Wide Web designs had served to alleviate. As Goggin and Newell argued in their 2003 seminal book on this topic Digital Disability 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 paper builds on their ideas and explores them in relation to more recent web 2.0 phenomena such as social networking sites and virtual worlds.

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