Tag Archives: Digital inclusion

Real Digital Inclusion – A challenge for transparency advocates

The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect. Tim Berners-Lee W3C.

Some fundamental first principles:

1) The idea of digital inclusion is more expansive than we sometimes imagine; in fact, digital inclusion encompasses the right to appropriate access to the content made available through technology.   The distinction between availability and accessibility is at the core of the right of people with disabilities to receive, manipulate and share content.

2) Because the Web can either remove or erect barriers to communication and interaction the potential of today’s technology is radically and exponentially changed. Our thinking must do the same.

3) What’s good for people with physical and mental challenges will often enhance the lives of a broader constituency including seniors, people who live in remote or developing areas or who speak and read other than mainstream languages.

Because most of my waking hours are devoted to thinking about access to information by and about the government, the lens through which I see the world focuses on the inclusion of all as active participants in this democratic society. My mantra echoes the words of President Woodrow Wilson who reminded us that “government ought to be all outside and no inside.”

Thus it seems to me that Sunshine Week, March 15-21, 2015, presents a ready opportunity to connect the dots between digital inclusion and efforts to ensure the people’s right to know. Sunshine Week is a concerted effort by journalists and other open government advocates to shine light on the people’s right to know. (http://www.tcdailyplanet.net/blog/mary-treacy/thoughts-sunshine-week-2015-wwjmd) The problem: the unique needs of people with disabilities, and the potential of evolving technology to assure access, has remained in the shadows of the inclusion narrative. It’s time to connect the dots – to feature assistive technology as a key feature of the Sunshine Week agenda.

Clearly, advocates for open government must be in the front lines in the drive to expand the concept of digital inclusion to encompass the needs and potential of people with mental and physical challenges. Information by and about the government belongs to all the people; it is the responsibility of government at every level to embrace the potential of technology to remove barriers to access.

Linking the ideas and tools of assistive technology and open government is a poignant example of the challenge we face to create opportunities and incentives for new partnerships. In an era of warp-speed technological – and political – change, a world in which the web is pervasive, the stakes for users and government alike are great. The opportunities to learn and engage accrue to all concerned.

Last weekend I was able to participate in a workshop on assistive technology sponsored by Open Twin Cities and Hennepin County. There local and state accessibility experts described their accomplishments and hopes while coders shared ideas and skills to create apps that will assist people with differing abilities to navigate the enormous resources of the web. The energy in the group of nearly 50 enthusiastic coders engaged in a common cause was palpable.

Next step is for those who choose to drink more deeply of the Pierean stream to delve more deeply into the resources that Web access promises. At the risk of overload, here are some useful resources that can pave the way for those who want to further explore the how-to’s and why’s of web accessibility.

WAI – The Web Accessibility Initiative (http://www.w3.org/WAI/)

brings together individuals and organizations from around the world to develop strategies, guidelines, and resources. WAI engages representatives from industry, disability organizations, education, government, and research. The virtual door is open to all.

First Monday (www.FirstMonday.org) Started in 1996 this is one of the first openly accessible, peer–reviewed journals on the Internet, solely devoted to the Internet. First Monday is global in scope, indexed in a host of readily accessible reference sources.

Computers in Libraries (http://www.infotoday.com/cil2014/) The 30th Computers in Libraries conference is scheduled for Washington DC, April 2015. See also the journal of the same name. (http://infotoday.stores.yahoo.net/cominlibmags.html)

Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Secretariat for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Department of Economic and Social Affairs © United Nations 2008 -2015 (http://www.un.org/disabilities/convention/conventionfull.shtml)

When you’re finished changing, you’re finished!  Benjamin Franklin.

 

 

 

 

 

Seniors Quicken the Pace of “Digital Inclusion”

“We will not be silenced!” asserts my friend with clinched fist and a tone that echoes past protests familiar to many who have achieved senior citizen status.  Today she is denouncing the myth that seniors don’t – and theoretically can’t–  learn to use technology.    The pernicious myth, long debunked by reality, subtly relegates those of an age to the virtual shelf – as if they themselves were virtual.

My friend’s adamant rant continues – “We marched for peace, demanded equal pay, fought for civil and voting rights, created the tools that shaped the information age” (There’s more that’s better left unquoted here.)  ) Her vehemence recalls the immortal words of Twisted Sister, idol of a pre-digital age “We ain’t gonna take it anymore!”

Researcher Rod P. Githens of the University of Illinois Urbana introduces his study of “Older Adults and E-Learning” with two poignant caveats 1) We often attribute rigidity to age rather than personality, though Nichols (2001) points out rigidity ‘is less a factor of age than of personal history, pressure, and predisposition,” and 2) “attributing rigidity to age is just as damaging as attributing negative stereotypes to other groups.”

In the information age it’s all about statistics.  Another caveat:  Though statistics may not lie, they definitely lag.  There are numerous studies and a wide range of statistics on seniors’ use of technology.  Some samples:

  • A 2010 study by the AARP includes some basics facts, e.g.Two out of five (40%) age 50 and over consider themselves extremely (17%) or very (23%) comfortable using the Internet.
  • 37% of those surveyed use social media with Facebook being by far the most popular (23%)
  • Of the seniors who are connected 62% are connected with their children, 36% with their grandchildren, and 73% with other relatives

Aging Online,  a blog managed by Jamie Cannacher,  offers some fun stats re seniors and technology in an article irresistibly titled “Four cool boomer technology stats you don’t know.”

  • People age 55 and up pick passwords that are twice as secure as teenagers, according to research data pulled from 70 million Yahoo! Users.
  • Smartphone usage among Boomers (age 45 to 54) grew 16 percent last year – falling just behind young people (age 18-24) whose usage of smartphones grew 18 percent.
  • Social media usage by people age 65 and older grew 50 percent during the last two years, according to a report rom Experian.
  • 13 percent of people age 50 and older are Twitter users

 

Within the past hour I received a hot off the wireless a post from Aging Online, a quick piece with another irresistible title “Last week was big for new data on how seniors use the web.”

Briefly, Forrester Research, a privately operated research company,  just released updated statistics including these facts about the mores of seniors who are online. Though the full report is designed for Forrester clients and other paid customers, a few extrapolated stats suggest an upward trend worthy of note:

  • 91% of online seniors use email,
  • 71% go online daily
  • 59% have purchased products online in the past three months,
  • 46%  share photos by email,
  • 44% play solo games online, and
  • 24% sign up for coupons and freebies online

Though Aging Online is just one of several up-to-the-minute windows on the latest scoop on techno-savvy or digitally deprived seniors, it is a starting point to the vast possibilities.

Some thoughts on seniors and technology:

  • Americans are reaching the magic age of “senior” (however that may be defined) at a staggering rate.
  • The definition of senior all depends – It can be anything from 50+ to the age of retirement or another category that suggests “older elderly.” As always, statistical analysis varies with definition of the population surveyed.
  • A historic fact that intrigues me is that many senior retirees, e.g. military retirees, clerical workers, accountants, who have received training and used technology for decades may associate computers with workplace drudgery rather than the freedom of everyday living as a retiree.  They may leave the computer at the office because of cost, ready access or because they have had too much of a good thing.
  • Children and grandchildren are generally touted as the best tutors of older family members.  Though I have discovered no statistical confirmation, I would posit that they are not only proximate and patient, but that they are “on call” when Grandpa hits a digital roadblock.
  • Those with an interest in bridging the generation gap should check out Cyber-Seniors, producer of documentary films tell the stories of seniors and teens working in tandem.  The premise of Cyber-Seniors is this:  “A history book can only teach you so much.  Today’s kids and seniors have an opportunity to share so much more with each other by trading off history lessons for computer lessons.  The way technology is changing at a rapid pace today, with our devices becoming more intuitive and easier to use, this could be the last time we need a generation gap that’s so obvious.  We’re growing up with it and keeping pace.  Future studies about technology might not focus so much on age, but instead on access and economic status.”
  • More important, future studies about technology should focus on content, not to how to manipulate the tools but how to shape the issues, evaluate the sources, relate research to practice, make wise and informed decisions.  Access is an essential “baby step” on the long path to information literacy for all ages.

My friend is right to demand recognition of seniors’ technology acumen and receptivity to change.  She and her superannuated colleagues deftly couple decades of life experience with the need, will and tools to speak and be heard.  The rapidly expanding ranks of thoughtful people “of an age” will not – and should not – be silent in this information age.