Digital Inclusion: Lessons from Australia

shows corner of a laptop and a smartphone on a deskProfessor Gerard Goggin’s latest publication about internet accessibility covers some history of digital inclusion in Australia as well as related social policy. He and his co-authors discuss how the legal action taken against the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games set a new standard in providing information in accessible formats. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) cites this case as how not to do web accessibility in “A Cautionary Tale of Inaccessibility: Sydney Olympics Website” (W3C, 2009).

However, little progress has been made since the Olympic Games in 2000 as any reporting on web accessibility compliance within the Australian government appears absent. In the United States, legislation is pushing the boundaries, but no such legislation exists in Australia. The article, Internet accessibility and disability policy: lessons for digital inclusion and equality from Australia, also discusses the nexus with the National Broadband Network, the NDIS, and other aspects of social policy. The article concludes, “As the Australian case shows, all these broader social aspects are important coordinates, when it comes to internet policy for digital inclusion to people with disabilities”.

Professor Goggin was a Keynote speaker at the 2nd Australian Universal Design Conference in 2016. You can download an edited transcript.


Now listen carefully

young girl in a classroom setting looking at an iPadListen closely. To some people, these are words are of little help. No matter how carefully they attend, some of the words go missing. The result is reduced listening comprehension. Hearing aids, FM hearing augmentation systems, and cochlear implants do not provide the speech clarity required to understand every word that is said. This is where captioning comes to the rescue. Research into captioning in learning situations is showing how much students of any age can benefit. This is regardless whether they have good hearing or not.

Anyone who has clicked a YouTube video for Google automated captioning knows it is useless, albeit sometimes funny. Automated captioning programs have improved a lot lately. For example, Interact-AS is designed for school children from about age 7 upwards. The teacher wears a microphone and the in less than two seconds words appear on the student’s computer or tablet. The before and after results show both children and teachers just how much comprehension is being is being lost. 

You can read more about this technology and the benefits to students who didn’t realise how much they were missing. Children who are deaf or hard of hearing are usually diagnosed before they reach the age of 7. Low levels of hearing loss is not always apparent in children who, for example, might have experienced many ear infections. As a consequence they would miss out on the benefits of this technology. Perhaps this further research will reveal the need for routine hearing tests for all school age children. It will be interesting to see how this technology develops and how soon it will become mainstream for all students as an aid to staying focused and learning from both listening and reading. You can read more about the value of captioning in higher education settings for all students.


Closed captions help all students

YouTube logo and Closed Captions logoWith tertiary education institutions turning to online learning and creating videos of lectures, the need to caption these videos could be more important for all students than first realised. The findings of this study show the need for more work in this area, but early results show that captioning benefits most students, with or without disability. This finding could transfer to the general community. 

“When queried whether captions were helpful, 99% of students reported they were helpful (5% slightly, 10% moderately, 35% very, 49% extremely). We were unable to determine differences among students with and without disabilities, as we did not track individual survey responses.” Interestingly, in this study 13% of respondents indicated having a disability, but only 6% were registered as such.

young female at a desk with laptop, coffee cup and notebookVarious reasons were given for the benefits of closed captioning – noise in their listening environment, unclear speech in the video, spelling of new or unfamiliar words, and being able to take notes just by stopping the video and not needing to rewind to listen again. Students with English as a second language also benefitted. Although these results show the need for more research, they found there was a 7% increase in student results compared to the previous year’s students who did not have captioning. The article also discusses the cost of captioning and other options, such as speech recognition. The title of the article is, Closed Captioning Matters: Examining the Value of Closed Captions for All Students, and is published in the Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 2016.

Editor’s note: Anyone who has seen the results of “automatic” online Google captioning will know that the results are very haphazard. It is good to see how captioning is now being seen within the scope of universal design and could be more widely applied.


The right to read: Copyright barriers and e-publications

Picture of a Kindle reading deviceFluent readers might be surprised to find that their world of books is not accessible to everyone. In Gerard Goggin’s foreword to Paul Harpur’s book, Discrimination Copyright and Equality, we are introduced to some thorny problems in the e-publications world. The ability to read is something that most people take for granted. Books can expand a person’s worldview, be entertaining, enlightening, and of course open up a world of knowledge and understanding. But what if you can’t read the printed word? Hard print books are translated to Braille, talking books, and there are apps that will ‘read aloud’ the text. But the e-Book world is another matter.

Goggin provides a comprehensive overview of the issues covered in Harpur’s book and gives an excellent snapshot of things we should all consider. The actions of Amazon and the impact on Kindle are mentioned. The right to read is clearly not recognised in the e-publication world. Goggin says, “The continuing oppression of print disabled readers, and their exclusion from the world of books, can no longer continue…” It is time to bring these issues into the mainstream, apply the principles of universal design, so that those who need accessible formats are no longer considered an exception needing special treatment. 

Those unable to access the printed word include people who are blind and have low vision, people with difficulty holding or manipulating a book, and people with cognitive disabilities such as dyslexia, autism, and acquired brain injury.

Gerard Goggin was a presenter at the 2016 Austalian Universal Design Conference. He is Professor of Media and Communications at the University of Sydney.


Maps and colour deficient users

The colours of the rainbow arranged as a wheelColour is often used in map designs to help observers locate places of interest, and community amenities, among other features. However, not everyone can perceive colour in the same way as map makers. Members of the Faculty of Computer Science and Media Technology, Norway have turned their attention to map reading and the ability to discern different colours. Two articles were published from their research: Quality of color coding in maps for color deficient observers; and Colour coding of maps for colour deficient Observers. The latter requires purchase or institutional access. The abstract from the former follows:

Abstract: For a color deficient observer, the quality of a map or other information design may be defined as the ability to extract features. As color is such important conveyor of information, the colors need to appear correct and be perceived in the desired and intended way. As color appearance is affected by the size of the stimuli, the task of discriminate colors may be even more difficult for a color vision deficient observer. In order to investigate the discriminability of the color coding in an official Norwegian map product, we conducted an experiment involving both color deficient and color normal observers. Also, we investigate to what extent the ability to discriminate colors is influenced by size of the visual field. The experiment revealed that the color vision deficient observers made significant more errors than the normal observers, especially when the visual angle was reduced.



Economics of UD ICT

Front cover of publicationWhen governments and private enterprise fail to listen to social justice arguments it is often thought that economic arguments will win the day. This may be partially true if these arguments are allowed to be heard. “On Assessing the Costs and Benefits of Universal Design of ICT”, is another attempt at showing that universal design has cost benefits, particularly if you take the longer view. 

Abstract: In the ICT and IT domains, Universal Design is typically viewed as a burden and an expense, and its application is often justified only by ethics and/or legislation. Advocates for Universal Design (UD) are arguing that it is cost-effective, but so far there are few studies that document this in a detailed way. In this work, we discuss related research and studies dealing with the costs and benefits of accessible and usable ICT solutions. In particular, we discuss the findings regarding what is a universally designed solution, what is needed to make such a solution, how much does it cost, what impact can be anticipated by the extra effort, and how it can be measured. Finally, we suggest an approach for carrying out cost-benefit analyses of developing universally designed solutions. There is a weak indication that the economical benefits of UD solutions are much higher than the initial and running costs.

I think it is problematic to talk “cost-benefit” because politically it seems it has to benefit those who are not excluded. “Cost effectiveness” is a somewhat different measure with a focus on outcomes rather than outputs. Schraner et al have developed a different model using assistive technology as a case study. Jane Bringolf, Editor.


The Eyes have it!

Picture of Jordan NguyenThe recent ABC science program, Catalyst, featured a new invention by Dr Jordan Nguyen. It demonstrated how a 13 year old boy living with cerebral palsy could use his eyes to directly control the lights, the fan and the television. Various environmental control systems designed for people with disability have been commercially available for many years, but these often require the use of a tablet or computer. Occupational therapists and bio-medical/rehabilitation engineers can skillfully adapt existing devices to suit individual needs. 

Research on eye-tracking or eye-gaze systems is going on all the time and David Hobbs and his team at Flinders University are at the forefront of such inventions and adaptations. For those interested in some of the background to these systems, you can download their most recent publication on using low cost, portable, tablet-based systems for children.

Spectronics Australia has a catalogue of assistive technologies for children with disability, including devices using eye-gaze techniques.