Why Accessibility?

An image showing the word 'red' coloured in blue, and the word 'blue' coloured in red.
Hearing Colours and Seeing Sounds

In Debates in the Digital Humanities, George H. Williams draws our attention to issues of ‘disability, universal design, and the Digital Humanities’. He writes,

Digital knowledge tools that assume everyone approaches information with the same abilities and using the same methods risk excluding a large poercentage of people. In fact, such tools actually do the work of disabling people by preventing them from using digital resources altogether. We must broaden our understanding of the ways in which people use digital resources. (Williams 2012: 202).

There is no one ‘right’ way to interact with a stream of ones and zeros. What can we do about that? How can we widen access to the digital humanities – or rather, how can the digital humanities widen access? What do we need to be thinking about? What does ‘access’ actually mean? Is ‘open access’ a broad enough concept to extend to not just publishing, but also to how we design? Adam Crymble recently warned us about ‘shock and awe’ graphics and visualizations. But that’s the thing: visual. What about audio? How can we represent digital data so that other senses are privileged? Can we speak about ‘auralization’ – and what kind of insights would such a thing generate? It’s hard to avoid the language of the visual when we’re talking about digital humanities, but I think it’s important that we try.

To paraphrase Hugh Herr of MIT Media lab, ‘there’s no such thing as disability; only bad design’.


1 comment

  1. hollis

    History and technology have always been strangely related in my mind. The way in which technology allows us to see further and further into the past, as we accelerate further and further into the future is astounding. As a disabled individual, technology has granted me better ‘access’ to a whole new world of study.

    THATCamp Accessibility will be an excellent opportunity to discuss with others the endless possibilities that technology has to offer in making the Humanities more accessible to all of us. As a physically disabled student I have only experienced a taste of what is out there already. What interests me is not only how I can benefit from this greater accessibility, but how we can work to make the world of Humanities accessible to all, and eliminate the limitations of disability.


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