Make IT!

Report on the Colloquium on the Accessibility of Digital Creative Tools. Sponsored by humanITy and the Department for Business Innovation & Skills

Date: 11/07/2009
Venue: Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), London

1. Background

1.1 Since the extension of the internet to business, learning and the domestic environment, the disability sector has, necessarily, concentrated on making computer operating systems and applications accessible to disabled people, enabling them to access and process information, primarily from major organisations, but also to undertake basic operations in word processing, spread sheet manipulation, database management, email and web access.

1.2 The evolution of the Web, particularly in respect of the development of Web 2.0, means that any person wishing to enjoy equal life chances with his or her peers must be in a position to make both an interactive and an autonomous creative contribution to the digital environment. Creative (see 3. below) in this context means the ability to produce digital information from authoring tools which meet peer acceptable standards (i.e. citizen-to-citizen transactions would not reach the same standard of execution as internet broadcasting from a major corporate).

1.3 In the information age, any disadvantage in the execution of digital tasks will exacerbate an already existing socio-economic divide between those who are digitally included and those who, so far, have been excluded. People with a disability find themselves in an intermediate position on accessing and processing date: their internet access is slightly higher than their peers below the age of 65 but those over 65 are disproportionately excluded and, further, the degree of web sites complying with accessibility requirements is no more than 20% and falling. Those unable to access and contribute to the digital space will be socio-economically disadvantaged and will suffer a narrowing of their life style and citizenship life chances compared with their peers.

1.4 Major commercial web authoring tools, audio editing equipment and most digital photography equipment is not accessible to many people with disabilities. There are some web authoring tools from the open source sector and from small developers which are accessible.

2. General Principles

2.1 People with disabilities should have the right, subject to technical feasibility, to participate on all aspects of the digital space which are peer normative by reference to their age, occupation and interests.

2.2 The accessibility of authoring tools and other devices which enable the production of material for the digital space should be subject to the DDA [i] and SENDA [ii].

2.3 The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) Authoring Tools Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG - currently version 1.0 at: www.) should have equal status in United Kingdom law and regulation to the WAI Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG Version 2.0 [iii]).

3. Creativity

3.1 While it is not yet clear to what extent the Web 2.0 phenomenon will be economically as well as socially significant, the ability both to access and generate material in the digital space is growing to such an extent that it will soon replace more traditional forms of transactions such as visiting travel agents and banks (access) and reacting to public consultations and self publishing (creating).

3.2 There is a cultural presumption in the United Kingdom education system and beyond that creativity is a capacity limited to the few. Margaret Boden [iv] makes a powerful alternative case. She posits three kinds of creativity:

  • Combinatorial (exemplified in the work of disc jockeys)
  • Exploratory (exemplified in jazz)
  • Transformational (exemplified in the development of completely new forms)

My examples.

Whereas our education system and culture emphasise the importance of transformational creativity, the vast bulk of creative activity is combinatorial:

jazz, rock, pop, quiz shows, reality television, soap operas, romantic fiction, fashion, cooking landscape gardening, domestic design and cooking

are all examples of exploratory creativity. Viewed in this context, there is no reason why people with disabilities should not be digitally creative.

3.3 For people with disabilities in and not in work, the ability to be digitally productive is important in respect of:

education and learning, citizenship, health, lifestyle and family

This liberating of the creative fits into the well being agenda.

4. Proposed Measures

4.1 Our key advantage in making creative digital tools accessible to people with disabilities is our global leadership in design. It is widely recognised that "Design for All" principles are both just and economically beneficial. Tools and devices which are accessible give producers a lead in markets with legislative provisions on disability and the digital environment. A relatively minor adjustment in design curricula would generate a viral change in digital accessibility. This should be achieved through a highly focused campaign to educate and encourage digital tools and device designers and those responsible for their training.

4.2 Because major tools and devices design corporations are not based in the UK, or even the EU, it is vital that the UK Government should base its policy on equality of creative opportunity in the digital environment on an EU and, through it, a global footing.

4.3 We welcome the development of Digital Britain and the Digital Inclusion Task Force and believe that the latter should be firmly 'nested' within the former. We further support the creation within the Task Force of a specific position responsible for disability issues in general and those relating to creativity in particular.

4.4 As first steps in the area of access to digital creative opportunities, we recommend that:

  • A data bank on the accessibility of digital creative tools be established in an open 'wiki-type' database under the auspices of UKOnline Centres
  • That resources be found to
    • Co-ordinate the expertise of this group and to facilitate its extension to a wider expertise
    • Map activity
    • Collect and distribute good practice.
  • Assemble data on related projects, particularly different public sector initiatives.

5. Conclusion

5.1 We believe that the ability to contribute to the digital space is vital for the economic and social well being of people with disabilities and that reducing their disadvantage in this respect requires a considerable degree of imagination, a determined effort in co-ordination but a relatively small economic investment. The Recommendations in Section 4. amount to a modest but vital initiative.

[i] United Kingdom Parliament: Disability Discrimination Act 2005, The Stationery Office Limited, London as the Disability Discrimination Act 2005, ISBN 0 10 541105 1

[ii] Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 (SENDA); 2001 CHAPTER 10 ; OPSI (Office of Public Sector Information)


[iv] Boden, Margaret A.: Creativity and Artificial Intelligence, Artificial Intelligence 203 (1998), 347-356