firstly, this picture is from this page. go look there for interesting online art.
i’m really interested in the issue of accessibility and how it relates to online media.
First off, I think we need to make it clear that the internet is not something the whole world uses. First, it’s something only a relatively elite group can use – it requires time, knowledge money and inclination simply to get online, let alone actually contribute to online discourse. So right there, we’ve excluded a whole bunch of people.
But let’s just set aside the exclusivity of the intynet (pffft. Yeah) and move on to contributing to online discourse. Specifically in terms of website design (in all its forms).
When I was first starting this blog, I came across this website, where the author goes through a range of strategies for making websites more accessible. They range from simple things like making sure hypertext links are in a distinct colour, underlined and bolded, to laying out your templates properly so that your html code presents your content first.
These are two points that have stuck with me. Sometimes it sucks, but I think about being useful. And I like to think that even blogging can be a political act. Or something useful, at the very least.
Why these two points?
Well, the second one is important for all the reasons listed on that website IÂ’ve referenced, but itÂ’s also important to me, as it makes me think about how I set out Â‘codeÂ’ (please remember that I really know very little about computery stuff – I will and do make errors in my use of jargon. Please be patient), as well as how I actually go about using code. I want to build good habits into my online work/learning right from the beginning.
Why the first point? This one is particularly relevant to me, as The Squeeze is partially colour blind. Or as I like to think about it, he sees colours in different ways. HeÂ’s privy to a whole new world of colour (realm of the senses?) that IÂ’m not. That most of us are not. When we go shopping for fabric to make him pants, I have to get him to look carefully at the fabric. Even though something looks blue to me, itÂ’s quite likely to look hot pink to him. In fact, I can almost reliably expect slate blue to look hot blue to The Squeeze. Which is a bummer as blue is one of his Â‘safe coloursÂ’ – he wears a lot of blue simply because itÂ’s one colour he can reliably distinguish. Except when itÂ’s hot pink.
But back to the website thing. Because The Squeeze sees colours in different ways to me (and a lot of other people), I had to make some decisions about my website colour scheme. While I didnÂ’t try to choose only colours that looked Â‘goodÂ’ to him (then itÂ’d be all blues, and I donÂ’t much care for blue), I did try to make sure he could distinguish hypertext from normal text.
So while IÂ’m not particularly keen on the look of underlined links, I know that he can recognise them as links. Tough luck trying to discern visited from unvisited links, though – all those pinks, purples and oranges look like the same colour to him. Incidentally, The Squeeze recognises purple (a colour IÂ’m quite fond of) as Â‘the bluest blueÂ’, or a Â‘disturbing shade of blueÂ’. And not a blue he particularly likes.
Today I was wandering around the internet, trying to get myself waked up enough to do some chapter editing (you need to be more alert to edit than to write, for obvious reasons), when I came across this site, which is – incidentally – from A List Apart. ItÂ’s discussing web accessibility and UK law (this page outlines the Australian legislation). This legislation aims to make it a legal requirement for sites which provide a public service (whether private or public – business or govt) to be Â‘accessibleÂ’.
ItÂ’s interesting not only as an example of affirmative action policy, but also as an attempt to regulate the Â‘internetÂ’.
Â‘Affirmative actionÂ’ (in the sense of legislation and public policy), fascinates me as it can be read as an attempt to introduce particular ideological concerns into particular spheres through formal, institutionalised, powerful media. This is, of course, nothing new – take a look at BushÂ’s latest wonderful contribution to sexual politics – but affirmative action is interesting as itÂ’s an attempt to codify resistant ideology. To introduce the ideology of the left (or thereabouts) into the formal institutions. And this interests me as much of the cultural literature IÂ’ve read over my last ten years in universities situates institutions as suspect and innately oppressive. The point this raises to me, is Â‘can institutions be goodÂ’? Sounds kind of dumb, I know. But IÂ’m writing about institutions in the swinguverse at the moment in the thesis, and IÂ’m thinking about different types of institutions. I obviously need to read up on this stuff, and if anyone can think of any
particularly excellent references
Another thing IÂ’m interested in is the way the internet is seen as this massive, anarchic collection of crap, and so must be either a) regulated, or b) defended from regulation. I personally think that the internet is hardly anarchic – itÂ’s bounded and defined by all sorts of things, ranging from the limits of actual programming languages and technology, to social and cultural conventions (you can, for example, quite often discern an American from an Australian blog by content alone, let alone distinguishing on the basis of language). This dichotomy, focussing on the premise that the internet is Â‘wild and freeÂ’ obscures the greater inequities and broader systems and structures of power and advantage at work in this intensely social space. And of course, IÂ’m not alone in this sort of observation. There are a whole bunch of other feminists and researchers concerned with notions of identity and liberty whoÂ’ve been-there-done-that before.
Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto is the most obvious. ItÂ’s also a good place to start for a discussion of power and communications technology. I also quite like this reference from the University of IowaÂ’s Department of Communication Studies, which provides a few articles on the topic of gender and cyberspace. I should point out that IÂ’m a communications person. Communications people are also often media studies people, or/and cultural studies people, and in my case that also includes being a feminist/gender studies person. I think that communication, media and culture are bound up with systems of power and identity – so feminist approaches make the most sense to me. That doesnÂ’t necessarily mean starting with gender, though thatÂ’s the place I usually start, mostly because my experiences with culture are informe
d in a major way by my sex. IÂ’ve noticed that men and women experience culture in different ways, and that power and privilege are quite often organised along gender lines. For me, feminist analysis involves attending to power and identity as they manifest in factors other than just gender – sexuality, class, ethnicity, age, etc. For me, being a feminist means asking questions about identity in all sorts of ways, beyond just looking at genitalia (literally, and figuratively).
And how does all this relate to website design? Well, after youÂ’ve had a look at the two references IÂ’ve provided above, perhaps youÂ’ll understand.