ASIS&T Speakeasy: Assistive Learning Technologies

By Lindsay Menachemi

Staircase picture

“The world is disabling to people in a wheelchair only if the people building it are filling it with stairs.” – Marc Castellini, Pratt Institute student

 

The way we design our physical and digital worlds can promote social inclusion if done well, or social exclusion if done poorly. It may not always be a designer’s intent to purposefully exclude certain people, but even ignorance is a choice. If a designer doesn’t consider accessibility or universality to be a part of their approach, more often than not, the resultant products restrict people in unanticipated ways.

On Tuesday, November 7, the ASIS&T student organization at Pratt Institute sponsored a speakeasy on Assistive Learning Technologies. Three students in the Information Technologies core curriculum class –Marc Castellini, Arushi Jaiswal, and Hanyu Zhang— presented a research-based web guide on assistive learning technologies, geared towards universities. I think that much of what they discussed can be applied more broadly to libraries, and to UX design principles for any product.

 

Why LIS professionals need to care

First, let’s highlight the problem in more detail. As Library and Information Science students, we have a responsibility to promote equity and inclusion. Social exclusion, after all, is just another form of powerlessness. (Gehner 41) Compound this with the ALA’s official position: in December 2006, the ALA implemented the “Library Services for People with Disabilities Policy,” a policy that recognized that “many people with disabilities face economic inequity, illiteracy, cultural isolation, and discrimination in employment and the broad range of societal activities” (ALA 2006). As part of the policy, it recommends proactive integration of assistive technology in libraries. A wonderful sentiment, only, there are two issues afoot here:

  • The policy was approved and published 10 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act. This is not a matter to ignore; it tells us much about the prioritization of assisting those with disabilities.  And of all organizations, why would the ALA, an organization devoted to equal, unfettered access to information, respond in such a latent manner? This surprised me greatly.
  • The policy states that library staff “should be aware of how available technologies address disabilities and know how to assist all users with library technology.” (ALA 2006) “Should” is always hard to implement and track – “must” is usually much more effective, as it implies some sort of consequence. But surely there are guidebooks on the ALA website to assist librarians with their education and integration of assistive technologies? Well, the only tool on the ALA website dedicated to serving adults with disabilities is the “ASCLA Professional Tools – Standards and Guidelines – Resource List” link, and when selected, it returned a ‘404 – Page Cannot Be Found’ error. There are two other resource links, but these serve a very specific audience: children with disabilities that affect their ability to read print materials.
  • This resources page was last updated in 2007. March 29, 2007. I’m sure I don’t need to tell all of you how much technology has changed in 10 years.

It all begs the question: as a profession, how serious are we about providing services to people of all ages with all kinds of disabilities? How serious can we be when our own flagship organization offers this level of service?

 

How big is this problem, anyway?

I know, I know, in principle, it shouldn’t matter how many people this issue impacts, but it seems to matter nonetheless. ADA-PARC (ADA Participatory Action Research Consortium) made 2014 American Community Survey data available in interactive format.  (ADA-PARC 2014) It shows us that 12.3% of the total U.S. population self-declares as having a disability of some kind. That equates to approximately 43.5 million people. I don’t know about you, but it’s hard for me to conceptualize a picture of how many people that figure truly represents. What if I told you that 43.5 million people is the number of people living in the entire country of Canada…. if it had 10 million more people! The level of social exclusion here is huge by any means – whether you’re measuring by numbers or principle.

 

Equalizing power through assistive technology tools

Our responsibility as LIS professionals escalates when you consider that, “Social exclusion is not simply a result of ‘bad luck’ or personal inadequacies, but rather a product of flaws in the system that create disadvantages for certain segments of the population.” (Gehner 2010) So what can we do? What Castellini, Jaiswal, and Zhang have created is a great start. The web toolkit provides a wide overview of cognitive and physical impairments and maps them to the specific LT (low-tech) and HT (high-tech) assistive technologies that can help. Low-tech can include things that are low-cost, and low-barrier of entry: highlighters, pencil grips, raised line paper. High-tech is the cool stuff we read about in Wired: speech-to-text programs or voice recognition are good examples, both of which limit the need for a keyboard. For dyslexic students, it’s even possible to use symbol-based learning, such as Widget symbols on SymbolWorld, or Makaton symbols, to improve understanding and absorption. Last but not least, web accessibility is another area that incurs massive reward without incurring massive expense. Simple changes can include: using the W3C’s HTML tag best practices to assist with read-aloud services, avoiding dropdown menus, and eliminating Javascript use. There are many, many ways to get started, and I encourage you to view their site to learn more.

 

Looking ahead

So, how can we escalate this issue to more LIS professionals’ attention? Here are a few things I’ve done so far, and a few thoughts of what else we might do:

  • I’ve privately corresponded with the student group that created the Assistive Learning Technologies site, and asked if they would consider submitting their work to the ALA for linking. Considering the paucity of information on the site, I felt that it would be a worthy contribution to the ALA Diversity group’s page. Even if they don’t include the site itself, my hope is that it brings to the ALA’s attention the lack of updated information available on their site.
  • I’ve emailed the Diversity committee at ALA to request that the broken link to their outreach toolkit is addressed, and that they consider updating their page to reflect current resources and technologies.
  • Next time you’re at an industry event or surfing a group’s website, get curious. See what you can find about assistive technology integration, or accessibility issues in general. How is the group addressing these issues? Do you agree with their approach? How can it be improved? If you can’t find anything at all, what a great opportunity to begin the conversation!
  • If you are an information professional currently working in an organization, assess the ways in which your organization (its website, its programs, etc.) are inclusive or exclusive of people with disabilities. If it can do better (and it usually can), can you adopt some of these technologies or re-design the website in a way that facilitates universal use?

Last but not least, look at the world around you with a critical eye. Sometimes all it takes to start moving things in the right direction is the different point of view.

 

Sources

ADA-PARC. (2014). “Percentage of Total Population with Disabilities.” Retrieved from http://centerondisability.org/ada_parc/utils/indicators.php?id=43&palette=3

American Library Association. (2006 December 4). “Library Services for People with Disabilities Policy.” Retrieved on November 8, 2017 from http://www.ala.org/ascla/resources/libraryservices

American Library Association. (2007 March 29). “Outreach Resources for Services to People with Disabilities.” Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/diversity/outreachtounderservedpopulations/servicespeopledisabilities

Castellini, M., Jaiswal, A., Zhang, Hanyu. (2017). “Assistive Learning Technologies.” Retrieved from http://mysite.pratt.edu/~ajaiswal/homepage.html

Gehner, John. (2010). “Libraries, Low-Income People, and Social Exclusion.” Public Library Quarterly, 29:1, 39-47

How Online Notices Obscure Privacy and Ownership on the Web

By Matt Bishop

In an information age dominated by digital content, contemporary leisure is conducted on the very same machines once intended solely for work. Personal computers connected to the internet have made many individuals into seemingly nonstop information-producing machines without pay. While we may very well consider the average internet surfer as a consumer of digital information, we actually produce almost as much information as we consume through the creation of Facebook posts, tweets, YouTube comments, emails, and from browsing data that is automatically produced every time a page is opened. This content is often produced within websites that come with no monetary cost for their users to access (i.e. after purchasing a computer and a connection to the internet) and their users’ creations almost always come with no monetary rewards. While some sites do reward their content producers with ad revenue (e.g. YouTube has such rewards for users that post popular videos to its site), incredible amounts of digital content produced without monetary rewards create an unsettling problem. Online notices are often used to rescind a users’ rights to their digital content, eliminating privacy and transferring digital ownership often without the user’s knowledge (McChesney 150-152).

 

Establishing Ownership: Agreements and Notices

There exists a simple concept to signify online ownership of information: the agreement. An agreement on a website usually includes a notice in the form of a popup window or as a page during a profile setup that establishes, usually in legal language, the terms and conditions of a user’s access to a web domain. These terms and conditions describe how the company that runs the web domain can use the information that a user creates – even information that the user is not aware of creating. On the same page as a notice, there is typically an “agree or disagree” option: pressing “agree” grants the user access to the site while pressing “disagree” blocks access. As described, this particular type of online agreement is called an opt-in/opt-out agreement; more specifically, a click-wrap agreement. These agreements include an exorbitant amount of text wrapped down a page that must be scrolled to view in its entirety and are typically responded to by the user without actually having been read. The offline predecessor to this agreement is the shrink-wrap agreement, of which the terms and conditions take effect after the shrink wrap on a box is broken by the recipient. However, some sites today still use an online form of the shrink-wrap agreement called the browse-wrap agreement (“The Origin of Click-Wrap”). If a site ever includes a banner that contains text that equates your use of the site with your consent to its privacy policy, an example of which can be seen in Figure 1.0 below, you have consented to a browse-wrap agreement. In most cases, these click-wrap, shrink-wrap, and browse-wrap agreements are considered sufficient enough by to inform users of how a company will use their information.

Figure 1.0: Example of a shrink-wrap agreement ("The Origin of Click-Wrap").

Figure 1.0: Example of a shrink-wrap agreement (“The Origin of Click-Wrap”).

When scrolling through a timeline on Facebook or through your friends’ tweets on Twitter, you have already agreed to allow sites to track your interactions and use your digital creations. In short, you do not typically own the content that you produce on these sites because you either knowingly or unknowingly gave the companies that own the web domains ownership over your creations and shared data.

 

Why Do We Give Away Our Information?

It seems reasonable to assume that individuals would generally like to keep their digital privacy and ownership over their creations (McChesney 152). Giving away our digital labor for free, even if done through leisure, does not make much sense. It would appear counter-intuitive for so many people to give up these things every day, but this is exactly what happens. There are a few possible reasons that I find for this: (a) existing online agreements include notices that provide either poor discoverability or poor understandability, (b) users cannot properly assess their own value for privacy and ownership at the time of the agreement, and (c) users want instant access to sites regardless of what they are sacrificing.

Poor Discoverability & Understandability

Poorly placed notices are easy to find online. The position of the browse-click agreement notice from Figure 1.0 can be seen in Figure 2.0 below. This notice is placed at the bottom of the web page with a gray background that closely matches the gray colors of the banners near the top of the page. It neither blocks the user from reading or interacting with the content on the page nor does it attract the user’s attention. This notice is not easily discoverable by a user, and so, consent to its contents may be established without the user’s knowledge.

Figure 2.0: Example of a shrink-wrap agreement on a web page ("The Origin of Click-Wrap").

Figure 2.0: Example of a shrink-wrap agreement positioned on a web page (“The Origin of Click-Wrap”).

Oftentimes, notices are simply not understandable to the average user. Notices used for click-wrap agreements are typically long and include legal language. A frustrated user in a hurry might not have the patience to look up legal jargon and spend the time reading multiple pages of text about terms and conditions of use. Even when we know that we are consenting to an agreement online, we may not have the knowledge, or time, to fully understand it.

The Wrong Context

Similar to how lengthy notices are hard to understand because of how long it takes for a user to read them, notices that appear for agreements early in a user’s interaction with a site (typically during registration) do not allow a user to properly assess their importance. For example, it is hard to understand why you might be concerned about how Facebook will use your post of a video to its site before you even learn how to create a Facebook post. Two possible solutions for this problem are just-in-time and visceral notices. A just-in-time notice, as seen in Figure 3.0 below, is a notice that asks for an agreement at the time when a user’s privacy would be intruded or when ownership of content may be transferred (Young, “The FTC Mobile Privacy Staff Report”).

Figure 3.0: An example of a just-in-time notice ().

Figure 3.0: Example of a just-in-time notice (Young, “The FTC Mobile Privacy Staff Report”).

A visceral notice, which may be easier to include when too many just-in-time notices would be required, is a notice that allows a user to experience its contents (Hagan, “Visceral Notice Types”). The reason behind using a visceral notice is that information may be better understood when it is experienced. In the example used earlier of a Facebook post of a video, this may involve a walkthrough of the creation of a Facebook post with the inclusion of clear descriptions, with diagrams, about how that information will be shared with other parties. Just-in-time and visceral notices help provide context about privacy intrusions and ownership transfers of digital content where typical notices provide none.

Instant Access

When a user opens a web page, they intend to use that page immediately. A notice provides a block to that use, a constraint to experiencing the page. The internet, as opposed to a library or museum, seems to promise users quick access to information. When a notice warning of privacy intrusion and ownership transfers appears on a web page, a user will likely have no patience for it. In addition to a user’s drive for instant access on the internet, social and professional pressures to access sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn further encourage users to click through agreement notices in order to access sites quickly. While this may seem like the fault of an individual, their prevalence in society points more to a social trend, something that can be easily profited off of by an aware domain owner. Pairing this knowledge with poor contexts and poor discoverability and understanding for a notice allows for most users to quickly disregard their right to privacy and ownership of personal information.

 

Looking Forward

Enhancing digital privacy and users’ rights to ownership of their digital creations in the U.S. will require legal pressures that protect user data to be strengthened, especially with regards to Section 5(a) of the FTC Act which states that “unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce…are…declared unlawful” (“A Brief Overview of the Federal Trade”). Profit-driven domain owners have no reason to better design their notices in the ways that I have described above when they are profiting off of a user’s inability to find or understand them. Another concern, however, is that access to certain sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, could be lost if privacy and ownership agreements were better understood by their users. Our free access to sites is often dependent on a domain owner’s ability to sell our content and interactions to ad companies. Nevertheless, from a consumer standpoint, users should be able to decide on their own whether or not sacrificing their privacy and ownership of digital content is worth the access to a specific site – with full knowledge of the consequences of their actions.

 

Works Cited

“A Brief Overview of the Federal Trade Commission’s Investigative and Law Enforcement Authority.” Federal Trade Commission, Jul. 2008, https://www.ftc.gov/about-ftc/what-we-do/enforcement-authority. Accessed 24 Sep. 2017.

Hagan, Margaret. “Visceral Notice Types.” The Program for Legal Tech & Design, http://legaltechdesign.com/GoodNoticeProject/2014/01/22/visceral-notice-types/. Accessed 25 September 2017.

McChesney, Robert W. Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism is Turning the Internet Against Democracy. New York, The New Press, 2014.

“The Origin of Click-Wrap: Software Shrink-Wrap Agreements.” WilmerHale, 22 Mar. 2000, https://www.wilmerhale.com/pages/publicationsandnewsdetail.aspx?NewsPubId=95543. Accessed 24 September 2017.

Young, Michael. “The FTC Mobile Privacy Staff Report.” Data Privacy Monitor. BakerHostetler LLP, 11 Feb. 2013, https://www.dataprivacymonitor.com/behavioral-advertising/the-ftc-mobile-privacy-staff-report/. Accessed 25 Sep. 2017.

 

Trickle-down Information: The Enlightenment Model and Information Dissemination in the Modern Library

By kraines

Note: I believe this subject has the potential for expansion and further investigation. Any feedback, criticism, and questioning would be greatly appreciated as I am considering expanding this essay into a full research topic.

The Library is an establishment intended for the dissemination of information, the modern foundation of which is historically rooted in the age of Enlightenment. As literacy and readership increased, foundations of knowledge and governing bodies began to invest in the construction and design of libraries. [1] The intellectual and wealthy elite of the enlightenment age spurred these modes of knowledge delivery, placing themselves as creators and controllers of information. The library and university were established as a means to circulate created information based on a top-down structure. At one point, this was highly restricted in terms of access, often denying women, people of color, and those in poverty. [2] Today, these are not strictly enforced laws of conduct but the established system continues to place the same types of people at a disadvantage.

Many critics note the power dynamics established in the creation and distribution of knowledge based on the Enlightenment model. The distribution of information from the creator to the consumer continues to enforce this model of dissemination and the related top-down power structure. [3] The researcher, the student, and the public library patron are only able to access the resources their institution can afford or will allow. Libraries emphasize obtaining and providing collections that will meet the needs and expectations of their community. However, the community, as consumers, is not in a position to greatly influence the collection and distribution of information.

The Digital Age is believed to provide greater opportunity for the process of disseminating information; however, most scholarly articles are only available through glass walls. The practice of open access is not a solution to inaccessibility since publishers and institutions often hold most republication rights to any scholarly production. “Library access to electronic resources is another widely acknowledged economic barrier.” [4] Classification and distribution reinforces information as a commodity available for commercialization. [5] Copyright holders limit distribution to specific journals, repositories, and databases. The biggest databases, often with the most diverse amount of publications, are only accessible through educational institutions, including libraries. The consumer is dependent on what institutions they may access and what that institution chooses to make available.

Furthermore, laws such as the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA), Protect IP Act (PIPA), and the Research Works Act have often run the risk of further hindering an open access system of information. [6] Opponents to open access often view information as a risk in the wrong hands. Peter Schmidt of The Chronicle of Higher Education criticizes the potential for “the publication of inferior and unreliable journals” and “the risk that research in fields such as medicine will fall into the hands of people who might misuse it.” [7]  Although these bills have not reached the point of becoming law, their proponents echo the power structures and control of information exemplified by the Enlightenment Age.

The Library places great emphasis on obtaining and distributing materials of authority. We continue to see institutions of knowledge, universities and bodies of government, as the authority on particular forms of information. Information produced and distributed through these institutions is considered the voice of scholarly authority. Minority groups are often underrepresented in academic institutions, and sometimes banned from shelves and curriculum. [8]  The continued movements toward open access creates new opportunities for equitable information distribution. In a consumer-based society, it’s not surprising that information is treated as a commodity for trade. Publishers and institutions manage how users access information by selecting exclusive databases to allow distribution. The duty of the modern library is to move away from a neutral stance and defend accessibility, free speech, and the freedom of information. The Library as a disseminator is the door between the creator and consumer. The ethical librarian should provide open access that will benefit and improve the lives of library patrons. The Library, as an institution of authority, should be the voice of dissent toward political campaigns aimed to restrict information access. [9] The dissemination of information via a top-down power structure places those at the bottom under a significant disadvantage. The purchase and exchange of information is designed to benefit the publisher and the distributor, enforcing their authority as the all-knowing-elite. The modern Library holds an institutional responsibility to involve the consumer in the process of information dissemination, providing greater opportunity for information creation and understanding.

 

References

  1. Dahlkild, N. (2011). The Emergence and Challenge of the Modern Library Building: Ideal Types, Model Libraries, and Guidelines, from the Enlightenment to the Experience Economy. Library Trends, 60(1), 11-42.
  2. Pawley, C. (2003, October). Information Literacy: A Contradictory Coupling. The Library Quarterly, 73(4), 422-452.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Pribesh, S., Gavigan, K., & Dickinson, G. (2011). The Access Gap: Poverty and Characteristics of School Library Media Centers. The Library Quarterly, 81(2), 143-160.
  5. Pawley, C. (2003, October). Information Literacy: A Contradictory Coupling. The Library Quarterly, 73(4), 422-452.
  6. Chadwick, R. (2012, December). Protecting Open Access to Taxpayer-Funded Research: The Rise and Defeat of the Research Works Act. The Serials Librarian, 63(3-4), 296-304.
  7. Schmidt, P. (2010, February 14). New Journals, Free Online, Let Scholars Speak Out. from http://www.chronicle.com/article/open-access-journals-break/64143
  8. Reichman, H. (2012, March). Opposition grows to Tucson book removals and ethnic studies ban. Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom, 61, 1-84.
  9. Rosenzweig, R. (1991). Politics and anti-politics in librarianship. Progressive Librarian, 5–8. http://www.progressivelibrariansguild.org/PL_Jnl/pdf/PL3_summer1991.pdf
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