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Opening ceremony with Keynote of Kevin Carey

Kevin Carey
Chair of Royal National Institute of Blind People, United Kingdom


Kevin Carey is the Chair of the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) UK (www.rnib.org.uk), founder and Director of humanITy, the UK’s leading eInclusion charity (www.humanity.org.uk), Chair of the Ofcom Community Radio Fund Panel (www.ofcom.org.uk/about/how-ofcom-is-run/committees/community-radio-fund-panel/), a Board Member of the Social Investment Business (www.thesocialinvestmentbusiness.org/) and a regular contributor the Managing Information (www.managinginformation.com) and Ability Magazine. He is currently Project Co-Ordinator for Go On Gold, raising public awareness of the eInclusion of people with disabilities through the London Olympic and Paralympic Games 2012.

Carey was one of the first global experts in eInclusion and has worked for the EU (including acting as Rapporteur for the Inclusive Communications (INCOM) group as part of COCOM), UK Government Departments (including pioneer work on myguide (http://learn.go-on.co.uk/) for the BBC iPlayer team and for British Telecom on the implications of broadband for people with disabilities. He was a Member of the Ofcom Content Board 2003–06, was awarded a NESTA (www.nesta.org.uk) Fellowship in accessible broadcasting 2004–05 and won a Royal Television Society Award for innovation in engineering (electronic programme guides) 2003. He has presented and/or published more than 100 major papers on eInclusion, disability, blindness and socio/economic trends and recently presented a series of five major lectures on blindness at Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic.

As Chair of RNIB, the UK’s leading blindness charity, he has a major responsibility for the strategic direction of an organisation with an annual turnover of 150 m Euros per year, more than 3000 staff and 4500 volunteers. From 1994–2000 he was the Editor of the British Journal of Visual Impairment and his first career was with Sight Savers International (1978–92) during which he established the first major computer-based braille production system (The African braille Centre) outside the ‘Western’ world.

Cambridge and Harvard educated, Carey is a novelist, a published poet, a social commentator and a chorister; he is a former amateur dramatics actor/Director and classical music critic. He is a lay minister in the Church of England and a theologian.

In order to improve the accessibility of educational material for disabled people, it is necessary to create author-engineered public domain documents (PDD) where the accessibility is built into the initial production to optimise the consumption by the end user of the authorial intention.

1 Introduction

One of the strangest ironies in the special needs sector is that academic papers advocating “universal design” or “design for all” do not follow the principles they advocate but are designed – one might better say un-designed – as if for the printing press.

Indeed, one of the most salient features of the nascent digital era has been its tenacious adherence to redundant analogue practices necessary for making plates from lead type, including the use of boxes, the maintenance of right hand justification, the binding of text into read-only formats and, in a related field, the use of bifurcating menus and an adherence to the Dewey principle that any artefact can only be in one class. So much for word processing tools and hypertext.

What I will be proposing in this paper is that authors should take responsibility for the accessibility of their work by using the tools already at their disposal and developing new tools to improve the flexibility and accessibility of digital learning materials.

I will propose that we need to develop the concept of a public domain document (PDD) where the author may keep initial work on a read-only format for the purposes of archiving but that any material specifically intended of public access on a non-discriminatory basis should be so constructed and supported by such tools as will make it as flexible and as accessible as the current state of technology will allow. This central rule should apply in the first instance to all materials produced by the public sector – and therefore funded by the tax payer – all material produced by agencies supported by public money and all agencies whose publicly stated purpose is to provide goods and services to citizens on a non-discriminatory basis. It is my contention that there is a fundamental contradiction between authorial hegemony and the publication of material in the public domain either for the purpose of informing citizens and/or for making a profit. An author who produces a document should not have the right, under these conditions, to render it in such a way that it is not accessible on a non-discriminatory basis by a person acting either as a citizen or a consumer.

In this presentation I will briefly describe:

  • The history of the document
  • The Technologies of Adjustability
  • Text Characterisation & Transparent Rules andInternational conference Universal Learning Design  11
  • eLearning Design
  • Intertextuality

2 The History of the Document

The genius of Guttenberg was to see that the document is not the document. Up until his time in the Mediterranean world and Western Europe inscription on stone or ink on skins or parchment produced a finished document in one process which could only be reproduced by repeating the whole process from scratch. Guttenberg saw that a meta-document could be produced from which many copies could be obtained and to which amendments could be made and a new version number attributed. Correcting the errors in led type that had been bound into plates was expensive but it was much cheaper than re-tooling stone or amending writing on skins or papyrus.

In spite of this technological breakthrough, the tendency to produce one-off documents persisted in the typewriter which could impress multiple copies on carbon paper but which did not normally produce a meta-document although this was a relatively simple operation, as demonstrated by the mimeographduplicater (e.g. Gestetner). The photocopier was a welcome arrival but the real breakthrough came with the word processor.

But in parallel with this technological history there was also a political history of the document which began, not altogether surprisingly, with the perceived ecclesiastical necessity of controlling the publication of bibles, followed and closely related to the political urge both to control printing and to turn a nice profit by licensing it. The recent attempts by the Chinese to muzzle search engines and by Apple and Facebook to build extremely lucrative walled gardens are only the latest manifestation of a long history of attempts to exercise political or monopolistic control over the means of self-expression.

But licensing and censorship led to the concept of copyright which closely paralleled legislation on land and property holding; and the whole scenario was completed by the quite preposterous assertion of copyright by the public sector on intellectual property paid for with taxation.

The public sector is a good starting point for a discussion on the nature of the private and the public because on the surface public documents should be public. There was a brief period when the document processor choice was Word when public documents were not only theoretically but actually adjustable but the emergence of PDF brought the whole issue of adjustability into focus because there is a direct conflict between document integrity and accessibility.

Before drawing this historical section to a conclusion, just a word about the relationship between document technology and the authoring process. I remarked earlier that digital document authors have been very conservative in document design and processing; and this is mirrored in a conservative understanding of what documents are. The prevalent understanding, even in the public sector, is that documents are authorially owned, uniquely authored artefacts; but this is to confuse how documents are made with what they are. Documents in the public domain are created to convey an authorial intention to a consumer; and so when an author creates a barrier to consumption then she is frustrating her own supposed purpose.

3 The Technologies of Adjustability

It ought to be obvious by now, a quarter of a century after the first word processing packages for small business and cosmetic use, how authors can take simple measures to achieve a substantial degree of adjustability but it is surprising how little good practice there is.

Let me start with a definition of adjustability as: The ability of consumers to realise an authorial intention through the use of technologies to alter the style of an authorial production.

It is important to note at this point that any such adjustability has to be optimal rather than total, a point to which I will return later.

In terms of standard text output on screen and in documents, the following adjustments should be available as standard:

  1. Data Characteristics:
    • Granular
    • Defaulted to simple for incremental enhancement
    • Accessibility features on
    • Multi modal
    • User interface neutral
  2. Print:
    • Size
    • Font
    • Leading (distance between lines)
    • Kerning (distance between characters)
    • Relative n height
    • Right hand justification on/of
  3. Colour:
    • Background/foreground
    • Brightness

It might be thought that these characteristics are obvious requirements of adjustability but the root problem is that there is not an authorial requirement to ensure that these features are available or even, with the appropriate tools, realisable. Thus, we have a four-step sequence of possible barriers to realising the authorial intention:

  • The author partly or wholly lacks a knowledge of adjustability features
  • The Author has knowledge of some or all features but does not possess them or the ability to facilitate them
  • The author makes digital information potentially totally adjustable by a consumer with appropriate tools
  • The consumer lacks the appropriate tools

In short, there is no authorial responsibility for adjustability built into the authoring process.

Before returning to this subject to discuss solutions, it is important to look at another aspect of accessibility which is the ability of the consumer to apprehend the authorial intention lexicographically and syntactically.

4 Text Characterisation & Transparent Rules

A text which wishes to convey an authorial intention must necessarily take its reception, its consumer facility, into account. This issue was clarified for me many years ago during a language engineering project struggling with user response when we began to analyse consumer segments. We took as our example a United Kingdom government pronouncement on state income and expenditure, the annual budget. Here are some propositions about a budget:

  • It deeply affects all citizens
  • It is announced to citizens by the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Minister of Finance)
  • It is reported to citizens largely by journalist intermediaries
  • It is enacted in legislation

The four parties respectively require the following:

  • Citizens – A clear statement of measures and their consequences
  • Politicians – A statement which puts the best possible interpretation on the measures
  • Media – Reports which engage the reader/viewer/listener to fulfil the mission and maintain/improve audience
  • Legislators – Require a clear legal text which enacts their intentions with as little ambiguity as possible.

Not all these requirements can be met from one text and so the elegant approach would be to start either with a very simple text which met publicly stated requirements or a legalistic text which could be easily and transparently simplified. In reality such a document is assembled from all kinds of sources and texts but the elegant approach should clarify the basic necessity for rules-based systems.

Let us start with a primary requirement which I will call “consumability”: A text should maximise the extent to which the author’s intention is realised by the primary audience

If we think again about our budget text we will see that it is not easy as a matter of principle to decide on the primary audience; is it the legislator, the journalist or the citizen? I suggest that this should not be considered as a matter of principle but rather as a matter of practice as the necessary precondition to a reversibility principle; that: It is much easier to simplify a complex document with a set of transparent rules than to enrich a simple document with the same reversed rules.

Underlying this pragmatic approach is the principle of reversibility, namely: The authenticity of any simplified form of a document should be verifiable through the publication of associated rules.

In other words, no simplification of a public document should be published without the intermediary showing how the author’s initial text was amended. As a guarantee, of course, there is a final principle that: Access to an amended document with its modification rules must be accompanied by access to the original document.

Political problems arise with budgets because the legal and the simplified versions appear in parallel without any such rule making.

The reason that this discussion is so important in the field of accessibility is that there are many citizens, notably those with impairments, who find it difficult to apprehend an authorial intention which means that documents fail on the ground of consumability. We qualified this concept earlier by talking about a primary audience but it is difficult, as we also noted, to rank lawyers over citizens, or vice versa, as the primary audience for a substantial citizenship document.

My key proposal, therefore, in the context of what I will come on to describe as a public domain document (PDD) is that responsibility not only for its adjustability but also for its consumability should be the responsibility of the author who can, for example:

  • Tag the ranking of portions of text to produce a ranking of priority inverbosity
  • Certify a set of lexicographic equivalences or ‘translations’ from the technical to the non-technical

It should be noted in this context that the use of technical terminology often International conference Universal Learning Design 15 decreases verbosity and so simplification does not always mean shorter documents.

Nonetheless, it is now possible to imagine a Public Domain Document which offers various degrees of verbosity and lexicography.

In summary, then, a Public Domain Document (PDD) is: A document which is optimally accessible through the facilitation by the author to the consumer of adjustability and consumabilitytools in association with document delivery.

This definition somewhat unconventionally extends the concept of accessibility from its near equivalence with adjustability and gives it a postmodern dimension of consumer reception. It also uses the term “optimal” as opposed to “total” or “universal” which imposes an impossible level of cost. In this instance “optimal” is defined as: The affordable balance between the cost of provision and the degree of consumption.

Finally, the definition speaks of “facilitation” because it is the responsibilityof the author to ensure tools not necessarily to duplicate their provision.

5 eLearning Design

I have so far used the political arena for a discussion of PDD because that is where the most obvious case lies for its implementation, in the case where public-sector information is financed from taxation.

eLearning falls into a slightly more contested category.

There are five grounds for implementing PDD in eLearning document design:

  • Good practice
  • Law or regulation
  • Public sector provision
  • Private purchase
  • Customer flexibility

The first three of these grounds are simple and need no explanation but I would like to spend some time on the last two.

Historically, ever since Plato regretted the development of writing as a dangerous abridgment of teaching through dialogue (and even in that case there is more than a suspicion that the questioner was simply a ‘fall guy’) the content of instruction has been teacher and not student defined. This initial Greco-Roman model was reinforced in turn by:

  • Religion – Theological and doctrinal, moral, philosophical and scientific content
  • Etiquette – Class obligation, manners, warfare
  • Vocational – Ecclesiastical, law, public administration, teaching, medicine
  • Craft & occupational – Reading, writing, calculation
  • Services – human relations, psychology, social science

This modernist, public sector provision reached its hegemonic and client peak at the end of the 20th Century but with increasing and parallel shifts:

  • Of economic power from state provision to private purchase
  • Of cultural emphasis from modernist rigidity to postmodern fluidity
  • From vocational and occupational to generic skills
  • From location-based to distance learning
  • From passive to participative involvement and
  • From stratified to multi-level learning environments

The ‘top/down’ didactic model is beginning to break down

The earliest and greatest changes will naturally occur where the above factors are most salient and that is bound in almost all cases to be in our universities and places of higher education. It will be a much longer time before the conservative bastions of state secondary and even more so primary education will be affected but all these six trends are inevitable.

The connection between provider flexibility and purchaser power is obvious: if purchasers exercise their power over providers then providers will be unable to impose their agendas on purchasers. This is a daunting prospect for a fundamentally conservative educational environment (remembering that radical content has been dispensed in conservative teaching and learning environments for more than 500 years in Europe, since the foundation of universities) and it will seriously damage monopolies and cartels. The counter movement of standards competition generated by a global skills market will somewhat retard this postmodernist development but it is too strong to be resisted.

From the perspective of people with impairments which affect their ability to consume educational material, my point on flexibility goes well beyond the economic.

Here are examples involving:

  • Language
  • Lexicography
  • Syntax and
  • Verbosity
  • Complexity

Let me take as an example, related to my earlier discussion of budgeting, a piece of historical text about the financial conduct of the administration of King Henry VIII of England or King Louis IV of France. 

4a) Language. The first question is whether the learner needs to learn the language in which the monarch’s documents were written or whether, in the view of the teacher, the source material does not possess those nuances of language which must be understood but which cannot be translated in order to grasp the essence of the case. As the source material refers to financial rather than, say, emotional, matters, access to the source material in its initial language seems marginal rather than central.

4b) Lexicography. Let us say that at some period a monarch was short of money because he was spending more than he raised in taxation. A financial technician would say that he was running a current account deficit which required fiscal tightening but a generalist would say that he either needed to spend less and raise more, or both. The question for the information provider is whether the task of the learner is to understand the monarch’s situation or to understand technical terminology, what some people would call jargon. Again, the ability of the learner to grasp the essence of the case is not dependent on the grasp of technical lexicography which, some would argue, has been developed to ‘protect’ professional oligarchies from intrusion.

4c) Syntax. At this point we reach an area of pedagogy which is much more complex, relating to the relationship between “what” and why”. complex syntax is usually associated with “why” rather than “what”; and we need to be careful to distinguish between the two. Does our learner need to know about the fiscal policies of monarchs or about why they got into situations and why they chose one solution or another for putting matters right, if that is what they did. Or, to put it another way, are all those complex subordinate clauses entirely necessary to the task in hand?

4d) Verbosity. As we saw earlier, reducing verbosity does not necessarily produce simplicity

4e) Complexity. Underlying all of these issues is the matter of complexity and how far the learner – over and abovea contemporary postmodern suspicion of grand narrative – is required to account for an action of a monarch by recounting a complex set of speculative factors including:

  • Notionally measurable factors such as income and expenditure
  • Optional factors such as the need or otherwise to wage war (expenditure) or to avoid civil unrest (lowering taxation)
  • Apparentlycontingent factors such as the monarch’s sexual and emotional state of well-being or otherwise
  • Contemporaneously unknown factors such as the monarch’s possible underlying state of health

From this discussion it can be seen why an eLearning document should conform to a Public Domain Document standard.

6 Intertextuality

Finally, a short note on intertextuality. The best example I can think of where intertextuality would have been of immenseservice to European Citizens in the case of the Infamous Maastricht Treaty of 1992 which is a series of what look like instructions to a printer to add certain clauses and delete others. This pattern of statement, response and emendation is a hangover from analogue printing and hand writing whereas current technology offers an opportunity for both authorial and consumer intertextuality so that a piece of work can be considered as a working progress rather than as a final word. This method also allows the learner to stay close to the text and comment on it instead of having to generate a parallel or responsive text that must, in essence, stand alone.

7 Conclusion

In summary, the use of a Public Domain Document strategy will give users greater flexibility but it will also facilitate a much more refined approach to learner requirements. It is quite difficult enough to be a disabled person in a learning environment without being forced to learn what you do not need nor want.

It is time to transfer the responsibility for accessibility from the consumer as a post-production operation to the author as part of a standard document preparation process.

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