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Book Review: Digital Outcasts 65

Posted by samzenpus
from the read-all-about-it dept.
benrothke writes "Many of us have experimented with what it means to be disabled, by sitting in a wheelchair for a few minutes or putting a blindfold over our eyes. In Digital Outcasts: Moving Technology Forward without Leaving People Behind, author Kel Smith details the innumerable obstacles disabled people have to deal with in their attempts to use computers and the Internet. The book observes that while 1 in 7 people in the world have some sort of disability, (including the fact that 1 in every 10 U.S. children has been diagnosed with ADHD), software and hardware product designers, content providers and the companies who support these teams often approach accessibility as an add-on, not as a core component. Adding accessibility functionality to support disabled people is often seen as a lowest common denominator feature. With the companies unaware of the universal benefit their solution could potentially bring to a wider audience. " Read below for the rest of Ben's review.
Digital Outcasts: Moving Technology Forward without Leaving People Behind
author Kel Smith
pages 288
publisher Morgan Kaufmann
rating 9/10
reviewer Ben Rothke
ISBN 978-0124047051
summary Manifesto for technology accessibility for all
One of the many examples of this which the book provides is how sidewalk ramps are often an easier access method to streets; not just for those in wheelchairs, but for those simply walking and desiring an easier method.

In the book, Smith details how digital outcasts often rely on technology for everyday things that we take for granted. The problem is that poorly designed products create an abyss for these outcasts, who number in the hundreds of millions.

So just what is this digital outcast? Smith notes that the term was first introduced by Gareth White of the University of Sussex to describe people who are left behind the innovation curve with respect to new advances in technology. The term is also relevant to today's Internet user who can't perform a simple function such as making an e-commerce purchase or checking their financial statement; due to inaccessibility of the content, platform or device. These outcasts represent large swaths of forgotten populations.

In the first chapter, Smith makes the chilling observation that all of us, at some point or another, will find that our capabilities have diminished. Today's disabled users are not outliers of the able-bodied population – they are a prototype of what our future looks like.

The book provides a detailed overview of how people with disabilities use technology. More importantly, it shows that creating effective user interfaces for those with disabilities is beneficial for all users.

It showcases numerous application and case studies, including how iPad apps have been used for cognitive therapy, video games to help many types of illnesses and more.

An important point the book makes is that there are no easy answers or silver-bullet solutions. There are no quick add-ons which a firm can use to quickly make their user interfaces outcast compliant. Rather it takes a concerted effort from senior management to make accessibility work.

A key point Smith makes many times is that students with disabilities are left behind. There are many students who fail in antiquated educational systems since the administration can't restructure their curricula around a child's individual talents or aptitudes. He writes that students with disabilities get stigmatized into special education programs, some of which are very good, but can be socially ostracizing.

Throughout the book, Smith quotes many studies and significant amounts of data that shows the power of how software can make significantly positive impacts on the lives of those with disabilities. In chapter 7, he writes that at the Center for Brain Health at The University of Texas, they used virtual worlds and avatars to help autistic children. That form of therapy has proven to be successful and that 4 or 5 sessions using that technology, is worth 2 or 3 years of real world training.

As detailed in many parts of the book, many doctors say the best high-tech treatments are in fact the ones you can download from an app store.

As the end of the book, Smith writes that for accessibility to work, it has to be an enterprise initiative. He provides 8 strategic steps to doing that, including creating an accessibility task force (and engaging them from the very beginning of the project), knowing the legal landscape (and not to be driven solely by law), to designing mobile applications to be run universally, and more.

Smith sadly writes at the end of the book that while Apple has been at the forefront of accessibility, in 2012, despite having no legal mandate, Apple removed the Speak for Yourself (SFY) application; which was an extremely popular and helpful augmentative and alternative communication app. It seems that SFY is now once again available in the App Store, but with legal maneuvering what it is, that could change at any moment.

While the accessibility of technology is getting better every year, there are still many challenges to ahead. Digital Outcasts: Moving Technology Forward without Leaving People Behind articulately and passionately details the groundwork, itemizes what needs to be done, and implores the reader to do something to ensure this trend continues.

This book is an important read for everyone. As there are two types of people, those that are currently digital outcasts, and those that will be sometime in the future.

The book closes with a most accurate observation: digital outcasts are not a biological model for a future we should fear, they are an inspiration for what we can all become.

Reviewed by Ben Rothke.

You can purchase Digital Outcasts: Moving Technology Forward without Leaving People Behind from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews (sci-fi included) -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.
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Book Review: Digital Outcasts

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Why do all of Ben Rothke's book reviews read like they were written by a 5 year old?

  • ADHD (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 25, 2013 @04:10PM (#45518099)

    (including the fact that 1 in every 10 U.S. children has been diagnosed with ADHD)

    Oh dear God. We're going to compare some kid who can't sit still with some poor bastard in a wheel chair?!

    Really?!

    For one, the diagnoses of ADHD ... is usually bogus.

    Two, the word "disability" has been so overused like the term "special needs" that I don't know WTF it means.

    You know guys, I'm pretty liberal myself, but Fuck'n A, we really need to get a grip on these euphemisms!

    • Re:ADHD (Score:4, Informative)

      by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Monday November 25, 2013 @04:50PM (#45518523)

      For one, the diagnoses of ADHD ... is usually bogus.

      Agreed. But why? Many ADHD diagnosis start with a teacher recommending a student be tested. Female teachers are far more likely than male teachers to make such a recommendation. Many women don't understand that it is normal for little boys to squirm and fidget. When a kid really can't sit still and learn, a male teacher is more likely to remedy the situation with a few laps around the soccer field during recess.

      • Americans drug their children instead of dealing with their behaviour. We are aware of this. ADHD isn't a disability, its just the result of too much energy and not enough exercise.
        • by Anonymous Coward

          ADHD isn't a disability, its just the result of too much energy and not enough exercise.

          This statement is simple, to the point, and a product of basic common sense. It is also completely wrong.

          • It is also completely wrong.

            No it isn't. It is only partially wrong. AHDH is a real disorder. My brother suffered from. I know it when I see it. I regularly volunteer to help out in my son's elementary school classroom for two hours every Friday morning. I know all his classmates, and work with all of them regularly. They are all normal kids. None of them are even close to ADHD. Yet, since I started working with them, several of the boys have been put on medication. That is insane. But I can see how it happens. Shoving pil

            • by Havokmon (89874)

              It is also completely wrong.

              No it isn't. It is only partially wrong. AHDH is a real disorder. My brother suffered from. I know it when I see it. I regularly volunteer to help out in my son's elementary school classroom for two hours every Friday morning. I know all his classmates, and work with all of them regularly. They are all normal kids. None of them are even close to ADHD. Yet, since I started working with them, several of the boys have been put on medication. That is insane. But I can see how it happens. Shoving pills into the kids makes the teacher's job easier. The parents are happy because they can continue to let the kid sit in front of the TV and munch potato chips, which is much easier than being a responsible parent. And the doctor is guaranteed a steady income stream. All the incentives are in the wrong direction.

              And those parents don't know what they're getting their kids into. Years from now, even after they discover they were sold a load of bullshit, they'll find out that all those 'psych rejects' who are now teachers have been busily inspecting their children's files and will be treating them decisively different from the rest of the students.

              They'll be lucky if one of them slips up and lets the parents know that's happening. Though you can be sure it'll be discussed in the teacher's lounge.

    • by Ol Olsoc (1175323)

      (including the fact that 1 in every 10 U.S. children has been diagnosed with ADHD)

      Oh dear God. We're going to compare some kid who can't sit still with some poor bastard in a wheel chair?!

      This1 A million freakin times THIS!

      ADHD is one of those "problems" that just show you that people are not all the same. I've worked with ADHD people. It isn't a disability, it is a difference. It isn't unlike "Asperger's". These folks are completely on the normal spectrum. We are just so hell bent on categorizing people that we cast them outside "normal".

      These folk are simply differently abled. One fellow I worked with who was "ADHD" just happened to be a very creative artist. And the bloody shame was

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The choice is yours:
      (a) Stop eating chocolate, drinking coke (yes, and pepsi) and all the other non-foods-masquerading-as-foods the are almost pushed down our throats by a consumerist society
      (b) Whine about having ADHD

    • by Anonymous Coward

      (c) Accept the fact that the real world is a complicated place full of complex problems that don't have simple solutions you can choose from a binary menu.

  • by frovingslosh (582462) on Monday November 25, 2013 @04:14PM (#45518143)

    1 in 7 people in the world have some sort of disability, (including the fact that 1 in every 10 U.S. children has been diagnosed with ADHD)

    Didn't even need to read the whole review, let alone the book. The first summary was enough. I'm sure that he could even get those figures looking worse, why not include other popular trending disabilities like peanut allergies and "Celiac disease"? I also feel that being a dyslexic white male with a bad attitude should entitle me to one of those reserved parking spots.

  • by Zedrick (764028)
    "Many of us have experimented with what it means to be disabled, by sitting in a wheelchair for a few minutes or putting a blindfold over our eyes."

    Er... No. Not all of us smoke whatever you are smoking.
    • I 'experimented' with what it means to be disabled by breaking my leg (wheelchair for six weeks, crutches for 12 more) and losing most of my hearing when I was 3, as well as numerous other bumps and bruises along the way. There's two things I've learned from it.

      1) A temporary disability is much, much more difficult for an individual to deal with than a permanent disability with the same practical effect (a broken leg vs being born with one leg) because you're not used to it, but you're also waiting it out u

      • by DBHolder (1196557)

        1) A temporary disability is much, much more difficult for an individual to deal with than a permanent disability with the same practical effect (a broken leg vs being born with one leg) because you're not used to it, but you're also waiting it out until you're better rather than accepting that it's now a fact of your life.

        2) You eventually learn to get over it. I'm half deaf, it sucks, and I honestly don't care any more. You compensate where you can, give up on doing what you can't, and deal with the assholes who want to make a big deal over it.

        This depends entirely on what disabilities you're comparing. A lifetime with a broken neck will trump any temporary injury you can provide. In fact, I would take it one step further and say that it temporary disability might be tougher to deal with in the short term, but eventually you simply don't have to deal with it. One problem solves itself, the other does not.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday November 25, 2013 @04:18PM (#45518203) Journal
    "The book closes with a most accurate observation: digital outcasts are not a biological model for a future we should fear, they are an inspiration for what we can all become. "

    Does the book have any advice on surviving saccharine poisoning from asinine feel-good nonsense like that? Outcomes don't come much worse than being irreparably betrayed by your own biology, and the fact that you sometimes only lose much, rather than everything, isn't what I'd call 'inspiration'...
  • by ArcadeMan (2766669) on Monday November 25, 2013 @04:23PM (#45518237)
    I don't know if I have ADHD, but if anything moves on a webpage, it makes it impossible to read. If I want animation and movement on my screen, I'll go to YouTube or Vimeo.
  • It's like saying almost everybody use their computer for something out of the ordinary, but whatever that is it's not the same. For a lot of those people maybe their disability isn't relevant to your site, for the rest well maybe they need many entirely different solutions. I don't see a deaf person having a problem using 99% of the web, for example. Those with poor vision (not blind) maybe just need a font adjustment. What are you aiming for, 95%? 99%? 99.99999%? Designing a website a blind can read is bas

    • by Chirs (87576)

      In many cases it would be sufficient to just make sure all the ALT tags are set correctly for navigable images.

  • adaptive technology (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DBHolder (1196557) on Monday November 25, 2013 @04:42PM (#45518445)

    I have not read the book, and so cannot really comment on it. I am, however, a quadriplegic. It happened two and half years ago as the result of a diving accident.

    Technology is both life-saving, and frustrating. Without it I would never be able to continue with my dissertation (even with current technology, I would not have been able to complete the type of difficult courses I had finished before the accident). Without it I would be reading books and turning the pages one at a time, with a stick in my mouth. Quite honestly, without modern technology, I might've already driven my chair off of a high place.

    That being said, there is much to be desired. Most equipment labeled "adaptive" is five years out of date, with a x10-x100 markup in price. I fully understand that there's a lot of tech, both hardware and software, that I will never be able to use. The frustrating thing is when a simple oversight renders something completely unusable. If a developer had, just for one minute, put himself in someone else's shoes it would have been completely obvious.

    That is not to say I blame developers. The truth is, unless you or someone close to you is disabled, you're much less likely to see the disabled people around you. You will see them as they passed, but you won't remember them. I know, I was the same way.

    • The frustrating thing is when a simple oversight renders something completely unusable. If a developer had, just for one minute, put himself in someone else's shoes it would have been completely obvious.

      I can just imagine. Could you share some examples?

      I used to be involved with web dev software. We'd make the effort to have it warn the editor if they use colour contrast combinations that are effectively invisible to colour blind folks. With the ridiculous way web pages are these days, I doubt anybody bothers with even that anymore

      • by DBHolder (1196557)

        The one thing that immediately pops into mind has to do with mouse overs.

        In order to control the mouse I use a rig that bounces infrared off of my headset. a lot of software uses mouse over to convey a fair amount of information. The short story is I can't keep my head completely still and a lot of places will kill the info box if the mouse moves even a little.

  • by just_another_sean (919159) on Monday November 25, 2013 @04:51PM (#45518533) Homepage Journal

    Here's the fix:
    http://motherfuckingwebsite.com/ [motherfuckingwebsite.com]

    • by Clueless Moron (548336) on Monday November 25, 2013 @05:01PM (#45518663)

      Damn that's hilarious. And I agree completely. Web site accessibility has utterly nosedived in the last few years.

      The amount of layers of arbitrary and unnecessary popups and menus and crap has made the web worse and worse. It's become a challenge to put the mouse cursor anywhere and not have some unwanted menu or other idiocy pop into my face, obscuring what I really wanted to read. I used to use text browsers like lynx just to cut down on the noise, but these days hardly any sites work decently with lynx.

      So what's a blind user dependent on text-to-speech to do? A few years back, that was workable. With today's craptacular web pages that use several megabytes of javascript, I guess they're out of luck.

    • by Ol Olsoc (1175323)

      Here's the fix: http://motherfuckingwebsite.com/ [motherfuckingwebsite.com]

      Oh - a website for those with Tourette's?

  • In the IT world, ADHD isn't a disability -- it's a job skill.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    A guy I know well is in his early 50s with Cerebral Palsy. He's a well educated professionally employed man but his motor control challenges (including voice box) mean that almost none of the modern advances are of help to him. I'm an electronics guy, I'd love to help him - he's reliant on keyboard frames to type, touch screen keyboards are useless to him. I fear one day that phones with buttons will disappear entirely, his phone will break and that's that. Little things like the time to divert to voice

  • by Anonymous Coward

    as a disabled person, I can attest that the barriers are real. in terms of functionality, my hands are about 20+years older than the rest of me.

    here is one point that most accessibility developers ignore. accessibility starts in the application, not in the gui. by the time you reach the gui, you've lost most of the necessary information needed to make a good accessibility interface. you need an API granting access to all UI's on an equal footing in order to make accessibility work right.

  • Although percentages vary across populations, about 7% of males are red-green colorblind. This is almost never address in human machine interaction. In fact, colors that cause problems for red-green perception are used extremely commonly, like the red-yellow-green triad.

    There are guidelines for color usage for colorblindness, but very few know they exist, much less put them into use. For examples of the design issues involved, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Color_blindness#Design_implications_of_color_bl [wikipedia.org]

  • Many of us have experimented with what it means to be disabled

    Based on content of most comments here on Slashdot, I concur.

  • More recently, I've thought that the lack of interest in handicap solutions by non-handicapped people is actually the fault of the handicapped.

    Follow me, patiently please.

    Major intersections around here have bleeps and bloops to indicate "safe" passage for blind pedestrians. Do I know what they mean? No I don't. Do I pay for them? Yes I do. I'm forced to pay for them, yet no one has taught me how to use them. Why do I not care about them? Because I ignore them as an unknown background element.

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