Memorandum submitted by HumanITy
1. As a Registered Charity (UK 1059921)
entirely concerned with information and communications technology
(ICT) and social exclusion/inclusion, we have had a very particular
interest from the outset in legislation concerning digital information.
2. The constituency which we seek to represent,
comprising a wide variety of people with information access, challenges
amounts, we believe, to approximately half of the population.
People who have problems with systemsthose
with disabling conditions such as low levels of: literacy, vocabulary,
hand-eye co-ordination, manual dexterity or navigation.
People with disabilities (in the
conventional sense of the word)those who have severe cognitive,
physical, hearing or visual impairment.
People who need help with languageprimarily
but not exclusively those for whom English is not a first language.
People who need training and people
who do not know that they need training; people who think they
cannot benefit from training.
People who cannot afford ICT goods
and services; deprived communities.
People who are frightened or bewildered
3. Although there are many people who might
be included in more than one of the above categories, it is easy
to see how we arrive at such a great figure which might, to a
considerable degree, account for the tailing off of PC sales at
approximately 50 per cent of the population. Although a precise
figure is difficult to calculate, its basis lies in, for example,
the OECD (2000)
and other authoritative sources putting UK functional illiteracy
at approximately 20 per cent; add to this a variety of functional
limitations associated with ageing, together with disability data
and an approximation can be arrived at (see Hansard Society).
4. It is our mission to ensure that the
comparative disadvantage created by ICT remains as narrow as it
possibly can be. We accept that in all periods of economic or
technological development the gap widens between the richest and
the poorest, thus creating the comparative disadvantage in spite
of an absolute improvement of the lot of the least advantaged,
but we are concerned that the disadvantage should not exacerbate
already existing inequalities such as income, wealth, education,
training and other life chances. We are also concerned that a
new and much more intractable kind of exclusion arises in a society
where a phenomenon is ubiquitous rather than scarce: being illiterate
becomes an increasing individual problem as general literacy rates
5. There are four aspects of the right to
access, which need to be enumerated:
First, there is to a limited extent
a legal right of access based both on a reading of European Union
legislation and on the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA, 1995).
Secondly, in the context both of
Government information and public broadcasting, citizens have
a right to access what they have paid for or, at least, not to
be faced with gratuitous barriers to that access.
Thirdly, in a society with democratic
values and reciprocal social mores, there is a moral right of
citizens to have equal access to the information, which allows
Fourthly, the level of access will
affect both the provider's profitability and the consumer's economic
6. Our central contention in respect of
the proposed legislation in particular and Government policy in
general in respect of ICT is that there is a confusion / conflation
between "Access" and either availability or utility.
7. So far the policy analysis of social
exclusion in ICT
has tended to focus on the economic barrier to "Access",
on the simple fact that many people could not afford hardware,
software and telecommunications services; but a substantial sector
of the market thus characterised has bought first satellite and
then digital television.
8. It is our further contention that the
economic barrier to ICT will continue to diminish with:
The decline in the price of PCs,
software and telecommunications services
Increased use of digital television;
ubiquitous mobile telephony.
9. It is therefore vital that any legislation
gets past the dated notion of economic barriers to access and
begins to look more closely at other barriers.
10. It is also vital that the Government
begins to focus on a television/telephone rather than a PC information
11. Much of what passes for ICT training
is a simple cost transfer from the IT industry to users resulting
from a poor level of design which will not be acceptable in the
consumer electronics and broadcasting environments.
12. The immediate barrier, raised by the
Governments 2005 target of Internet access "For all those
who want it", is much more complex than it looks. The strategy
is based on providing unmediated, public access through public
terminals. This presents problems for a number of groups such
as the physically disabled and the visually impaired, not to mention
the technologically bewildered but it has a much more fundamental
set of problems associated with it such as:
A lack of perceived privacy in using
public terminals to access such services as Health Direct.
A reluctance to use PC-based technology
by precisely those sectors of the population (formerly social
Classes D and E) which account for the vast majority of citizen/Government
A lack of training/perception by
those who complete the Government's target by simply avowing that
they "Do not want ICT access".
13. Our target groups, listed at 2 above,
present a formidable array of challenges, which might best be
summarised in reference to the three basic parts of an information
system. The first is the information manufacturing process (content
provision); the second is content transfer (carriers); and the
third is content reception (access hardware/consumer electronics).
In order to establish optimal access to information these three
parts need to be viewed holistically as a single information system.
In this context "optimal" represents to sets of overlapping
pairs of concepts:
First, the level of entropy between
the information producer and consumer.
Secondly, the relationship between
cost and accessibility.
14. Taking the factors in 3.1 in reverse
First, there are problems with the
design of hardware but these will be steadily overcome as Bluetooth
and successor protocols make is possible for individuals to own
customised hardware devices, both domestic and mobile. (This will
cut the enormous cost of hardware and its duplication in consumer
electronics and release more funding for "intelligent"
serveras opposed to client-side applications).
Secondly, as recent legislation shows,
there can be problems with "carrier" technology. In
the case of blind people, for example, there was legislation (Broadcasting
Act 1996) to guarantee audio description of television by content
providers but no legislation with respect to the carrier channels
and de-coding devices. It should be possible to use carrier licensing
regimes to guarantee accessibility features.
Thirdly, most crucially But least
recognised, the crux of accessibility lies in the way that the
basic information is manufactured and made available.
15. The more granular the data the more
manipulable each element. This encompasses such phenomena as:
Language engineering, parsing, spell
checking, grammar checking.
Database and navigation design.
Scaleable manipulation of elements
of text and images.
Contrast adjustment; separation of
Creation of multimodal access.
16. It would take too long to illustrate
the desirability of all these features but here is one example
of how there is not a fundamental conflict between economic viability
and optimal accessibility. At some point soon most television
will become non-scheduled and therefore one of the two axes in
an electronic programme guide (EPG), the time axis will disappear.
This will make searching more difficult. If an individual has
four hours set aside to watch pay per view television but takes
half an hour to select desired programmes, companies will lose
1/8 of revenue.
17. We believe that this short submission
adequately summarises the massive potential problems involved
in making broadcasting and Internet publishing services optimally
available to all citizens and we would be pleased to submit further
written/oral evidence as the House desires.
9 January 2002
1 OECD: Literacy in the Information Age. OECD: Canada,
Carey, K. and Gracia-Luque, R. Enabling E-Democracy. The Hansard
Society: London, 2001 (In Press) Back
Carey, K.: Joined Up Citizenship. DTI. www. pat15.org.uk Back