Digital Outcasts: Moving Technology Forward without Leaving People Behind [NOOK Book]


The blind person who tries to make an online purchase. The young girl who cannot speak due to a cognitive disability. The man confined to his home due to permanent injury. The single mother with a long-term illness who struggles to feed her family.

With one in seven people worldwide currently living with a disability, the term "outcast" covers numerous scenarios. Digital outcasts rely on technology for everyday services that many people take for granted. However, poorly designed...

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Digital Outcasts: Moving Technology Forward without Leaving People Behind

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The blind person who tries to make an online purchase. The young girl who cannot speak due to a cognitive disability. The man confined to his home due to permanent injury. The single mother with a long-term illness who struggles to feed her family.

With one in seven people worldwide currently living with a disability, the term "outcast" covers numerous scenarios. Digital outcasts rely on technology for everyday services that many people take for granted. However, poorly designed products risk alienating this important (and growing) population.

Through a "grass roots" approach to innovation, digital outcasts are gradually taking action to transform their lives and communities. This emerging trend provides exciting learning opportunities for all of us. Citing real-world case studies from healthcare to social science, this book examines the emerging legal and cultural impact of inclusive design.

  • Gain a better understanding of how people with disabilities use technology
  • Discover pitfalls and approaches to help you stay current in your UX practices
  • Anticipate a future in which ambient benefit can be achieved for people of all abilities and backgrounds
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The intended reader is anyone attempting to either create more accessible technology for use by the disabled, or has an interest in novel ways that things like virtual reality, computer games, and assistive devices can be used in medicine to treat a variety of disabilities and assist in patient rehabilitation. The book concludes with a series of chapters on socially and environmentally responsible design and thinking ahead to the future in which digital devices will become ever more integrated into daily life and even the human body itself."—Reference & Research Book News, December 2013 "Kel Smith makes a significant contribution to the subject of user experience in this easily read but important treatise… the book makes a compelling case for universal design, a concept far more expansive than the more common notion of handicapped-accessible technology…The information here will be challenging and profitable, not only for designers but also for anyone associated with advancing computer technology."—, November 13, 2013 "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…Smith writes that for accessibility to work, it has to be an enterprise initiative. He provides 8 strategic steps to doing that…This book is an important read for everyone."—, November 25, 2013 "This is a wise book that accepts that disability, like ability, is abounding with nuances and variation, and Smith admits that it is behaviour that has to be focused upon rather than any device…Smith draws this excellent book to a close with the ethics surrounding the technology, along with current and future developments…"—BCS online, November 2013
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780124047136
  • Publisher: Elsevier Science
  • Publication date: 3/18/2013
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 288
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Kel Smith (Principal, Anikto LLC) is a longtime speaker, author and practitioner on digital accessibility. The Pentagon Library, Springer-Verlag, the American Law Institute, the American Bar Association, the International Journal of E-Politics, Kent State’s Knowledge Management Program, the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, the E-Access Bulletin and UX Magazine (UPA) have published his papers and articles. His presentations include three appearances at the CSUN Conference for Persons with Disabilities (San Diego), two stints at World Future Society (Boston and Vancouver), the Royal National Institute of the Blind (London), the Interaction Design Association (Savannah), the Unitech ICT Network (Oslo), the Society for Technical Communications (Sacramento) and the Universitat Autònoma (Barcelona). A current member of the Interaction Design Association (IxDA) and the Usability Professionals’ Association (UPA), Kel served two terms as Vice Chair of the Philadelphia chapter of ACM/SIG-CHI for computer-human interaction. He earned his BFA in photography from the Maryland Institute College of Art and studied cognitive science as part of the MS program at Philadelphia University.
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Read an Excerpt

Digital Outcasts

Moving Technology Forward without Leaving People Behind

By Kel Smith

Elsevier Science

Copyright © 2013 Elsevier Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-12-404713-6



Who are Digital Outcasts?


Introduction 1
What is the Question? 4

What We Think Accessibility Means 4
Designing for the "Lowest Common Denominator" 5
Ramps, Stairs, and Technology 6
A Prototype of the Future 7
A Growing Demographic 8
Internet Usage among the Aging and Disabled 9
Economic and Social Habits of Older Users 10
Our Attitude Toward Disability 11
The Gaps Where People Get Lost 11
Searching for a "Standard" 12
The Myth of Compliance 15
Etiquette, Identity, and Vernacular 16
How We Create Outcasts 17
Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, and Digital Outcasts 18
Defining the Digital Outcast 18
Walking on the Moon: A Lesson in Self-Preservation 20


When Iris Connolly was 2 years old, she fell ill on a family holiday and had to be rushed to a hospital in the United Kingdom. The diagnosis came as a shock to parents Sean and Debra of Essex, he a civil worker and she a veterinary surgeon. Their daughter Iris had been struck by a brain tumor and was to undergo 48 weeks of radiotherapy following surgery.

Iris survived the operation and began her long road to recovery. Bed-bound and temporarily paralyzed, she was unable to attend school and experienced severe impairment of her brain's executive function—the part of the brain that controls memory, attention, mental flexibility, and other cognitive activities.

Hoping to keep his daughter occupied while in the hospital, Mr. Connolly bought Iris an iPad and noticed that she immediately took to the device. She loved coloring in letters and pictures of animals, so Mr. Connolly searched the iTunes store for apps she could use. He was particularly interested in anything that could help his daughter reacclimate herself to the process of memorizing and cultivating her dormant language skills.

Mr. Connolly had been disappointed by the lack of available offerings and was frustrated that Iris couldn't seem to write unless she used the iPad. "I'd write it on paper but she loved the iPad and everything could be done magically on there," he told the Daily Mail. "It was then that I came up with my own idea for an app which allows youngsters to trace letters and shapes, write words, and then share them with loved ones."

To design and produce his idea, Mr. Connolly researched how to become an app developer, but he lacked the necessary skillset at the time. Hiring a development team was too expensive. With his daughter undergoing a year of treatment and nothing in the App Store to meet her needs, Mr. Connolly connected with a U.K. organization called FundedApps that solicits ideas for apps from everyday people. Mr. Connolly submitted his concept for an app called Share My ABC's, which FundedApps accepted with an initial investment of £30,000.

The app is very simple—it shows pictures of animals to represent upper- and lowercase letters, which Iris traces in her own hand. She is able to select any color she wants, and she can save each word or sentence in order for her parents to review her progress. She is even able to share a handwritten message with her loved ones, using the built-in features of the iPad (Figure 1.1).

Today, Share My ABC's is in market and has been downloaded in multiple countries. For his part, Mr. Connolly receives 25% of all profits on sales of the app, which is being introduced as part of educational curricula around the world. "I was over the moon when my app was chosen," says Mr. Connolly today. "Especially as all I wanted to do was help Iris' educational development after all she'd been through."

From the simple tracing of a finger, an innovative new product now occupies its own unique space in the commercial landscape. The interaction model of the iPad is similar to that of finger-painting, which provided an appropriate platform for young Iris to relearn written language skills. Paper would have done the trick, but it may have taken a longer time and not been nearly as engaging to Iris as the iPad proved to be.

But this isn't a story about technology: this is a story about industrious, enterprising people who are sometimes locked out of the innovation curve—a story about people who are highly experimental in nature, often by necessity. A story about customizing solutions at a minimal cost investment, attempting a variety of options until the best option presents itself. A story about how a product developed for a small market—in this case, literally a segment of one—can ultimately benefit a wider audience.

Most technology and design professionals are at least peripherally aware of developments involving people with disabilities, long-term injury, or illness. They may even be well versed in the legal and technical aspects of web accessibility. In recent years, a growing number of designers and developers have embraced Internet standards for the creation of accessible content. And yet, there is still a distance to be traveled when it comes to full digital accommodation across all barriers to access.

What is most interesting, and perhaps comes as a surprise to most people without disabilities, is how much technological innovation is being spawned from the disability sector. Whether it's a product created on behalf of or by a disabled person, today's digital landscape is becoming fertile, almost "evergreen" territory for solutions providing ambient value to all audiences.

People with disabilities are developing their own ways of interacting with computing devices and environments, and they're using nearly every available part of their bodies in order to sustain and improve their existence. In the process, they are teaching all of us a lesson on self-sufficiency while bringing their amazing product visions to life. This is their story.


It wasn't looking good. For years the celebrated authoress Ms. Gertrude Stein had been suffering from stomach cancer, a brutal disease that in 1946 did not leave many options for treatment. During what would prove to be her final minutes, Ms. Stein was gently wheeled into the operating room in a Neuilly-sur-Seine hospital, near Paris, accompanied by her long-term partner, Alice B. Toklas. During a quiet moment, Ms. Toklas took the opportunity to lean over Ms. Stein and ask, "Gertrude, what is the answer?" At that point —according to legend—Ms. Stein opened her eyes and said, "Well ... what is the question?"

What We Think Accessibility Means

The human mind is astonishing in its ability to manage multiple streams of data, from recalling important dates to recognizing a classic pop song. The brain's cognitive power is so vast that educators spend years studying the impact that different learning styles have on our behavior. We are capable of collecting, memorizing, filtering, ideating, extrapolating, interpreting, instantiating, estimating, conflating, and pontificating. Yet we as human beings still occasionally need to distill complex problems into a single node or idea, mostly because it's easier for us to think in binary terms.

The risk in this thinking is the temptation to streamline a vast subject into a digestible sound bite. We might define accessibility as the practice of accommodating people who are either permanently or temporarily disabled, making our services easier for more types of people to use in more situations. How we actually endorse and implement accessibility can be highly nuanced. It might involve a discussion of how content is created for low-literacy populations. It may dictate how material is delivered via the Internet or how someone uses a computer in the workplace. Accessibility can affect how the entryway of a building is designed or how a blind person registers to vote. Accessibility is a concept that can also be applied to any condition—physical, mental, or cognitive—that prevents equivalent use of a product or service.

It's easy to distill complex subjects into smaller ideas that are easier to grasp, even if they don't quite reveal the whole story. In order to strengthen the argument and maximize people's attention spans, we divert to the quick sound bite: "Accessible websites prevent lawsuits!" "Web accessibility is good business sense!" "Web standards improve Section 508 compliance!" "Accessibility brings better results in search engines!" This approach may or may not help corporate organizations recognize digital accessibility as a social responsibility, but there's a difference between making things simple and being simplistic.

Designing for the "Lowest Common Denominator"

A number of years ago, I was working with a small internal team on the architecture and concept of a software product. Our goal was to create a workplace solution that improved upon the inadequacies and burdens of common "e-room" applications, promoting better collaboration and improved efficiency. During discussions around the visual design of the application, someone on the team raised the point of accessibility for users with disabilities. Should we make the font a little bigger? Do we know how many employees are color blind? If the screen refreshes too quickly, will someone who is prone to seizures be affected?

This went on for several minutes until a colleague, with all good intentions, suggested that we should not design for the lowest common denominator. In fact, he used those very words: lowest common denominator. He insisted that such features are only of benefit to a small minority of users. Furthermore, the task of accessibility would add countless hours of unbilled work, wreaking havoc on our budget and compromising our capacity to deliver. In short, it wasn't worth the effort.

There are two reasons why this sort of debate happens within design and business teams. One, accessibility is still largely considered a niche market for a comparatively small segment of the population—consider how many people equate the term disabled with someone other than me. This is a very natural reaction for those who do not have a disability—taking into account any disenfranchised person temporarily puts us into that experience, which can be unpleasant for some people to envision. To design for users who are unlike us, we need to better understand their world—but doing so requires a temporary disconnect from our own prejudices.

Two, the act of designing technology solutions for disabled customers is often misconstrued. To those unfamiliar with the basics of accessibility, committing to inclusive design means downscaling a product's functionality or creative appeal. Hesitation can also result from a suspicion that accessibility will "dumb down" the product's market value. The reality is that software accessibility, when introduced early in a project life cycle, is actually quite straightforward. But the approach must be accompanied by a solid rationale.

In the early stages of design, granular details can get lost unless they are supported by business rules. A champion can cite the 198-page International Standards Organization document ISO 9241-171—the ISO's Guidance on Software Accessibility—or can deliver a spirited monologue on the principles of inclusive design and risk alienating disinterested colleagues. As a result, it's easier to fall back on the defensive argument that accessible software prevents lawsuits, even if the statement isn't entirely accurate in every business case.

Design teams constantly pressure-test prototypes against specifications, but gauging the needs of disabled users accurately can be difficult. Often, attention to barrier-free access doesn't emerge as a design consideration until a project is nearly complete. It may be a particular instance that instigates this activity, such as feedback from a single blind user, or a series of assumptions disguising themselves as facts. Teams then default to a baseline standard where equivalency is less of a philosophy than a technical detail—one that operates selectively rather than globally. If the topic of accessibility is never considered during the spec phase of a project, then the released product requires full use of the senses, neglecting at least some portion of its customer base.

And that is the problem. Product designers, content providers, and the companies who support these teams approach accessibility as an add-on. Accessibility is operationalized when doing so fits within other priorities. They consider the disabled sector a "lowest common denominator" when it comes to product design, and they are unaware of the universal benefit their solutions could potentially bring to a wider audience.

Ramps, Stairs, and Technology

Improving the accessibility of services and facilities has immeasurable benefit for people, even those who may not be technically classified as "disabled." Stand on a street corner sometime and watch how many walkers prefer using curb-cut ramps instead of stepping over a storm drain or tiptoeing around a street post. Most people choose to use a ramp when entering a building, even if they aren't in a wheelchair or require the use of crutches. Parents of small children will certainly recognize the convenience of pushing a stroller up a ramp, rather than negotiating a flight of steps with a sleeping toddler in tow.

Excerpted from Digital Outcasts by Kel Smith. Copyright © 2013 by Elsevier Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Elsevier Science.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Ch 1 – Who Are Digital Outcasts?

Ch 2 – Interpreting Ability

Ch 3 – Defining Innovation

Ch 4 – Why Accessibility Alone Doesn't Matter

Ch 5 - Playing for Health

Ch 6 - Universal Life: Rise, Fall and Rise of Virtual Worlds

Ch 7 - New Frontiers in Technology

Ch 8 - Designing for the Digital Outcast





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