March 25, 2021

On the 15th April 2021, Sarah Lewthwaite will be presenting to the Sociology of Education stream at the annual British Sociological Association (BSA) Conference. Her paper ‘Dichotomies of disability and ageing in the teaching and discourses of digital accessibility’ draws on ongoing Teaching Accessibility research with expert teachers and considers how and where disability and ageing discourses are intersected in formal and informal accessibility education. The full abstract follows:

Dichotomies of disability and ageing in the teaching and discourses of digital accessibility.

Sarah Lewthwaite and Angharad Butler Rees,
Centre for Research in Inclusion, University of Southampton.

COVID-19 has brought about unprecedented change in our society and the mediating role of technology in everyday life. The pandemic has left many, especially older and disabled people, isolated and reliant on digital platforms and services which are not always accessible. Digital accessibility is a technical discipline within Human Computer Interaction that seeks to make technologies accessible to all. Yet within teaching, disability and ageing are frequently articulated separately. Technical communities recognise a need to consider the ways in which accessibility and inclusive design practices must cater for both groups, yet they are rarely inter-related. This paper considers this discursive divide within accessibility. We broach where there is capacity for these boundaries to be more productively and critically engaged. To elucidate the issues, we draw upon qualitative research with international pedagogic leaders, to ask where older people fit within contemporary discourses of accessibility teaching. This is theorised, in light of the biopolitics of Web accessibility standards, and their pedagogic influence in a context of ‘digital first’ public services, growing regulatory frameworks, compliance culture and litigation in industry. What are the pedagogic roles of such standards, and how do teachers negotiate and answer the subtle hierarchies of impairment and ageing that standards can convey? How can the socio-technical and cultural experiences of disability and ageing be imbricated and realised within this frame, to build a more inclusive digital future? We invite delegates to engage in this dialogue and discussion.