In doing this week’s reading I was particularly drawn to the piece “Disability, Universal Design, and the Digital Humanities.” We’ve discussed accessibility a lot in this class, and I’ve thought about it more as a result. Universal Design on the other hand is something that I’ve been interested in for a long time, from a more selfish personal-accessibility perspective. I think it is often complicated to discuss accessibility with novices in terms of digital design, because on one hand we want our early offerings to be as aesthetically pleasing as possible, and on the other, we only have so much time to spare, as the real nuts and bolts of digital design can be intimidating to say the least.
This is where I think there is a disconnect between what an article like Williams’ presents and essential basics of computational design that I would argue should be focused on well before focusing on access for those with disabilities (for the sake of creating offerings that can be easily transformed into more accessible offerings).
“Accessibility would be much easier for most content creators to achieve if a suite of free and open-source accessibility tools were developed for popular content management systems (CMS). A list of the most commonly used CMSes for digital humanities projects would include – but not be limited to – WordPress, Drupal, Omeka, MediaWiki, and Joomla.” (Gold, 206)
He then goes onto say how easy each of these CMS frameworks are to install. This is for me the first warning sign. I don’t want to say that experts don’t or shouldn’t use a CMS, but what I would hasten to say that digital humanities scholars should be more concerned with web semantics in and of themselves before they start trying to wrap their heads around injecting appropriate accessibility into semi-corporate CMS systems.
Williams writes a few pages later:
“What I am arguing is that infusing the digital humanities with universal design principles will result in just this kind of reciprocal relationship (reciprocal relationship between design for those with disability and broad general design (my interpretation))” (Gold, 210).
The sentence that follows this is a warning from Matthew Kirschenbaum:
“the current state of new media studies as one in which the graphical user interface is often uncritically accepted as the ground zero of the user’s experience” (Gold, 210).
I believe that Williams is misreading Kirschenbaum’s emphasis. Williams seems to paradoxically relay a set of beliefs that places the typical digital humanist as a master of all digital trades and languages while at the same time needing to rely on CMSes for simplicities sake. I read Williams to say that a move away from graphical interface is a move toward the internet as experienced by those without sight. The issue is the bulk of us are without sight. The digital scholar that has not been trained in computer science is more often than not a victim of missing the forrest for the trees in a sense. They are using CMSes built on programs, built on programs, hosted on commercial servers that seem to work like magic to their uninitiated senses. To approach this crowd with the idea that they need to focus on literal accessibility by the disabled from within such a demented framework instead of focusing on understanding the actual landscape where their offerings exist, is going to lead to more wasted time than it is to actual construction of a more accessible web infrastructure.