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The 'visually impaired website': Representing disability on the WWW

David Kreps, Information Systems Institute, University of Salford

Powerpoint presentation (pdf)


This paper will attempt to address the social barriers apparent on the World Wide Web preventing access by various constituents of the disabled community. In particular it will focus upon the half-hearted attempts by some institutions to redress this problem. It will do so both from a theoretical perspective, positing the nature of a discriminatory web-page as a performative thing-actant that carries with it an artefactual politics of exclusion, and from a research perspective, picking out specific examples from the web.

Performative thing-actants - things that have an equal say in who we are as we do, are everywhere apparent, but nowhere more thoroughly, perhaps, than in the world of disability, which we may regard as exemplary. Moreover, it is over the performative influence upon their lives of enabling technologies and disabling infrastructures that the political battles of the disability rights movement are fought. Performative thing-actants in the networks of people-actants' lives are making decisions about identity that the people-actants are contesting. Old HTML visual formatting tags in web pages can block access to information as surely as a set of steps can block access to a library.

From an examination of these issues, against the backdrop of specific examples of discriminating pages on the web, the paper will show how in the network of people and things for disabled people - and by implication, all of us - the thing-actants are not only as performative and citational as the people-actants, but seem in this sector of society at least to have got the upper hand.

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