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Robert Pearson

  Accessible Media

03/04/2014

Making Our Encyclopedia Accessible in the Digital Age

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In the move from the analog to the digital, media creators and consumers must make a concerted effort to ensure that users of all abilities have access to all forms of media, be it music, movies, news, or content.

Britannica Encyclopedia

Image: In 2012, after 244 years in print, Encyclopedia Britannica became online-only.

Most of us have a media collection, an encyclopedia of all that we consume in the form of music, movies, books that we read, news and videos, and all that is happening around us. A media collection allows us to share, keep in touch with friends and family, and also gain knowledge.

An encyclopedia is a bit of an archaic model though, when you consider how most of that media now exists in the digital realm. Depending on the age group you are in, you may recall what an encyclopedia originally represented, symbolically and materially. It was a book that didn't need a ‘wiki’ prefix and it was an annual compilation of a sample of the world’s knowledge, all categorized by letters of the alphabet. It was the type of thing you picked up at the bookstore, or the grocery shop.

Gone are those days! There was a time before when Google used to be known as an equation of a hundred different constantly changing variables, before moving on to become the world’s go-to reference for anything. What’s more, we now use the word Google as a verb, when we say, “have you Googled it?” I don’t recall Britannica enjoying the same linguistic currency!

Google is now available our desktops, portable devices and even on our eyewear and smartwatches. How is it then that we have made the jump from a book containing a summary of the encyclopedic knowledge of the world to a world in which any of that content can be consumed in a couple of clicks? And if this is the de-facto mode of consumption today, what about the accessibility of this encyclopedia?

In the past, news and books were provided through reading services such as AMI-audio and other blind advocacy organizations. When the service first began, we offered a cross section of the highlights of the daily news from across Canada. This content was read by volunteers. The service first began by offering a more human tone than the low technology digitized voices available at the time. We still follow the same format today, but does it remain relevant when other options exist?

Accessible Media Inc. (AMI)'s mandate is to make all media accessible to all Canadians. Our primary audience, though, is those who are blind or partially sighted. This is an audience that understood where to find the daily news in a non-digital world and they persevered to listen to the daily news and other television, before the days in which described video has become more mainstream.

However, our younger primary audience is now growing. This is a group who understands social media, streaming, downloads, and podcasts. Technology has become a part of their daily life. Just as it was in the past, this younger audience has found an initial lack of consideration of accessibility with each new digital arena they encountered. We need to consider what types of detriments this may suggest as to where we have progressed in promoting inclusion and accessibility for persons with disabilities. Does it again result in equalities that we know were present in the past? We want to build upon the learnings of the past, in the spirit of development within the Golden Age of Accessibility.

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Related Resources

Blog: Have We Entered the Golden Age of Accessibility? | Read Robert Pearson's Article.

Publication: Report of the Expert Group Meeting on 'E-Participation: Empowering People with ICTs' | Download Free PDF.

Event: Current Debates on the Future of Internet Accessibility | Lancaster, UK | March 5, 2014 | View Event Details.