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muse: "the heart may freeze, or it may burn" (Default)
I am using the Global Digital Activism Data Set v2.0. I chose this dataset because I do work in crisis communications online, and this dataset was the largest study of crises breaking on social media I could find which included coded data (a requirement for this project).

Research question: Is there an association between use of social networks (most commonly Facebook, but could be something more localized like WeChat) and campaign success? Is there an association between microblogging (in most countries microblogging is synonymous with Twitter, but also includes other sites like Sina Weibo) and campaign success?

Hypothesis: There is a positive correlation for both channels.

Variables: Social Networking and Microblogging, and the campaign outcomes variables.  I will probably aggregate the various campaign outcomes variables into one single variable by assigning "full completion," "partial completion," and "did not complete" each a numeric value.

I believe that there will be a positive association for both channels based on the very limited literature available. I searched "digital activism" within Google Books to come up with these results. The original study of this dataset's topline findings show that 99% of all campaigns studied used Facebook, and that Sina Weibo was particularly popular in South Asian companies.  It is difficult to review literature because there is extremely little quantitative work available on digital activism partially because it can be very difficult to develop and study datasets that allow us to compare different social movements (this particular one is unique in that several people were hired to code the data).  People who are using quantitative techniques to power activism such as those employing A/B testing at nonprofits (A review of literature about online activism) are frequently too busy to document their work.  Quantitative studies help us be better campaigners and help us understand what really works, though, not just what we think might work, so it's very important to advance in this area and I hope that my work can contribute to this.


Here is some other literature which is related to the topic but is more qualitative in nature: 

MIT's Global Dimensions of Digital Activism

A book about online activism

Digital Activism Decoded

A study of one particular protest (#SaveDarfur)

A study of interest from the Pew Internet and American Life project

Berkman Center's work on the SOPA-PIPA debate.



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I'm currently away from Dreamwidth due to the pressures of school & work. You can find me on Twitter, or irregularly on Facebook (though I don't do much there).

I still believe, and I'm a big fan. I'll be back.

. . . dream wide, dream deep.
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The Inclusion Principle by Margit Link-Rodrigue outlines the concept of inclusion as a principle of design. We've already introduced universal design earlier in this blog, and accessibility - what is inclusion, and why is it important? Inclusion is a third pillar of acceptance for people with disabilities into community, and it is incredibly important.

Rodrigue outlines a problem with universal design and accessible design: many designers say it limits their creativity because it requires them to design for one particular target group. Does universal design, when applied to an online community, truly limit us? If we design for people with disabilities, does that mean we don't also design for everyone?

Rodrigue's hypothetical designer argues:

This design approach results in a product that works for only one target group—we’ve achieved accessible design, but not universal design. And while accessible design is important, it doesn’t reach everyone in the same way, so we should logically strive for universal design whenever possible, and concentrate on accessible design only when necessary.


We can counter their objections - that universal design and accessible design are design only for a few - with the notion of inclusion as an additional design principle:

Inclusive behaviors are those practices and behaviors that leverage and honor the uniqueness of people’s different talents, beliefs, and ways of living. [...] When one is defined by the concept of a group, people can be limited by their knowledge or beliefs about that particular group. Instead, inclusion embraces similarities and differences at the individual and group levels for the attainment of the common endeavor.


The idea of inclusion in an online community suggests that including all people, including people with disabilities, has value. It has return on investment because those people have something to give to your community, whether it's about their disability or not. And designing for universal design and affordance allows them to feel welcome - so universal design allows everyone to feel included, and welcome, even those who do not directly take advantage of universal design features.

I want to use Dreamwidth as an example of a community that uses inclusion as a deliberate design principle.

Dreamwidth is a diverse community that tries to be deliberately welcoming of all people - its diversity statement is why this blog is here and not on some other platform. The Dreamwidth team of open source developers is actively working on accessiblity over in .

"We think accessibility for people with disabilities is a priority, not an afterthought. We think neurodiversity is a feature, not a bug. We believe in being inclusive, welcoming, and supportive of anyone who comes to us with good faith and the desire to build a community."

The key to this paragraph is the word inclusive. Dreamwidth is welcoming and inclusive of everyone, and so they are making efforts to design the platform so it includes as many people as possible, because all people are valued and important in building Dreamwidth's community - disability or no.
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The question was posed to me at a conference – a hard one to answer - “can people with disabilities really be a community?” This by a person who had worked with people with disabilities well over twenty years, a PT, an experienced and knowledgeable man. I didn't know how to answer him at first. It seemed obvious to me. I didn't answer him during the conference, actually.

To start with, it's not quite the right question. Some people with disabilities can choose to be a community, but asking whether all people with disabilities are a community is something like asking whether all gay people are a community or whether all people in a particular profession are a community. The answer is, only if they choose to participate in the community – only if they join the union, or join gay organizations and go to gay oriented events. Community, if not geographically based, is complicated to define and even more complicated to recognize. There are many competing definitions of community, but the most compelling are usually based on whether people share a common set of practices. So how do we answer the rewritten question – what community can people with disabilities choose to belong to? And what are some of the practices and interests that we share?

Do people with disabilities have common practices, or political interests, that could cause them to ally? Or, should they? Disability advocates hold that we have a common interest in getting laws that protect the rights of people with disabilities passed, like the Convention on the Rights with People with Disabilities (being signed Friday by Obama), the Community Choice Act (the issue du jour on the agenda of the major cross-disability activism groups like ADAPT and People First - it's very telling and interesting that this issue has received little to no coverage in "neutral" online sources. Googling CCA or Community Choice Act reveals radical sites and a few "sunlight" sites like the ones I linked to.), and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Finally, the Americans with Disabilities Act is particularly important because it was the first legislation to legally treat people with disabilities as a class of people who have common interests (for more on this look here). In other words, whether to ourselves we have common political interests or not, we now do to the US government, and it is frequently to our advantage to form groups to further such interests in whatever communities we choose to belong to.

As for the common practices, it's a little more complicated to recognize them, and often people don't until they've been around a lot of other people with disabilities. Most of them are subtle and are related to our being in the world, and many of them are not exactly generalizable to all disabilities. For example, many of us use assistive technologies to communicate, move, or otherwise be in the world, but the exact nature of these technologies and supports is diverse and sometimes may come into conflict with each other, as we often learn at conferences when there is a constant struggle for access between the needs of interpreters and people with communication disorders. Many of us also depend on extra time and extra rest to do the things we need to do – everything takes longer for most people with disabilities. Most of us are also used to having a diverse ecology of human supports in our lives in the form of medical and social service professionals, including PCAs, doctors, therapists, rehabilitation counselors, and others.

Given all these common practices and political interests, why doesn't cross-disability community often get off the ground? I would argue that it's because of a few reasons. First of all, we're still at a point where most people with disabilities have to work, and work really hard, just to meet their individual needs. Community doesn't always form until people have the spare cycles to actually band together and do things together. That said, there are small pockets across the nation where radical people with disabilities ARE forming communities – it's just very early in the movement yet, and has yet to hit the awareness of the mainstream person with a disability. Second, there's still a strong stigma associated with disability, and many people with disabilities don't like to be seen in the company of other people with disabilities because they are trying to minimize that stigma. Third, many people with disabilities frequently face barriers to community building such as obstacles to transportation and economic challenges.

How can online communities help meet these needs? The good news is that online communities can provide a place where people with disabilities can meet with less stigma attached. In some cases they provide anonymity; in some cases they provide a place where you can be your “real” disabled self, depending on the norms of the community. Also, for people who are lucky enough to have computers and Internet and appropriate assistive technologies for accessing them – as well as an appropriate educational level - they provide a place for accessing and building community free of obstacles like transportation.

And what are the limitations of online community in building cross-disability community? One of the limitations is that we can't experience each others' bodies, so while we can't see the ways our bodies differ, we also can't experience the embodiment that we have in common that is sort of crucial to building our community. In part this can be combated by using a virtual world platform or a platform with visual avatars that encourages visual representation of disabilities, but current embodiment technologies do nothing close to representing our diverse embodiments. The second limitation is more serious, and it is that people with different disabilities have different accessibility needs, and so they take to different kinds of online community platforms. For instance, many blind people still use listservs and IRC, because they're most accessible to screenreaders, whereas those with impairments that do not prevent them from using standard websites have turned to mainstream social networking platforms and virtual worlds. Until we build an online community platform that's as close to universally accessible as possible, we won't have a really suitable cross-disability platform. What we have right now are a lot of hacks that have to be carefully orchestrated. Finally, does online community translate into real world action? How do we create online support and community and mobilize it into real world community?
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"disability often rejects and transcends what is considered “correct” body language. maybe we are stimming. maybe we are using an interpreter. maybe we are interacting with physical pain, depression, assistive technology. maybe we are sitting when we are supposed to be standing (or vice versa). to try and deny ourselves these needs are either exhausting or impossible. that’s just who we are. i have been thinking about what it means to listen deeply."

People with disabilities frequently commmunicate differently, online and offline. In cross-disability gatherings, we use a plethora of communication technologies, from the simple expedients of other people to complex assistive technologies; we also use technologies for being in the world that affect our embodiment. What does it mean for us to listen to each other in real life, mediated by technology as our listening and speech often is? And what does it mean to listen to each other online? How is good listening in online communities different for the gimpy, the crippled, the crazy?

Many of us use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) to "speak" with devices - we may use symbols as body language, or synthesized cyborg voices as bodily technologies. Our speech may be slower, our inflection different. Others may speak with voices which are different because of auditory or physical difference, or hear voices differently because of auditory or cognitive difference. Our body language may be different because voices sound far away, distant, remote, or too close, invasive. Some use interpreters to communicate in sign language - which are different languages entirely - and as a result may miss the subtleties of the body language and language being used by the orally speaking person. Still others sit "waist-high in the world" - as Nancy Mairs says - and frequently communicate with others from this perspective, making it harder to read body language directed at standing level. Many of us speak and listen slower - some of us speak and listen quicker due to anxiety or other disabilities, but speak often in circles or make different sense. Many of us are listening to the internal noise of our bodies to the point where it is challenging and difficult to listen to other speakers - listening to pain, listening to noises we hear that no-one else hears.

What does it mean for us to listen to each other online? How can we affirm each other? How do we pass our bodies through the wires to "hear" what the challenges of our listeners and the other speakers are and respond to them? How does this apply to speaking and listening in online community, much less being a thoughtful leader and moderator of an online community? People say that the internet is the great equalizer for people with disabilities - I'm not sure it is for all of us with communication disabilities. Many of them still exist online, or exist differently.
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Our first case study in adaptable design for community will be GimpGirl. GimpGirl is an eleven-year old organization run by and for smart, sassy, sexy women with disabilities. In providing support and community online through a unique participatory and inclusive model, Gimp Girl redefines what women with disabilities are allowed to be, challenging ideas about passive embodiment and oppression. GimpGirl is currently in intensive growth mode, expanding their community through active presences on a variety of Web 2.0 services and Second Life and pushing forward towards status as a 501c(3) nonprofit.

*Not everything will ever be accessible to everyone - GimpGirl's approach to the "adaptable" model of community accessibility has been to run a community across multiple low-tech and high-tech platforms, hoping to provide at least a few platforms which are accessible to people with every disability and with a range of comfort levels with technology. The community focuses on using a variety of tips and hacks to relay content from native formats to other accessible formats - for example, a relay that passes chat from Second Life to IRC, which is more readily accessible by screenreaders and users with vertigo, a way to email forum threads, a way to get LiveJournal blogs in accessible RSS readers.

*The same user may have different needs at different times and places and for different types of content - Members communicate through synchronous (IRC, Second Life) and asynchronous (Moodle, Facebook, LiveJournal, Flickr, Twitter) platforms, which serve different accessibility needs.

*Social networks facilitate discussions but do not necessarily have perfect accessibility - Members also use community platforms like Facebook, LiveJournal, Flickr, and Twitter that they are already on and have already worked out accessibility tools for - these platforms may not be entirely accessible to everyone, but members care about using them because there's a substantial amount of content there already for other reasons, so it doesn't matter.

The community also spends a lot of time focusing on moderation techniques to create an accessible space. Universal design, and adaptability, in online communities is not just about the technology the community uses to deliver the content - it's also about the kind of space staff creates for members with their words and actions and the terms of service. Good universal design is good community moderation. GimpGirl focuses very heavily on creating a space that is safe for all sorts of diversity (not just disability), and although core space is women's space, peripheral spaces are welcoming to all genders. Moderators focus heavily on affirming all sorts of communication styles - which are often affected by disability, either directly or indirectly.
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Accessibility guidelines were originally meant to provide a framework for access for everyone to the web, a special type of usability that served the needs of users with disabilities. However, as they are currently implemented in the WCAG 2.0 guidelines and mandated in the US in Section 508, they tend to be implemented by those who don't understand their original purpose rather mechanically and in a way that is divorced from qualitative methodologies of usability: use a browser that is accessible, and a page that validates according to a mechanical system, and it will automatically be accessible to everyone with every disability, or so goes the myth. Sadly, this is rarely true and ignores the majority of web content out there which cannot be made accessible according to the guidelines.

Unfortunately, this approach rarely addresses user needs, especially in the case of sites which are actually complex portals to many different types of content, including online communities and virtual worlds. Brian Kelly, in his talk From Web Accessibility 2.0 to Web Adaptability argues for a more holistic approach to access that is a framework that applies to web communities.

In the presentation, he makes the following key points (which I summarize and adapt) about what considering accessibility in a framework of "adaptability" might mean:

*Not everything on the Web will ever be accessible to everyone, so don't try.
*Accessibility may not cross cultural, linguistic, national and discipline boundaries - it has local, momentary, individual meanings.
*Different communities may have different needs.
*The same user may have different needs at different times and places and for different types of content.
*Focus on inclusivity & universal design rather than "accessible to people with disabilities"
*Focus on accessibility of the end use of content rather than access to all content
*Blended accessibility cf potential of social networks to facilitate discussions, not perfect accessibility of every feature
*Trust and openness: organizations taking reasonable measures - involvement with users in design processes. You don't do it because you might be sued. Faith. Honesty.
*Accessibility is a process - it's always in beta.
*Consider your users - do iterative testing, hold focus groups, get feedback, do formative evaluation.

I go on to elaborate: what might this process mean to those of us tasked with moderating our own online communities? Why should a busy community leader consider accessibility, which after all one might think only applies for a small population?

*Adaptable design is actually good design for everyone; if you enhance accessibility in ways that are easily available to screenreader users, for example, you enhance the user experience for those using older browsers or text only browsers. If you enhance usability for people with disabilities, you enhance it for everyone.
*Adaptable community moderation practices, such as managing the readability level of official content and acknowledging all contributions, benefit everyone too. Time-strapped web users struggle with content that is written at too high a level.
*Adaptable design is an ongoing process; it's not something expensive that you do once to comply with the law. You make the adaptations that you can to accomodate the most users that you can; you keep going.
*Adaptable design is not always more expensive; often it is about providing very low-tech or workarounds to provide access, as we'll see from the case studies.

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