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Jul. 13th, 2009

muse: "the heart may freeze, or it may burn" (Default)
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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