Accessibility, deafness & virtual worlds

A poster/pdf from K.Mancuso and J.Cole introducing guidelines for accessibility in virtual worlds is online here… – it was presented at the 2009 IEEE Accessign the Future Conference (Boston) – more information about the conference is here

See also this long post at 

Also  – see the bibliography on the ‘constructing disability in online worlds’ paper at this blog, for more references and resources on this topic.


So far, Deaf Studies and Disability Studies literature does not seem to overlap the Education, e-learning and Accessibility literature (which looks more like the games and disability literature – with a focus on tools, usability and access, for instance). Does this matter, or are they doing different jobs? Literature on disability, bodies and technology (often drawing on science and technology studies) might be relevant to thinking this through…

Next steps include more work with the data collected during the interviews in Second Life last month. Expect to focus this time on hegemony and identity. The first draft after the interviews was a mess as tried to cover too much. So cut the draft up, and focused on particular issues in the existing literature (resulting in the draft posted below). The other stuff I was trying to cover was about power, identity, marginalization or ‘othering’ – have various ideas about how this might work as an article but am still thinking and finding things to read. 

Aside from that…In the earlier short article for Access, I mentioned that voice had impacted less on ‘my’ SL than originally feared. This has been true – The sessions I’ve convened have had a loose, discussion format which works well with text (and would be a big muddle in voice I think, with everyone chipping in, etc.). But lately am thinking might have to revise re impact. SL and Education events within SL itself are becoming more frequent (I mean conferences, seminars and presentations for RL educators using SL, hosted within SL). The trend seems to be for these to use voice – with little if any provision for those not using it (meanwhile long established groups in SL keep using text. Not sure that text has been ‘taken seriously’ as an option by educators – not, at least, when it comes to peer-to-peer events that replicate real world conference conventions and involve status). Not sure how I feel about this. Interesting how difficult it is to find a place to speak from that does not feel pre-defined…as if…once I become somebody who can’t participate then I can only squeak back (complain, interrupt, hello, hello?) from this assigned seat on the outer limits – and squeaking from ‘here’ feels like signing a contract (a contract that inadvertently ‘fixes’ the very thing I’d rather undermine – which is not my marginality so much as ‘their’ centrality). So there’s all sorts of weird things to figure out…about individuation and ‘deficit models’ of difference, emerging conventions, ‘othering’, and whether Jelly wants to go to their parties anyway…

This paper has been reviewed and is now being revised. If you’d like to discuss contact the author.

Technology, Inclusion and Social Practices in Virtual Worlds

Diane Carr

London Knowledge Lab, IOE

23. 4. 2009




When educators and e-learning researchers have debated issues of accessibility and technology, particular concerns have predominated. These include issues of legislation and compliance, and the design and adaptability of tools (software and hardware for example). These issues will be considered in this article. However, it will also be argued that it does not make sense to consider a technological feature’s relationship to disability or accessibility, without also considering the social practices that will shape the reception and implementation of any such tool. 


 Here, again, are Linden Labs comments on deaf people, the introduction of the voice feature and education: ‘While a deaf Resident may find him or herself excluded in some social contexts, their ability to communicate in SL, has not been diminished from a technical viewpoint.’ At the crux of this statement is recognition that exclusion is socially determined in online worlds – although various degrees of accessibility will be supported or undermined by different technological features. It might well be the case that ‘Most educators would agree that learning is better facilitated between individuals with voice’, as Linden Labs have claimed. It may be, also, that new technical features will become available, equipping us to counter-act the potentially exclusionary practices found in various social, educational and professional contexts within Second Life (such as classes, seminars and conferences).


The research described in this paper has shown that deafness as disability is reproduced in virtual worlds, through discourse and practice. This suggests that identity within online worlds should be regarded as collaboratively constructed, and that the dynamics and resources that underpin and impact on these constructions are carried into virtual worlds from our everyday lives. There is nothing new about the exclusionary practices experienced by disabled residents in Second Life. However, online worlds and their various communities do demonstrate in new, clear ways, just how pervasive inequitable practices and discourses can be, and how difficult it can be to articulate and hence resist the power relations that are embedded within, and disseminated by, these same practices. Educators with an interest in equality, online learning, inclusion and technology cannot afford to overlook the implications.  




[1] The probject blog is online at

[2] See the article at

[3] This project’s website is online at

[4] For more information on Dungeons & Dragons, go to



Addison, A. and O’Hare, L. (2008) How Can Massive Multi-User Virtual Environments and Virtual Role Play Enhance and Embed with Traditional Teaching Practice? Paper presented at ReLive08 Conference, Open University, UK, November 2008.


Alt-J Special Issue: Disability, technology and e-learning. Vol 14 no 1 March 2006


Boellstorff, T. (2008) Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human Princeton University Press


Carr, D, Oliver, M and Burn, A. (2008) ‘Learning, Teaching and Ambiguity in Virtual Worlds’, Paper presented at ReLive08 Conference, Open University, UK, November 2008. Online at  Accessed April 2009.


Carr, D and Oliver, M (2009) ‘Tanks, Chauffeurs and Backseat Drivers: Competence in MMORPGs’. Eludamos. Journal for Computer Game Culture. Vol 3, No 1 Online at  Accessed April 2009


Carr, D. and Oliver M. (in press 2009) ‘Second Life, Immersion and Learning’ in Social Computing and Virtual Communities, edited by P. Zaphiris and C. S. Ang. London: Taylor and Francis


Charmaz, K. (2006) Constructing Grounded Theory London: Sage


Cooper, M. (2006) Making online learning accessible to disabled students: an institutional case study. Alt-J Special Issue: Disability, technology and e-learning. Vol 14 no 1 March 2006


Correll, J. and Maruyama, T. (2005) ‘Deaf People: Fact Sheet No. 3’ Project Output. Deaf People and the Internet: Has the Internet Changed Deaf People’s Lives? University of Leeds, Loughborough University, University of Sheffield. Project Website:  Accessed April 2009


Davis, L. J. (1995) Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness and the Body. London: Verso


Ess, C. and the AoIR ethics working committee (2002) ‘Ethical decision-making and Internet Research. Recommendations from the aoir ethics working committee’, online at  Accessed April 2009


Goodfellow, R. (2008) ‘New Directions in Research into Learning Cultures in Online Education’ Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Networked Learning. Halkidiki, Greece. May  Accessed April 2009


Oliver, M. (1990) The Politics of Disablement. Basingstoke UK. Palgrave Macmillan.


Rutter, M. (2006) ‘Tutorial Chat: a case study of synchronous communication in a learning environment’ ALT-J Research in Learning Technology. Vol 14 no. 2, June pp 169-182


Seale, J., Drattan, E.A and Wald, M (2008) Exploring disabled learners’ experiences of e-learning. LEXDIS Project Final Report. University of Southampton. December 2008.  Accessed April 2009


Sharpe, R., Benfield, G., Lessner, E., & De Cicco, E. (2005) Learner Scoping Study: Final Report
Online at  Accessed April 2009


Sheehy, K. (2008) ‘Virtual Environments: Issues and opportunities for developing inclusive educational practices’. Paper presented at ReLive08 Conference, Open University, UK, November 2008.


Wittel, Andreas (2000) ‘Ethnography on the Move: From Field to Net to Internet’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research Vol 1 No 1, Article 21 January 2000. Online at  Accessed April 2009

There are more links and literature and things on these topics over at the other blog, Playhouse.

Here’s the link:

Article -‘Stepstone: An Interactive Floor Application for Hearing Impaired Children with a Cochlear Implant’ by Ole Sejer Iversen, Karen Johanne Kortbek, Kaspar Rosengreen Nielsen, Louise Aagaard.
From the abstract: “This paper describes a novel interactive floor application suited for hearing impaired children with a (CI).cochlear implant”. Keywords: Cochlear Implant Children, interactive floor, collaborative learning, participatory design. Link to PDF.

Computer games, access, disability

London Knowledge Lab, Institute of Education
London Games Research Group
London Games Fringe

Monday 27th October at the London Knowledge Lab, from 4 till 6 pm.

RSVP to Monica Chan (
Questions? email the convener, Diane (

Focus: Access and design issues in relation to games, gaming and online cultures. Presentations will be informal, and time allocated for discussion.


Martin Wright (GameLab London at London Metropolitan University)
Nick Weldin (, and Tinker it! (
Siobhan Thomas, Inclusive New Media Project at University of East London 

David Squire (DESQ Ltd)
Diane Carr, link to project stuff (IOE, University of London)

More information is online here.

London Knowledge Lab
23-29 Emerald Street
London WC1N 3QS

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