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Technology, Inclusion and Social Practices in Virtual Worlds
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.
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