Most people facing communication challenges are rarely represented (104) on the different media forms available today. They often suffer various forms of discrimination as a result of their disabilities. For that reason, a huge number of them are completely excluded from information and knowledge production, communication and even interacting with the outside world. There is a huge need for cultural activism on the development of different forms of media worldwide. Anthropology, therefore, has a critical role in explaining the influence of digital media on social norms and other emerging issues such as the discrimination of the disabled that revolves around its usage.
The Internet Existing In a World of Its Own
Whether the internet existed in a realm apart from human physicality, geography, and other limitations were the subject of debate by many early researchers on the digital revolution including the renowned anthropologist Ginsburg. According to Ginsburg, providing virtual support for disabled persons is significant in ensuring access of the disabled to a medium (118). For example, providing individualized attention to persons with various disabilities ensure their success in the exploration of the virtual world by helping them achieve what they might never have such as “…helping someone who will never walk again in real life to jump on a virtual trampoline.’’
Therefore, in reality, the internet and digital technological advancement such as YouTube does not occur in isolation and any suggestions to the contrary are fallacious.
Digital Special Properties That Give Rise To Egalitarian Forms Of Access
Digital media platforms have been pivotal in enhancing interactions among able-bodied and disabled people across the world, integrating intergovernmental and national agencies by promoting coordination among them, providing information accessibility from all over the world, creating jobs, enhancing people’s convenience and the list goes on.
Variety in digital communication channels
Heavy investments in the digital field have witnessed a spike in the number of digital communication channels (110). As such people with disabilities should have the freedom of choice on the communication medium from the whole palette of digital media that best suits them. Unfortunately, this not always the case as most of the channels available such as phones and computers require typing and some disabled persons “…can’t type at all” (118). On the other hand, the invention of assistive software such as voice recognition software which controls computers have helped challenged individuals become successful in virtual worlds (118).
Social communication tools
Digital features have enabled people living with disabilities to communicate and interact with the world and “…expand their social networks and gain an enhanced sense of agency” (114). This has been made possible through video platforms such as YouTube which has enabled those with various disabilities including autism to experience the virtual world (111). Ginsburg cites a number of cases where the impacts of the virtual activities on and offline have been experienced. For example, here is one of the positive stories. “One woman had a devastating stroke in 2003 that left her in a wheelchair with little hope of walking again; she has since regained the use of her legs and ‘has begun to reclaim her life, thanks in part to encouragement she says she gets from an online “virtual world” where she can walk, run and even dance’” (114).
Digital Properties That Limit Its Access
In the contemporary era when the virtual world of the intimate has practically become an essential part of the world, disable individuals continue being side-lined from experiencing benefits such as the freedom of expression and association. This digital divide is the result of lack of assistive hardware and software in various digital technologies. These properties make digital accessibility discriminatory (116).
Lack of digital assistive features in digital media platforms
The subject of disability has been widely neglected by digital researchers for long. This is an alarming fact where audiences of the digital media come from extreme diversity. They include persons with a wide range of disabilities and able-bodied individuals. Unfortunately, persons with different disabilities are often isolated from the digital experience since most forms of digital media lack inclusive communication features that would go a long way in assisting them. According to Ginsburg, digital assistive technology has the ability to dramatically change the lives of those abled differently. Embracing such technologies can provide unanticipated and powerful platforms that allow those with disabilities to communicate to a broad range of public (103).
The internet did not exist in a realm apart from human physicality, geography, and other limitations as was concluded in the various passionate debates renowned academicians among them Ginsburg on the topic. It is however undisputed that the digital revolution has impacted the whole wide world in all areas of life. To a large extent, persons living with disabilities are often left out from experiencing the benefits of digitalization. Fortunately, the trend is now shifting and digital media has increasingly grown digital photographic and video work which plays a huge role in the inclusion of the disabled in this field. From the foregoing, Anthropology has a huge role to play in advancing the knowledge on the impacts of the digital media in the social context.
Ginsburg, Faye. “Disability in the Digital Age.” Digital Anthropology. Ed. A. Heather & Miller Daniel Horst. Berg, 2012. 101-126.