Hello Blog, I’ve neglected you in print, but not in writing. My excuse is simple; I have had access issues. Access is a strange word as it can mean different things to different people and the context can vary.
The access problem I have had is forgetting my password and the reset link not sending an email. Yes, I have now remembered it! This got me thinking of the areas within my life, which are controlled by access or permissions or enablement. Access to a website is enabled via a password giving permission to enter the site or in the case of academic journals, read more than the abstract. What happens though when the process we are led to believe is simple yet secure breaks down? What words do we use when requesting a new password or enquiring why we cannot benefit from full usage of a site?
A few years ago, I had this problem. The final modules for my most recent MSc required reading additional material and communicating with fellow students via Moodle, a new venture for my institution. My login should have enabled me access these additional areas, only it didn’t! Not being a defeatist, I contacted the IT bods who decided that it was a disability issue (I told them I could not access) that I could not read the screen. Next step was speaking with the post-graduate office; foolishly I again used the magic word ”access”. It took a year of me using the analogy of asking a colleague to collect some files from the back seat of your car and giving them your house keys. Eventually a bright spark twigged and said, “Oh you mean permission?”
If an academic institution only uses one definition for “access” then what hope is there?!
So to access many aspects of day-to-day living from banking to reading newspapers online, a password is needed, or a PIN (note not a PIN number – you can’t have a personal identification number number!), these give access in order to enable the site. Passwords however are a pain, yes, I understand why they are used, but remembering them without writing down is becoming increasingly difficult. I know I am not alone in groaning/screaming/muttering rude words when the site requires upper and lower case letters, at least one number and at least one symbol, oh and needs to be at least 48 characters long! (Fine, I’ve exaggerated that last bit, but you’ve been there!) Online security bods righty tell us not to use the same password for everything, or have it resemble our address, date of birth etc. Dear Security People, we can remember those! In addition, don’t get me started on mother’s maiden name, first school, and first pet – it does not a genius to find out those. Incidentally, I lie when inputting that data!
If communication is rapidly moving towards a digital discourse, then access is important. I am now shifting my discursive positioning to access as in accessibility and enablement.
On 20 September 2013, the BBC website highlighted the importance of ensuring that technology is accessible for people with disabilities – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-24171027 . I suggest this should in fact be ‘accessible for everyone’ as a disability is not always evident and there are many people who require short-term assistance in the form of lessons enabling them to benefit and not be frightened of technology. Enablement however is expensive, you only have to search for a mobile telephone with big buttons to see this – if you haven’t then do and join me in anger that they are specifically marketed towards older members of society and cost a fortune.
In returning to my heading, access, accessibility and accessible, I was delighted to read of the successful court action of wheelchair user Doug Paulley regarding the travelling on public transport, specifically buses http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leeds-24214346 . A bus having a wheelchair symbol on the side is useless if a user is denied access thereby denying the access to the same destinations as other passengers.
Access, permission, enable, are all different words and are used collectively or individually. The meanings are different and also the same, dependant upon the context. If you have read this far, then thank-you and I would like you to remember this thought for future reference.
The next time you have forgotten your password/PIN, consider those for whom access is being denied due to technology or ignorant indifference.