Disability and cyberspace : the politics of inclusion & exclusion in web development groups

Fodness, Kevin R.
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Other Contributors
Eglash, Ron, 1958-
Nieusma, Dean
Kinchy, Abby J.
Ladner, Richard E.
Winner, Langdon
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Science and technology studies
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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States
This electronic version is a licensed copy owned by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY. Copyright of original work retained by author.
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This dissertation attempts to answer the question “how can the online experiences of disabled people in the United States be improved?” To that end, it explores why the web is such an inaccessible place, including the extent to which accessibility is taught in higher education, the extent to which accessibility is valued as a part of good development practice, and what—if any—overlaps exist between making websites accessible and other desirable outcomes. I draw on my own 20-year history as a professional and hobbyist full-stack web developer, as well as a survey of 330 web developers, and 20 semi-structured interviews of web developers, designers, strategists, project managers, entrepreneurs, and user experience researchers that are part of my professional network in order to examine this question from multiple angles and in depth. I examine my informants' responses through the lens of ableism and the social model of disability, but posit that the complexities of modern web development are not so easily captured in either of those theories, and require a more nuanced view. I extend and challenge Helen Kennedy's (2012) Net Work: Ethics and Values in Web Design by more deeply addressing the responsive design trends of recent years and demonstrating the differences between web development in the U.K. and web development in the U.S. Finally, I posit that synergistic enablement is an example of a utilitarian approach to making the web more accessible—rhetorically and technologically tying accessibility to outcomes that may be more financially or politically desirable within capitalist organizations, such as optimizing websites for search visibility.
May 2016
School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
Dept. of Science and Technology Studies
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY
Rensselaer Theses and Dissertations Online Collection
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