Usable by ordinary human beings: the route to e-inclusion

Most government on-line systems are inaccessible to most of those of those they are most intended to serve – was my personla summary of the of the introductory discussions at the EU workshop on Ethics and e-Inclusion that I attended on Monday. The consequences are not only unethical, they are indefensible by almost any measure other than technophilia.

The problems are not confined to the UK, indeed we may well be less bad than some, but we have much to learn from others, particuarly those former Eastern Bloc nations which could not afford to waste resoruces and have, in consequence, leapfrogged to a world of simple, easy to use, fast response systems, often based on open source and/or mobile technologies.

The population of Slovenia is not much more than that of the County of Kent population and the Presidency event in Lubljana meant that all the hotels were full so the workshop was in Bled, Slovenia’s tourist jewel, beside a magnificent lake with a medieval castle towering over the tiny town from on high. From the terrace of the castle it was easy to appreciate how those on high get delusions of grandeur and feel they have the right to order the lives of the serfs and plebs, several hundred feet below.

Much of the workshop was taken up with whether it is right for the state of today to similarly order the lives of those supposedly unable to look after themselves, let alone use the wonders of modern technology.

It was certainly felt to be immoral to demand information that was then available to hackers,fraudsters, blackmaiilers and investigative journalists because of lax security: people processes even more than technology weaknesses. How much of the information that regulators and law enforcement across the EU have demanded be kept in the name of anti-terrorism or consumer protection has already been supplied to those who would abuse it?

It hones thinking when you are in a meeting that brings together those who grew up in nations where 10% of their neighbours were police informers and those who can see “community leaders” using their relationships with the local and central government bureaucracies of liberal democracies to filer communications and maintain “family honour”.

There was a clear majority in the workshop that I chaired, that we should be making much better use of technologies already available to empower the disabled and excluded, to consult them, to give them a voice and to give them choice.

This raised many interesting questions, including around the responsibilities of those working in the industry not only to help “educate” politicians to much better balance risk and reward but also to actively condemn that which is unthical and impractical and to regard failure to do so as “unprofessional conduct”.

One of the eye-openers was the high proportion of the population who cannot use a conventional screen and keyboard. The 70% of the population accessing the Internet via this means may well be close to a maximum. Most of the rest, including probably the majority of those dependent on public services, need other interfaces.

And the conventional call-centre is not one of these. Indeed it is a moot question as to whether some call centres, like some websites, “lose” rather more business than they handle.

I have just received the notes of the rapporteur for my session and plan to blog again when I have finished editing these – but that may be a couple of days, given my current workload.