BBI Chairman Peter Blanck's book on web "eQuality" reviewed by leading Israeli Scholar

10-16-2017

eQuality: The Struggle for Web Accessibility by Persons with Cognitive Disabilities

by Peter Blanck
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2014. 467 pages
Review: Shirley Avrami

NOTE: Shirley Avrami's dissertation dealt with the Knesset's decision-making process of the Equal Rights Law People with disabilities. Avrami taught welfare policy at the faculties of social work, and now teaches In the Department of Political Science at the Hebrew University.

Book cover equalityI will begin with a fair disclosure: Prof. Peter Blanck, moved to being a key activist and inspiring figure in the struggle for equal rights of people with disabilities, in the world and in Israel, he is also a member and a professional partner. To date, he has published dozens of books on the subject, including books dealing with legal issues and advocacy American and international perspective.

Like all his books, his latest book, "eQuality: The Struggle for Web Accessibility by Persons with Cognitive Disabilities," is a milestone in understanding the struggle, the population that is supposed to benefit from its fruits, and the interface between them. As a book that deals with the accessibility of populations, some of which will be difficult to read, the book is well-read and well-maintained: Chapter 10, Usability Pocket eQuality (pp. 278-221), provides the entire book, in easy language and in clear and short formulations, to the reader with intellectual disabilities. The rationale for this chapter appears at the beginning, and notes that its purpose is to facilitate the use of the book by summing chapters and case studies in simple language and presenting the  Internet links appearing in the book.

In his introduction, Prof. Blanck describes the task of Dr. David Braddock, one of the leaders of the struggle and research on mentally handicapped people in the United States that led to this book, to examine whether they have access to a network of people with disabilities. Cognition in the U.S. applies to the American Law on Equal Rights for People with Disabilities (ADA - Americans with Disabilities Act). It defines accessibility as a web Content - "The creation of code that transmits text, voice, images and virtual forms through written, spoken or transmitted languages, including sign language" (p. xxi). At its best, network accessibility expresses "self-determination, sense of belonging, and empowerment for the active participation of the individual in his community" (p. Xxiii)

President Obama's remarks, quoted at the opening, that "people with disabilities are entitled not only to full participation in society but also to full equality of opportunity" (p. 1), reflect the book's preoccupation with the virtual world and its accessibility, which sees equal opportunity as the continuation of the struggle for equal rights. According to Avrami (2015), there is a clear link between legislation in Israel and legislation in the countries that are considered the flag-bearers of the issue, the United States and the United Kingdom, and the legislation in the United States is the result of the expansion of the concept of rights, in the 20th century.

The ability to obtain information, to process it and examine it critically, and to cope with its frequency of updating and the abundance of data, through computer and Internet technologies, becomes an essential skill in the information age (Goldschmidt, 2000). The term "digital divide" describes a situation in which different groups in the population are characterized by different levels of digital environment and skills and learning skills and work in a computerized environment. The importance of the network in reducing these gaps is especially evident in the case of people with disabilities, in view of its ability to bridge gaps of various kinds.

The book consists of three parts. The first part, chapters 1-3, presents the foundation of the concept of equality on the Internet, according to which the information age requires that every site be accessible to the entire population, including any type of disability. This section presents the American legislation and its underlying concepts, with an emphasis on preventing discrimination. The second part of the book, Chapters 6-4, presents the struggle for equality in cyberspace from a point of view of the defense activity in the United States in this matter. This activity is called by Blanck “Second-Generation Advocacy" (p. 105), and its beginning, according to its description, in the legal struggle to add subtitles to items on the network, which require hearing ability and are not suitable for deaf and hard of hearing. This struggle was later expanded.

To make the web content accessible to the general population of people with disabilities, the third part, Chapters 7-10, focuses on cognitive disabilities, which Blanck defines as "a basic limitation of the ability to think, including conceptualization, abstraction, planning and execution of actions and thoughts, including memory, interpretation and translation of social cues, and understanding of numbers and symbols." (p. 251) This section also includes, as stated, the chapter on accessibility for the reader with cognitive disabilities the entire book, including links to various websites, which appear throughout.

This book is suitable for social workers and other professionals engaged in the promotion and expansion of the rights of groups of the population, who for various reasons do not enjoy full participation in the services, rights and benefits that active participation in the community and society provides to its members. As MK Ilan Gilon, formerly chairman of the accessibility subcommittee, noted in a Knesset session, "Cognitive disabilities are the 'backyard' of disability." Removing the barriers facing different groups, in this case people with intellectual disabilities, who can participate more actively in society and take part in additional circles, is a process that the book teaches where it came from, a guide to how to do it step by step, and contract the future face of its continuation.

The information age, which we are in the midst of, presents human society with difficult challenges. Entrepreneurship and innovation; at the same time, it allows groups that could not take part in the mainstream to become influential and assertive. As in the struggle for equal rights of persons with disabilities in general, so too in the field of cognitive disability, Israel is far from the American model. The importance of this book is, therefore, the continuation of the path and model from which the entire law derives the inspiration for the treatment of the group and its advancement. This is one of the most excluded groups, not only in the general population, but also among people with disabilities. The expansion of their ability to take part in activities that were previously unavailable to them due to the struggle for equality on the Internet is one of the main stations in the process that began in Israel with the enactment of the Equal Rights for People with Disabilities Law in 1998. In this context, the book is very important for legislators, researchers as well as policy makers, headquarters, and field, and its contribution to each of these groups may be broad and meaningful.

Sources

Avrami, S. (2015) Optimal Implementation - Employment of Persons with Disabilities in the Knesset In M. Hovav, A.,(Eds.), From Hadara to Inclusion: Living in the Community of People with Disabilities in Israel (pp. 438-423) Jerusalem: Caramel Publishing.

Goldschmidt, R. (2015) Information on Accessibility of Websites for People with Disabilities. Jerusalem: The Knesset, Research and Information Center

Gilon A. (2015) A discussion in the Knesset's Labor, Welfare and Health Committee on a representation bill 6.7.2015 Suitable for Employees with Disabilities in Public Service, 5765 - 2015, Jerusalem: The Knesset.​

Book-Review of Blanck's "eQuality," published in the Israeli journal Social Security (Hebrew, 2017)
Link: www.btl.gov.il/Publications/Social_Security/bitahon101/Documents/70-new-books.pdf