We’d like you to meet Abdi Gas, a British Sign Language (BSL) user who is soon to graduate with an MSc in Human Computer Interaction with Ergonomics from University College London. Abdi’s research is about “The role of social networking in communication of the Deaf at work with hearing colleagues”. Abdi will be joining us at Accessibility 2.0.
Could you give us some background to your research?
Ben Fletcher from IBM recommended the topic because it hadn’t been covered before and I thought it would be good to see how we could improve the working lives of Deaf people and give Deaf professionals more access to information that they may otherwise miss out on. In the workplace, there is a lot of small talk going on during tea breaks or just in general when sitting at desks. I believe Twitter is an online version of small talk with users giving updates about themselves. I am a strong believer in accessibility and equality at work and see the use of Social Networks as an important part of the solution to the problem.
What have been your research objectives?
I researched the history of social networks and Deaf professionals in the workplace to get a good idea of the background to the problem. Before the industrial age, Deaf and hearing were equal in the workplace possibly due to the type of work available at that time, but have since become discriminated against. In recent years the balance has been restored.
What methods did you use to gather data?
To determine if using Social Networks is a good idea I developed questionnaires for Deaf professionals and hearing professionals to complete and also one for company managers to complete. I provided paper copies to be given out via centres that have contact with Deaf professionals and I also created online versions of the questionnaires.
And what have you found so far?
I limited myself to Deaf professionals in the UK and USA. Unfortunately many of the completed questionnaires from USA were lost in the post. This data would have been interesting to see because Deaf professionals in USA have more technology to assist them than in the UK. So far we’ve found similarities between Deaf and hearing professionals as to their choice of social network. This means there is common ground where both communities can meet and interact.
What are your personal frustrations with the Internet?
One of my frustrations with the Internet is the cluttered web sites that have too much on them. It’s difficult to know what to look at or where to find anything. I use the internet to get clear easy-to-access information. I don’t expect to feel lost or get confused with layouts or have to go from one page to another to find what I want. Just like badly designed objects, badly designed web sites are a barrier for disabled people.
What are the good things about the Internet?
One positive thing about the Internet is that many sites now have two versions of their web pages running. A full version is used for desktop computers and another “watered-down” version is used on mobile phones. I feel the mobile version is better as it can be accessed anywhere “on the go”. This could lead to a lot less internet access via desktop PCs, especially with the internet for mobiles quickly developing.
The introduction of social networks has removed barriers for the Deaf community giving them the opportunity to connect with others easier. In a very short space of time, Social Network use on mobiles has sky-rocketed with people accessing Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc. It would be interesting to see the effect this has on text messaging. Technology should be used to remove barriers, not create them.
Why are you looking forward to meeting Lisa Herrod?
There are no current website guidelines for Deaf like there are for blind people. I’m interested in seeing such guidelines and would like to meet Lisa Herrod to discuss it with her.
Follow Abdi on Twitter @abdigas