Exclusivity, or the unreliability of Wikipedia

I have long claimed that Wikipedia is strongly biased against knowledge that comes either from non-English-language sources and from cultures (and subcultures) where most of their practices are undocumented. This is cultural imperialism. And I have also long claimed that its now-standard requirement for references (that are not dictionaries and encyclopaedias) are also hindrances into knowledge dissemination. However, during today’s synchronous seminar a different picture of how exclusive Wikipedia has become emerged.

It turns out that last year they also did a class project on Wikipedia. And it turned out that most of the stuff they wrote about were deleted. Not edited. Just deleted. On what amounts to bogus grounds.

We are talking about a field that, even though can still be emerging already, already has tons of English-language literature published in English-speaking countries. This is a bias that is not even against non-white, non-English-speaking cultures. It is outright unfathomable.

What of attitude, really, is this?

This of course is rooted not only in the current focus of references, but also on the “principle” of “notability,” which I have always found to be incomprehensible. You can’t imagine when anything will become important. If there were no “notability” requirement, then the second the thing becomes “notable” (whatever notable means), Wikipedia will be the only encyclopaedia in the world to talk about that thing. That would be an unmatched advantage.

Whoever is in control of Wikipedia certainly has no such vision. They only focus on short term measurable success, on duplicating the accomplishments of traditional encyclopaedias. They used to talk about knowledge contribution as their fundamental principle; but that is probably one of the biggest lies that ever came out of an entity that purports to belong to the free culture.

Unexpected discovery on Big Welcome Day

I actually talked about this in my study plan: my lack of knowledge about AODA’s effects on non-digital design. So I was pleasantly surprised when I was checking out the stuff that I got from RGD Ontario’s booth and found Access Ability : A Practical Handbook on Accessible Graphic Design.

Obviously, three weeks ago I already found Inclusive Design : A Universal Need in the OCAD library. However, the primary focus of that book was interior design and architecture, fields that I wouldn’t be qualified to even touch.

So I was definitely very happy to have found something from none other than RGD Ontario. For one, this means there is something about graphic design to talk about; and secondly, it means that this something is not some obscure, fringe thing that has no consequence—in other words, I am not crazy or wasting my time trying to steer my direction away from digital technologies…

The face2face postcard project

For outliers like us, by the time orientation kicks off in September we will already have had our first semester finished (and very likely graded), so participating in any sort of orientation activity might feel a little superfluous. However, I think the face2face postcard project (something that I just found out a couple of days ago that we are even told “not required to participate”) is an interesting enough idea that I will very possibly participate in.

Of course, someone whose first semester is already ending is probably going to be over-thinking about the problem. First off, I perceive the project as essentially having three dimensions: an exercise in identity design, (ok, this might be stretching things a bit) an experiment in interaction design, and (ok, this might seem totally out there but remember my first semester is already almost history) a study in inclusive design.

With the program’s focus on digital inclusion, treating a postcard project as an inclusive design problem might seem like a wacky idea. However, the reality is that the world we live in is still a physical one, constructed of physical things. While digital technology can make many things simpler and more flexible, we can never truly, fully dissociate ourselves from its intrinsic physicality. Moreoever—borrowing the engineer’s jargon—, digital is not “passively safe”—in the sense that if loss of inclusivity is to be considered a catastrophic failure. And so I genuinely believe that inclusivity cannot hinge on digital technology alone; but then what does it even mean for a piece of 5″×7″ cardboard to be “inclusive”?

In the mind of this naïve first-year student, the single true barrier to accessing this piece of 5″×7″ cardboard—which by the way is required to only have my “self portrait” on it—is sightedness: A self portrait on a piece of paper is completely inaccessible to an unsighted person.

Perhaps we can describe the picture, either in the form of text (which can then be fed either to a screen reader or a Braille display) or in the form of audio. So this brings us back to our focus on digital technology. But how do we link the two pieces together? How do we link the piece of cardboard to a website, without the use of any visual element (such as a QR code or a printed URL)? Perhaps we can add the URL in Braille? But can this even be done? (Yes, with Computer Braille Code and a stylus—but will people be able to actually read the Braille I write?…)

Actually this reveals a bigger problem: Assuming that Braille is indeed practical and if Braille is the “passively safe” missing link between the primary 2D artefact and the alternative representation, how much Braille should we use? Are there other non-digital options? How much inclusion should we aim for?

What, really, is the role of print in the context of inclusivity?

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