Access issue: what window?

I’m currently reading the design and building oriented sections of Cohen and Rosenzweig’s Digital History, and remembered something I keep forgetting to mention. One of the issues which kept coming up about websites and web-based history interactives when I was with the museum was the fact that some minority populations primarily access the web via mobile phones (and not necessarily smartphones, either). How should/will this impact design of sites which want to do truly “public” history?

7 Replies to “Access issue: what window?”

  1. Obviously, the problem of access for low income or minority families presents a tremendous obstacle for historic sites and museum’s, particularly those that have smaller operating budgets. Tellingly, the sites I have worked for have only offered improvised solutions, such as sending employees out into inner-city schools to literally bring computer programs to those children. It may be simply a matter of waiting for the price of technology to come down, though that is obviously not an optimal solution…

    1. I think historic sites and museums need to consider mobile friendly versions of their sites, for all audiences. Of course, I’ve never had to develop a mobile version of a website, so that’s easy for me to say.

      Sending computers out to kids is a very sweet solution, I have to say, because it gives them at least one chance to interact with the technology. I’m not entirely sure if the use of mobile devices for web browsing is due only to price, or if there’s something else at play.

  2. I’ve been asking myself a similar question about church websites, especially as St. Paul’s is undertaking a major site renovation. This is, I think, a question that is difficult for those of us with privilege to answer because, even though we are aware that other people interact with technology differently, we don’t have direct experience with, e.g., accessing the internet through phones because we have computers and laptops and smartphones and broadband and high-speed internet connections at work and home. How can we be creative with simple, text-only websites? Is there a better question to ask?

    1. I don’t think the websites we design for people who are coming from a computer have to be text only, but I think it’s important to look at offering a mobile and/or low image version. Low image partly for better accessibility for blind people who might be visiting the site using a reader.

      But I think looking at how we can be creative and welcoming with text-only sites is a good challenge, even if it’s not the end solution. For St Paul’s, I’d say check out the following chapter from one of our class ‘textbooks’: and also the website


      1. Thanks! I’m going to share this with Bruce, who is spearheading the redesign. Sounds like a really interesting class. I’m enjoying vicariously experiencing grad school through your blog. 😀

  3. I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately as well, particularly as references to the idea that the internet provides universal and democratic access have been made in our readings. People have varying degrees of access to the internet for myriad reasons. In some cases it’s by choice (I’ve known some technophobes whose fear was rooted in the philosophical and not in ignorance), but in many other cases it’s out of the user’s control. Considering how to access historic materials via mobile phones is something I believe we really do need to seriously contemplate. Obviously creating content for smartphones will be easier (although still pretty daunting in some regards) than creating content for more “traditional”(?) cell phones. Should we assume that smartphones may be the mode of the future and therefore maybe we don’t need to seriously consider providing content for “dumbphones?” That solves the problem, as least when in regards to development. But is it safe and wise to make that assumption? As for smartphones, content development may come more readily in the creation of apps and not so much from the creation mobile-ready websites. Perhaps museum and historic site websites for mobile phones could provide basic information and content: hours, phone number, current exhibits, directions, etc. Whereas apps could provide something more. Layar, an app originally designed for uses in real estate, has an Encyclopedia Virginia layer that highlights VA state historic markers and provides information beyond the text on the marker itself. Of course, Layar requires access to your camera and your gps function to be turned on, but I’ve played around with it a number of times and it’s pretty nifty. Also I’ve heard that Manassas Battlefield park has developed an app to use while walking around the park. Yet this all begs the question: should we eschew developing digital content for “dumbphones” in favor of content for smartphones? Or do we just need to be more creative in the ways in which we create digital content?

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