Bridging the Digital Divide with Universal Usability (2001)

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2005

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How do you explain a trashcan to a culture that doesn have one? How do you describe a top loss limit orderto retirees managing their funds? Can you design a text-only interface that conveys the contents and experience of an animated Flash presentation?

These puzzles emerged during the first ACM Conference on Universal Usability (http://www.acm.org/sigchi/cuu/), held on November 15-17, 2000 near Washington, DC. The international group of organizers, presenters, and attendees of this conference shared an unusual commitment and passion for making information and communications services accessible, usable, and useful. They want to see effective healthcare services and appealing distance education. They want to create successful e-commerce and accessible government services for all. Realizing these possibilities requires more than low-cost hardware or broadband networks. These mass- market services are often too complex, unusable, or irrelevant for too many users; usability and design become the keys to success.

The source of these problems was often attributed to designers who make incorrect assumptions about user knowledge. This leads to difficulties with technical terminology and advanced concepts that are not balanced by adequate online help or live assistance. Unfortunately, most designers never see the pain they inflict on novice and even expert users. These problems have contributed to the growing digital divide in internet technology adoption levels between lowincome poorly-educated and high-income well-educated users [2]. Even as the gap between men and women internet users has been eliminated and the gap between young and old is shrinking, the slow adoption rates by poor and poorly educated users remains a problem. Low-cost equipment is needed, but progress in design will help make internet services more accessible to more people.

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