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H810 – Institutional perspectives (A34.1-c)

December 23, 2010

I do agree with Seale (2006) that ‘there is a limit … to the extent to which the institutional change framework can help us to understand the goals and motivations of institutions and teams’?

North (1993) ‘developed a political-economic framework to explore long-term institutional change. Linked to his work is the search for explanation for why people make the choices they do, and why ideologies shape the choice people make and direct the way that economies evolve through periods of time’. Konur (2000) adopted Norths framework that was actually thought to explain political and economic phenomena and applied it to an educational context to ‘try and find out why disabled students may find it difficult to enforce their rights following the UK Disability Discrimination Act of 1995 (DDA). Both, North and Konur challenge us to broaden our conceptualizations beyond the techno-rational imperative of accessibility (you must do this, because it is right and logical) and to begin to consider the socio-political responses of accessibility; responses which involve games, conflict and power.

Konur use the metaphor of games and teams to argue that students are not equal players in the game and lack power to enforce changes in the rules. Konur identifies four internal teams within a higher education (HE) institution and two external teams which are involved in the game regarding elearning and accessibility.

  • Rule implementers (lecturers, learning technologist, student support services)
  • rule enforcers (senior managers)
  • rule advocators (staff developers, student support services) and
  • rule makers – the students are the internal teams in the game.

Legal and advisory organizations (rule enforcers) and accessibility and disability consultants and researchers (rule advocators) are the two external teams. Seale identifies formal and informal ruses of accessibility, distinguishing thereby in external and internal formal rules and general and specific informal rules. Legislation, guidelines and standards are regarded as formal external rules, whereas internal guidelines refer to rules laid down in the organizations accessibility policies. Some general, informal accessibility rules may include that accessibility needs to be addressed at the beginning of the design process (Gay et al. 1999), or that accessibility requires a user-centred approach (Luke, 2002).

However, not only are there no agreed national or international guidelines or standards, and each organisation can adapt his own rules. The W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) are widely accepted accessibility guidelines, nevertheless are they only recommendations and cannot be enforced. A mismatch between formal and informal rules can also cause instability and confusion which rule best to apply, but it also offers loopholes to avoid responsibilities. ‘North argues that rules are enforced by self-imposed codes of conducts (first party), retaliation from a second part or sanctions/coercive enforcement by the state (third party). However, according to Seale, no cases have been brought to court in the UK as yet, to establish a case law. A few cases in the US have gone to court to suit against discrimination because of inaccessible online material, but there is also inconsistency in judgements which makes it hard to establish case laws. The ‘name and shame’ strategy is instead used, but depending on who evaluated accessibility there are differences as well visible, because online resources are tested using differing criteria to establish accessibility and/or automated tests are used instead of testing with disabled users or accessibility experts.

As mentioned above, students are not equal players in the game, thus they do not really have the power to re-write the rules of the game and organisations have the possibilities to e.g. to delay the proceedings and according to Konur (2002) does the administrative conflict-resolution system in HE a large number of inefficiencies and variations which makes it pretty difficult for disabled students to resolve time-dependent issues and to gather evidence for their complaints of discrimination. Besides that do disabled students often lack financial or legal support to threaten litigation and the might also fear repressive measures, thus fail to enforce their rights.

Konur suggests that there is a need to develop a evidence-based model rather than a ‘good practice’ model to stop discrimination. He argues since it is quite difficult to establish what good practice should include, it might be better to record everything that is happening, particularly the bad practice (evidence-based culture). However, as little as case law exists as less does evidence of bad practice exists.

All this confounding variable with the game which influence to a more or less degree the teams who play along, limit North institutional change framework. Nevertheless, did Seale’s chapter about North and Konurs framework enabled me to identify the various existing interrelationships. Being aware of them to a greater extend as I was before helps me to understand the goals and motivations of institutions and teams somehow better as before, although it does not offer answers to all questions.

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