By Catherine Burgess
This month, NAMLE interviewed Dr. Jayne Lammers and Nicholas Palumbo of the University of Rochester to discuss their research on the accessibility of fanfiction sites for students with disabilities, which was recently published in JMLE. Their complete article, “Barriers to Fanfiction Access: Results from a Usability Inspection of Fanfiction.net” is available here in JMLE 9.2, a special issue on media literacy and disabilities.
NAMLE: How did you two decide to partner together for this research?
Jayne Lammers: I was giving a talk at my institution about my studies of adolescents’ writing in online spaces, and Nick came up to me after the presentation with a question that I’d never considered before. He asked me how accessible a site like Fanfiction.net was for students identified with visual or other disabilities, and though I had some idea that it probably would be a challenge for such a participant to navigate, and I wasn’t really sure. Nick’s question and his commitment to advocating for wider inclusion of youth of all abilities in literacy practices led to this research project.
NAMLE: How did the idea for this paper come about?
JL: Inspired by NAMLE’s commitment to a broad definition of what counts as media and text, we thought this audience would be interested in what happens when young people who rely on the assistance of screen readers try to participate in an online writing community like Fanfiction.net. We decided to take advantage of the online format of this journal to be able to share with readers what it looks and sounds like for someone to navigate an online forum, hence the figures and audio clips we included with our article.
NAMLE: What do you hope to do with this research in the future?
JL: As a literacy researcher and teacher educator, I’m always thinking about how and why what youth do in online spaces matters to teachers and classroom-based instruction. Now, with a greater understanding of the barriers that students identified with disabilities may face when they seek access to the rich literacy experiences available in online writing communities, I hope to work with literacy educators about how they might help such students gain access and overcome these barriers.
NAMLE: How do you hope this research will contribute to media literacy education?
JL: Our concept of “media” continually expands as digital technologies and internet platforms become increasingly important in facilitating information sharing and knowledge production. It is vital that media literacy education guides students in the examination and interrogation of a wide range of online platforms and media outlets, and to do so with an understanding of who is afforded and who is denied access to participation in these spaces.
NAMLE: Why is media literacy research important to you?
JL: As the Director of Secondary English Education at my institution, media literacy research continues to inform the work I do to prepare future English teachers in an era when digital media continually evolves and the veracity of information needs to be continually questioned.