Author Archives: Meryl Alper

Dr. Meryl Alper is an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Northeastern University and a Faculty Associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. Dr. Alper studies and teaches about the social implications of communication technologies, with a focus on youth and families, disability, and mobile media. She is the author of Digital Youth with Disabilities (MIT Press, 2014) and Giving Voice: Mobile Communication, Disability, and Inequality (MIT Press, 2017). Prior to joining the faculty at Northeastern, she earned her doctoral and master’s degrees from the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies and History from Northwestern University. In her research and teaching, Dr. Alper also draws on her professional experience in educational children’s media as a researcher, strategist, and consultant with Sesame Workshop, PBS, Nickelodeon, and Disney. She can be found online at merylalper.com and Twitter @merylalper.

Personal Computing and Personhood in Design and Disability

When I try to explain augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices to those unfamiliar, I usually start with physicist Stephen Hawking, who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Hawking speaks using a high-tech computerized AAC device with synthetic speech output (Mialet, 2012). The electronic voice communicates to others the text that Hawking selects from a cursor moving across the computer screen mounted to his wheelchair using his cheek movement as input. These sorts of ‘tools for talking’ are also used by those with other disabilities and medical conditions that potentially impair oral speech such as autism, cerebral palsy, or a stroke. AAC devices are mobile by definition, as they ought to move with a person as they move through the world (Reno, 2012). They are becoming more “mobile” in another sense too. Individuals increasingly have the option of using AAC devices that take the material form of ordinary smartphones, tablet computers, and mobile apps that simulate software on specialized computers dedicated to AAC (Alper, 2015). (read more...)