Category: Disabling Technologies

As If I Were Blind…

What is an experience and how can it be conveyed and communicated to others? “A focus on “The Experience” signals a technology has been designed with a consideration for the user’s experiences. It is supposed to indicate  a technology’s role and contribution to everyday life, and the likelihood of its success once implemented. Given its popularity in design contexts, the term “experience” seems unusually rare in anthropology, with a few notable exceptions (e.g., Bruner, 1986; Turner, 1986; Hastrup, 1995, for example). This is so despite the fact that we, as anthropologists, can definitely be said to “experience” a way of living other than the one we are used to when we carry out fieldwork. This experience begins with our first encounter with another culture and its people, and continues into the writing stage, with our concerted attempts to communicate the complicated cultural aspects of the places and peoples we study (read more...)

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...)

Becoming More Capable

“We need to exercise the imagination in order to elbow away at the conditions of im/possibility.” Ingunn Moser & John Law (1999, 174) What is it to be capable? How might we elbow away the conditions that limit ability, to become more capable? In this short piece, I take seriously Rebekah’s invitation to account for “different ways of doing, acting, and living in the world.” The anthropological imperative to “take into account difference” and consider how objects “intersect with social worlds, imaginaries and emergent social practices” speaks to my ongoing efforts to engage with the long and troubled relationship between technology and dis/ability. Specifically, it resonates with my work that asks what, if anything, artificial intelligence (AI) might offer the blind and vision impaired.[1] (read more...)

What the $@#! is an “implication for design”?

The upcoming theme for the Association for American Anthropologists Annual Meeting is “Anthropology Matters.” While clearly signalling the need for anthropologists to engage and contribute to current social and political affairs in the U.S., the theme can also be interpreted more generally. Today, we’re announcing an upcoming thematic series, Disabling Technologies, which will look at how anthropological perspectives matter for technology designers working in contexts of health, disability, and equality across the globe. (read more...)