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Disability, Technology, and Co-created Futures


with the support of


Unrestricted Body-minds

“Since all useful technology is assistive, it is peculiar that we stipulate that some devices are assistive while others need no qualification.”

------- Katherine Ott, Curator in the Division of Science and Medicine at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History (Ott,  Katherine, David Serlin, and Stephen Mihm, eds. Artificial parts, practical lives: modern histories of prosthetics. NYU Press, 2002.)

Technoableism: “a rhetoric of disability that at once talks about empowering disabled people through technologies while at the same time reinforcing ableist tropes about what body-minds are good to have and who counts as worthy.

------- Ashley Shew, Assistant Professor, Department of Science and Technology in Society (Shew, Ashley. "Ableism, technoableism, and future AI." IEEE Technology and Society Magazine 39, no. 1 (2020): 40-85.)

Technologies related to disabilities are often understood as "assistive technologies". In popular imagination, "assistive devices" are medical, special, and even embarrassing to talk about. But assistive devices can also be every day, universal, and enjoyable. In the midst of dazzling technological innovations, we need to explore which tools truly respect the body-mind differences of people, and which ones are still preoccupied with fixing disabled people into “healthy and able-bodied” people. Between advancing the frontier of science and meeting our daily needs, what technological choices have we made? “All useful technologies are assistive”. Only when technology no longer demands human beings to conform to tools in a standard way, but allows tools to adapt to human diversity, can we begin to inhabit unrestricted bodies and minds.


Hidden Figures

Assistive Pretext: “scenarios in which technology that is initially created to address a use case specific to disabled people is presented as the precursor—an inspiration or test case—for the development of a technology that is relevant to the general public.”
------- Mara Mills, Associate Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University

Technologies "assist" people with disabilities, a familiar storyline for us. But do people with disabilities also "assist" technologies? In the history of science and technology, the use of disability as an inspiration or metaphor is abound. People with disabilities repeatedly serve as use cases for new technologies or provide new sites of theorization for science. Today, no longer an abstract metaphor, people with disabilities are increasingly involved in the construction of technologies as real, individual experts. With different approaches, they are changing the tendencies of technologies in subtle ways. No technology is developed by one hero; there are many hidden figures behind them.


Open Futures

Disability Dongle: “A well-intended elegant, yet useless solution to a problem we never knew we had.” 

------- Liz Jackson, founder of The Disabled List (@elizejackson:

“Nothing (about us) without us” 
------- International Disability Rights Movement

Crip Technoscience: practices of critique, alteration, and reinvention of our material-discursive world. Disabled people are experts and designers of everyday life. But we also harness technoscience for political action, refusing to comply with demands to cure, fix, or eliminate disability.
------- Aimi Hamraie, Kelly Fritsch: Crip Technoscience Manifesto 
(Hamraie, Aimi, and Kelly Fritsch. "Crip technoscience manifesto." Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience 5, no. 1 (2019): 1-33.)

Against Access:“The question I am asked most frequently by hearing and sighted people is ‘How can I make my [website, gallery exhibit, film, performance, concert, whatever] accessible to you?’ […] Why is it always about them? Why is it about their including or not including us? Why is it never about us and whether or not we include them? […] As Robert Sirvage, a DeafBlind architect, put it in a recent conversation, the question we
begin with is not “How do we make it more accessible?” Instead, we start by asking, “What feels beautiful?”

------- John Lee Clark, DeafBlind activist(Against Access:

A practice of articulation within disabled community, disabled space, and disabled consciousness is an essential and ongoing process toward a more equitable, more just, and more humane HCI practice.

------- Williams, Rua M., Kathryn Ringland, Amelia Gibson, Mahender Mandala, Arne Maibaum, and Tiago Guerreiro. "Articulations toward a crip HCI." Interactions 28, no. 3 (2021): 28-37.

The relationship between disability and technology seems to be full of contradictions. Technologies developed and claimed for the sake of disability are emerging endlessly, but useful assistive tools are hard to find. The abstract metaphor of disability serves as a source of inspiration for technology, but the professionalism of specific individuals with disabilities is rarely recognized. What kind of technology do we want in the future? What kind of collaborative system is needed to produce these technologies? How can people with disabilities become the subject of technology, rather than the object (or topic)?

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