Aims of the Disability and Technology Research

Technology is now central to social participation in everyday life, especially for people with disabilities. Adopting a media, cultural, and human rights approach, the project investigates the development, design and policy processes and challenges in making digital technology accessible for all. In particular, it focusses on the new technology-centred provisions in the UN CRPD and explores their potential in accessibility of crucial technologies, including smartphones and tablets, broadband and next generation networks, and electronic reading technologies. Thus, the project aims to:

  • construct a theory of disability and technology, especially pertaining to digital technology;
  • explore the conceptualisation and activation of disability dimensions of human rights in relation to digital technologies and their cultural contexts;
  • analyse development of accessible design in key digital media technologies;
  • study the implementation of the technology provisions of the CRPD, and investigate the interaction internationally between disability and accessibility specific and general media policy frameworks;
  • provide a framework for understanding social justice and human rights in relation to digital technology, building on the example of disability;
  • build capacity for research and policy in the achievement of accessibility in digital technology.

In the broadest sense, the project’s approach is underpinned by a distinctive, interdisciplinary framework across disability, rights, culture, media, and technology. Centrally, the project is located within the new disability studies, often termed “critical disability studies”. Within, and extending, this larger interdisciplinary approach to disability, I will develop three new approaches on: 1) disability and technology; 2) human rights, disability and media; 3) disability rights and global media policy.

Firstly, the project constructs a comprehensive theory of disability and technology, something that does not exist, yet is necessary to advance our understanding of the striking gap between aspiration and delivery. Here I offer an integrated account of disability and technology, on the model provided by Judy Wajcman in her classic 1991 study, Feminism Confronts Technology To accomplish this, I will draw upon the research literatures and concepts of science and technology studies (STS). Underpinning the project’s investigation of digital technology, the approach is also informed by media and cultural studies concepts and methods, including my own research on mobile phones and mobile media.

Secondly, the project develops a new theory of human rights, disability, and media. Compared to other potential approaches — for instance, social inclusion — human rights based approaches to disability offer theoretical richness, as well strong principles and interventions, taking account of non–discrimination but also dimensions such as participation in political life, freedom of speech, right to associate, right to work, and the right to take part in the cultural life of a community. In particular, my theory will combine a set of important ideas which have not yet been brought together: capabilities; alternative conceptions of disability rights; media justice.

Thirdly, the project’s approach is located within the body of research and practice centring on international media policy. I draw upon and elaborate the specific policy literature on disability and accessibility developed within convergent media policy that grapples with telecommunications and Internet. I seek to connect policy making on disability and digital technology with the long-standing efforts in international media policy, and examine how these are concretely enacted in international policy frameworks, supra-national, and international policy bodies, in interaction with regional and national policy-making, policy processes, and institutions. A particular focus will be how disability fits into, and extends, longstanding concepts of communication and media rights in international laws and treaties, inaugurated with the 1948 Universal Declaration, and more recently developed through World Summit on the Information Society.