Module 1: Cultural and Media Histories of Disability and Technology

In module 1, through a disability and cultural historical investigation, I review four classic areas of disability and technology:

  • mobility technologies: the iconic technology of the wheelchair, which transformed the prosthesis, or support (such as walking stick, caliper, artificial limb), and now has opened up into an ecology of mobilities transportation technologies, such as scooters, cars, and public transports, that increasingly converge with digital media technologies and networks;
  • technologies of space: the rise of accessibility and design in built environments, and how it feeds into policy frameworks around a range of technologies, including digital technologies (not least accessible “virtual environments” and smart cities);
  • reading and writing technologies: I trace the development of bespoke technologies of reading and writing for the disabled, starting with the invention of Braille in the late nineteenth century, then the development of reading technologies after World War II, through to Talking Books, screenreading software of the 1970s, and the DAISY Digital Talking Books initiative of the mid-1990s ;
  • communication technology: telephone technologies, including the telephone (famously invented by Bell, who taught Deaf people to speak), as well as early mobile communication.

In each module, the investigation will comprise: identification of key moments in development of technology; collection and analysis of key archival documents; analysis of how disability was conceived; how the design process unfolded; which interest groups and actors (including non-human actors) were involved in technology development and adoption; how ideas, expectations, and requirements of people with disabilities were taken into account; how the technology fitted into prevailing social relations of disability; formulation of standards for the particular technology; which governing ideas from a particular technology have influenced contemporary design of successor technology; adaptive use and development (“co-creation”) of technologies by people with disability.