Module 2: Disability Human Rights and Technology

Having developed an account of disability and technology, in module 2 I turn to a consideration of human rights. The central question orienting this module is how we should understand human rights in relation to technology — especially when it comes to disability. My approach draws on cultural studies account of human rights, and focusses on how rights are conceived and activated in particular settings.

Firstly, I will analyse the kinds of social justice and rights developed in relation to technology and disability, guided by the following questions: how have technologies been provided to people with disabilities historically? what expectations have different groups had about the distribution of technology and disability, especially when some individuals or groups were treated unequally in relation to this? how do these — largely implicit accounts of disability rights to technology — articulate with available general accounts of how conceptualize rights to technology for citizens? how are such ideas concerning rights and technology culturally shaped?

Secondly, I analyse the function of design in disability and technology. Design is accorded a pivotal role to deliver accessibility and otherwise satisfy users (Pullin, 2011), yet design is not well-understand in accounts and practices concerning rights to technology. Hence my inquiry will be guided by the question: how do we deal with the centrality of design to technology in considering disability rights? Here I critically analyse influential accounts that govern contemporary approaches, especially participatory design, and universal design (the governing concept in the CRPD, and much disability rights discourse).

Having established the key elements of a theory of disability, technology, and human rights, thirdly, I focus on the case of CRPD as the most forceful, comprehensive assertion of technology as integral to human rights. Here the key lines of analysis will be guided by the following questions:

  • what kind of theory of technology and disability does the CRPD suggest? how does the CRPD connect technology with rights, and what kind of stipulations of technology for disability rights does it indicate?
  • what kinds of struggles — and alternative ideas — figures in the conception and drafting of technology provisions during the formulation of the CPRD? what kinds of aspects of disability are left out — or not well addressed — by the technology provisions of the CPRD?
  • how does CPRD address the complex question of design, as a strategically important yet ambiguous “bridge” into rights; how does the CPRD relate to notions of communication, culture, and media in other areas of rights, (including the Declaration and associated treaties of universal human rights)?
  • what does disability (via the CPRD and its critique) add to our general understanding of rights and technology, given the prominence technology plays in disability rights and social participation?

This module will culminate in a workshop in which feedback will be sought on key findings, with participants including key disability rights advocates and their organisations, disability and human rights scholars, and policymakers.