Leading not following: disability as a vanguard.


Emails that come to me via this blog often include words to the effect of ‘I tried looking at some of your papers, but I didn’t understand any of it’, which is a shame, because in general the basic ideas are reasonable for people to grasp. The problem is, of course, that to get things accepted to prestigious peer-reviewed academic outlets, we have to write in a way that is only easy to read if you spend five years training to communicate that way.

So with that in mind, I thought I’d take today’s post as an opportunity to give an introduction to some of the work so that it’s a little more accessible to people. The work I’m going to chose is the book chapter that Lizzie Coles-Kemp and I put together a little while ago for the Digital Enlightenment Yearbook 2013.

To give the idea in broad strokes…

The world is designed for people who are not yet disabled. On my walk to work there were curbs, humps in the pavement, signs that needed to be seen (and read), noises that needed to be heeded and a range of decisions that needed to be made. For sure there are efforts made to increase accessibility, but they are slow and facing massive inertia.

In such a world, people who are disabled face a range of problems, and these are problems that are not of interest to the majority of society, because they believe that they will never face the same problems. And in a lot of cases this is true.

However this is only true if the world stays the same day after day. But that’s not quite true. Pick any one of Smartphones, T-Snood, Social Media, or the Internet itself and it’s clear that the problems faced by today’s not-yet-disabled, such as privacy, information control, and skills transfer, are very different from the problems that they faced a decade ago.

The point of the book chapter we wrote was to say this: these problems are only new to mainstream society, people with disabilities have faced problems like these for a long time, and perhaps we can learn something from how they dealt with them.

In the chapter we go thought three examples, all AAC-user based, and we pulled out some interesting stuff, which I’ll let you read at your leisure.

The thing that we really liked about the work was that it really challenges an unconscious model that many people have – that ‘society moves forward and because it is a caring society it looks after those trailing behind’. Instead we modeled it as ‘society moves forward, and it can do because there are members of it far out in front, facing the challenges early, and mapping them for everybody.’

(I should confess, I made ‘T-Snood’ up, but I had a couple of you worried for a minute there)

You can read the full thing as a PDF here, and if you have feedback or questions then by all means make use of the comments.


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