9 November 2013

All technology is assistive technology

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All technology is assistive technology, argues Sara Hendren in a long and very insightful article.

“Honestly – what technology are you using that’s not assistive? Your smartphone? Your eyeglasses? Headphones? And those three examples alone are assisting you in multiple registers: They’re enabling or augmenting a sensory experience, say, or providing navigational information. But they’re also allowing you to decide whether to be available for approach in public, or not; to check out or in on a conversation or meeting in a bunch of subtle ways; to identify, by your choice of brand or look, with one culture group and not another.” […]

“Undoing the distinctions between design for disability and design in general yields a couple of goods: It brings new attention to technologies that are profound in their use and impact on physical and political accessibility. The advanced replacement limbs, all-terrain wheelchairs, and exoskeletons you can find now are evidence of this new attention.

It also brings a productive uncertainty and a powerful friction to the task of designing technologies of all kinds. Whether you’re designing for an established need or seeking an application for a technical novelty, you might take more time before confidently assigning it to a user, or to over-determining its modes of deployment—it might be for practical ends, or for play, or for something else you’ve not yet imagined.”

The author then goes on to suggest some possible dispositions for designers and artists taking a look at ability and disability:
1. Question invisibility as the assumed goal.
2. Rethink the default bodily experience.
3. Consider fine gradations of qualitative change.
4. Uncouple medical technologies from their diagnostic contexts.
5. Design for one.
6. Let the tools you make ask questions, not just solve problems.

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