Today I highlight three papers from Disability and Society that investigate digital disability prior to the advent of Web 2.0. All three papers nominated today represent research that is resolutely Web 1.0, concerning text-based and often distance environments. Some are based on research that took place in the late 90s in a discourse that is fast moving, as a result, these papers are presented with a caveat: Things have moved on. Nonetheless, any research into disability and the web owes a great deal to this fundament of internet research which attends to the social and contextual facets of disability that are central to user experience, but all too frequently fall outside the boundaries of accessibility and user experience research.
Each paper is freely available to all for the remainder of April 2011 as part of Routledge’s Education Free For All event. However, readers may like to know that outside this period Anderberg and Jonsson’s Being There and Natilene Bowker’s trailblazing PhD Thesis remain open to all out-of-hours. Further research by the authors listed can also be found with the help of your good friend Google Scholar.
Bowker and Tuffin grapple with the invisibility of some disabilities online in this research-based examination of disclosure and social context. They identify a ‘choice to disclose’ repetoir amongst participants relating to relevance, anonymity and normality. Although notions of ‘anonymity’ have been eroded in today’s networked environments where identity is often consolidated, the Web’s continuing role as a space in which the positioning of identity may take place within a subjectivity removed from impairment continues to inform notions of disability online. [readers may want to follow this treatise with Nick Watson’s Disability and Identity, for an alternate view].
Seymour and Lupton’s research is amongst the earliest presented here, concerning interviews with 35 people in the late 90s. The authors develop their line of analysis along a continuum of other communication technologies – such as the phone. However, their discussion critically develops many of the embodiment and binary issues of disabled/non-disabled that in my view, have not yet been sufficiently theorised in critical disability studies.
Anderberg and Jonsson’s unhelpfully vague title and lack of keywords should not deter readers. Their phenomenographic investigation focusses on the experiences of 22 participants with significant mobility impairments. Their results speak clearly of the affordances internet technologies give some disabled people in terms of independence and interactions unmediated by Personal Assistants.