There continues to be a marked seperation between Engineering/Computer Science and Disability Studies in academia. Despite the advance of accessibility discourse and significant developments in Science and Technology Studies, where Computer Science and Disability Studies do meet, the knowledge exchange is often limited, failing to fully utilise the strengths of either discipline. Dewsbury et al’s paper may go some way to explaining one aspect of this disciplinary bifurcation. They consider the Social Model of Disability (the ‘big idea’ of the disability movement [Shakespeare & Watson, 2002]) from a design perspective and attack this representation of disability, and it’s wider sociological framing, claiming it ‘ironicises ordinary experience, treating it as somehow partial and flawed in its ignorance of what is really going on’. In this way the authors identify the social model as profoundly ‘anti-social’.
As a sociologist, I fundamentally disagree with many of the authors vehement assertions about sociology (in particular, I feel they fail to engage with the fundamental practical ethics that Disability Studies is built upon – a determination to elevate practice over theory, despite referring to their own practical politics). Nonetheless, Dewsbury et al. offer a powerful reminder that there are alternative and grounded routes into disability praxis that can deliver real positive benefits for disabled people. Importantly, they also critique the dangers of sociological hyperbole and the rabbit hole of theory – such dangers have also been forcefully identified by many disability academics and activists, and here the useful confluence of disciplinary exchange begins for an engaged reader. Dewsbury et al., manifest an engineering perspective, seeking routes into design, and testing disability theory at the same time, proffering significant food for thought for all in the process. Reader responses are very welcome. If you can recommend further reading on this disciplinary intersection, please signpost below!
- This article is available both via Disability and Society (linked above), but also via Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration in Dependability [PDF]