Free Research +1: Enacting Disability by Vasilis Galis

Last week I highlighted Routledge’s online festival of free access to academic journals (to access the journals you have to register on their site, to begin 14 days  of access at any point up until the 30th June 2012). My last post highlighted 19 papers with particular relevance to non-academics working in Education, Disability and Technology, based on a clutch of blog posts that I mustered for a similar festival last year. However, I also promised to highlight more recent research. So, for those of you hungry for the cutting edge – here’s my starter for 10.

Vasilis Galis (2011) “Enacting Disability: how can science and technology studies inform disability studies?”, Disability and Society, 26:1, p 825-838.

I blogged about this paper on the King’s Learning Institute’s Technology Enhanced Learning Blog for blogging against disablism day. This is a highly academic paper, and blog post, concerned with how disability studies and science and technology studies interact. However, I think many readers outside academia will still find something useful within it. Galis uses Actor Network Theory to identify how Disability might be concieved as an interaction, rather than an individual attribute, or external environment.  Below, I reproduce my review from the KLI blog, which draws out particular implications for Technology Enhanced Learning.  Your thoughts, as ever, are welcome. More posts on research from the last 12 months will follow in the next few days!

At the Sharp Edge of Technology Enhanced Learning: Science and Technology and Critical Disability Studies

…This post focuses on what learning technologists and disability scholars have to learn from one another and the importance of encouraging this traffic of ideas to combat digital disablism.

Specifically, I’d like to review a recent paper published in Disability and Society by Vasilis Galis (2011) “Enacting Disability: how can science and technology studies inform disability studies?”. At King’s, increasing interdisciplinary is resulting in new approaches to learning and technology across the College. However, when thinking about disability, much technology research and discussion focuses on accessibility, a fundamental part of user experience and human computer interaction rooted in computer science. In contrast, Disability Studies builds on a critical social science perspectives. Both engage activists, working to make digital experiences more inclusive. However, both accessibility and disability studies represent many diverse understandings of what disability is. When learning experiences are built on the results, for increasingly diverse student groups and interface devices, the picture complicates further.

Galis’ paper identifies theoretical frames from Science and Technology Studies that can  assist in the ordering of disability and the representation of disability issues in different techno-scientific forums (or fora, depending which way you like your latin sliced) to clarify this space. His position has tangible applications for accessibility and Technology Enhanced Learning development.

To begin, Galis argues that:

Dominant conceptual models of disability have produced distinct dichotomies between the body, and semiotic and material entities (Galis, 2011: 826)

To set the scene, Galis reviews the medical model of disability, the social model of disability  and the trajectory of postmodern approaches. He observes that many such lenses on disability rely on unhelpful distinctions (such as individual/social, illness/culture, body/socio-structural environment). Galis proposes a bridging intervention, highlighting the value of Actor Network Theory for promoting an interactional model of disability, in which disability (and impairment) are understood as being co-created between humans and “non-humans”.

Actor Network Theory

Within this model, “non-humans”, be they assistive technologies or other surfaces of technology (a ramp, browser, power supply, internet connection and so forth) and environmental factors, are considered ‘symmetrically’. Galis explains:

Actor Network Theory attempts to cancel the divide between human and non-human actors. In this way, ANT does not privilege impaired bodies (according to a medical model), or socio-material constructions (according to a social model). Instead ANT provides an analysis of a situation which may produce disability or ability (Galis, 2011, 830).

Actor Network Theory, he suggests, expands the vocabulary available to disability researchers and scholars. Importantly, Galis takes time to express criticism of this position, and carefully demarcate its limits.

From Galis’ argument, Actor Network Theory looks like a useful additional lens to those working at the chalk face of disability theory and leveraging the multiple-perspectives that are necessary for any mapping of the complex and contested arena of ‘disability’. However, I’m not sure that a relational model of disability, one that is gaining increasing traction with more critical Accessibility discourse (In my own work, most recently with Martyn Cooper et al. 2012) necessarily requires the vocabulary of Actor Network Theory. Moreover, this position strikes me a falling back into technicist discourses which render power relations invisible. Galis goes into this in some depth, drawing on Foucault and other critical theorists to forefront issues of ‘who is disabled, and who decides’. In this way, he applies a bricolage– recommending a use of ANT in the wild, (Callon, 2003) that produces knowledge through more recognisable emancipatory and participatory research practices, that engage disabled people, rather than foisting hierarchical academic power-relations upon them. This, Galis advises, requires the hard sciences to engage with ‘anti-science’, ‘concerned groups’ (Callon and Rabeharisoa, 2003) and ‘hybrid forums’ (Callon, 2003). Beneath the disciplinary jargon, this translates into a more precise, technical vocabulary for Sciences engaging with participatory disability research in the field.

Having undertaken participatory disability research in the wild, from within education (social science) and human factors (engineering), I recognise the strengths of a relational view of disability. By setting this view within an ANT vocabulary and an explicitly political framework, Galis overcomes the criticisms of localism and hegemony. However, I can’t help wondering whether, rather than informing disability studies with Science and Technology Studies, STS itself has instead been tested and developed by a critical engagement with disability?  In any event – the benefits of critically considering disability, and its positioning within Science and Technical disciplines remains a rich seam that demands further investigation to ensure our design, deployment and social use of technology for learning does not “enact disability”.


Free access to Education, Tech and Disability research: Fill your boots!

The letters OMG are carved into a dense encyclopedia
Detail photo by See-Ming Lee of book sculpture "OMG LOL". From Eyebeam Art & Technology Center Open Studios.

Last year, academic publisher Routledge offered 30 days of free access to their education journals.  This year, they’re offering similar access with a couple of additional constraints. Firstly, to access the journals you have to register on their site, secondly, articles are only available for 14 days this time around. On the plus side – you can register and begin the 14 days  of access at any point up until the 30th June 2012.

Dedicated readers may remember that last year I highlighted a set of papers that I felt would be of interest to education, technology and disability professionals outside of academia. Normally, the cost of accessing closed, subscription journal articles is far too much for people to bear, with articles usually retailing at around £23 ($36). So my advice? Sign up and take two weeks to fill your boots!

To recap: some great (mind expanding) papers for people working in the area of disability, technology, user experience, accessibility, technology enhanced learning and human computer interaction will be available. I still heartily recommend these papers and special issues, I’ve blogged about each as follows:

  1. Aversive Disablism: subtle prejudice towards disabled people by Mark Deal
  2. Identity and Disability by Nick Watson
  3. The use and non-use of technology assistive technologies by Soderstrom and Ytterhus
  4. Disability, Technology and e-Learning edited by Jane Seale… Note: Jane is currently editing a second special collection of papers about digital inclusion and learning for Research in Learning Technology with William Dutton of the Oxford Internet Institute. Peer-review is underway. As Research in Learning Technology is now an open access journal this will be freely available when it is published.
  5. Hierarchies of Impairment by Mark Deal
  6. The anti-social model of disability by Dewsberry et al
  7. Three papers on disability and the internet including: Disability Discourses for Online Identities by Bowker and Tuffin, Holding the line online: exploring wired relationships for people with disabilities by Seymour and Lupton and Being there by Anderberg and Jonsson.
  8. Digital agility and disabled learners by Seale, Draffan and Wald
  9. Critical approaches to accessibility for technology enhanced learning by me, Sarah Lewthwaite.

Next week I’ll be recommending ALL NEW additional research papers that Routledge have published in the field since last year’s Open Access festival. If you have any additional papers you’d like to list, or any other comments, please post, I’d love to hear from you.

Blogging Against Disablism Day!

Blogging Against Disablism Day 2012
Blogging Against Disablism Day 2012

Yesterday was May 1st, a day notable for many things – but foremost in my mind for the 7th Annual Blogging Against Disablism Day. If you’d like to read my contribution to this excellent online festival, curated by the Goldfish, read my inaugural post to the King’s Learning Institutes new Technology Enhanced Learning Blog. This is a new blog at King’s College London that sits within the KLI’s Higher Education Research Network.

Regular readers will know I’ve taken part in Blogging Against Disablism Day for the last two years, blogging about Aversive Disablism and Web Design and the closure of the Disabled Student’s BureauSKILL. This year my writing has taken a more academic turn, responding to new contributions to Critical Disability Studies emerging from Science and Technology Studies.

To catch up on all the contributions to this great online festival, I urge you to visit the Blogging Against Disablism Day 2012 webpages . There you will find a huge (and still growing) number of thought-provoking articles from across the world. As Goldfish states:

 This is the day where all around the world, disabled and non-disabled people blog about their experiences, observations and thoughts about disability discrimination. In this way, we hope to raise awareness of inequality, promote equality and celebrate the progress we’ve made.

Once again, Goldfish has achieved a huge event – managing a great success. Three Cheers for Diary of A Goldfish!!

Web 4 All conference 2012: A Challenge to Web Accessibility Metrics and Guidelines

Today and tomorrow (the 16th and 17th of April respectively) mark the 9th International Cross-Disciplinary conference on Web Accessibility in Nice, France.  This year the event is being live streamed via the website allowing me to virtually attend, and, in particular, eavesdrop on David Sloan’s presentation of our joint paper, co-authored with Martyn Cooper and Brian Kelly. Dedicated reportage is also being supplied by a battalion of tweeters using the #w4a12 and #w4a12live hashtags.

Today, David presented our communication paper ‘A Challenge to Web Accessibility Metrics and Guidelines: Putting People and Processes First. Our paper is available for free, with abstract via the University of Bath online repository in Word, PDF and HTML formats.

Cooper, M., Sloan, D., Kelly, B. and Lewthwaite, S., 2012. A challenge to web accessibility metrics and guidelines: putting people and processes first. In: W4A 2012: 9th International Cross-Disciplinary Conference on Web Accessibility, 16-18 April 2012, Lyon.

In addition, David’s slides are now available on Slide Share:

I’ll be sure to add a link to any recordings from David’s presentation on this page as and when they become available.

The Platonic Upper Cut

Watching some of the tweets rolling out of South By South West (SXSW) I was reminded (again) of the continuing relevance of cyberfeminist theory for Human Factors, HCI and UX researchers. In particular, Katherine Hayles work “How we became post-human: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics” (1999) springs to mind, in terms keeping an eye to the messy complexity of users, in balance with the ‘perfect’ world of code. I think this has particular relevance for those creating scenarios and personas or otherwise seeking to ‘abstract’, summarise or theorise a user group.

At the risk of alienating all but the most committed readers – here’s a snipped from my thesis where I discuss Hayles’ work. Here, I highlight problems with collecting onscreen information without consulting a user about the purpose, meaning and motivation behind their activities.  Please excuse the appallingly academic language, I have added some links to expand on particular terms that may have different meanings for different readers.  Comments are welcome.

The following excerpt is taken from p 125-127 from:

The sections quoted are from:

  • HAYLES, N. K. (1999) How we became posthuman : virtual bodies in cybernetics, literature, and informatics. Chicago, Ill. London, University of Chicago Press.

Onscreen Data:

…In analysis, the results of screen capture have been used primarily for illustrative purposes, for reference and data triangulation (Merriam, 1999). This has been for several reasons. Firstly, from an ontological position, I have felt it important to recognise that shifting the focus of research from the individual to their onscreen representations would fail to report authentic understandings of this content. Privileging my own view on student screen phenomena arguably instigates a research hierarchy that privileges the researcher’s observation over the student construction of meaning that those artefacts realise.

There is also a further ontological issue at stake here, available to us through arguments posited by Hayles (1999). Hayles actively seeks to complicate the abstract dichotomies present in dominant technology discourse. In a statement of intent, she problematises the leap from embodied reality to abstract information, with important implications for research straddling these spaces:

Abstraction is of course an essential component in all theorising, for no real theory can account for the infinite multiplicity of our interactions with the real. But when we make moves that erase the world’s multiplicity, we risk losing sight of the variegated leaves, fractal branchings, and particular bark textures that make up the forest. (Hayles, 1999: 12)

Hayles continues to identify two moves that she deems central to the construction of an information/materialist hierarchy that distorts understandings of the real world and its online equivalents. She terms these the ‘Platonic backhand and forehand’:

The Platonic backhand works by inferring from the world’s noisy multiplicity a simplified abstraction. So far so good: this is what theorising should do. The problem comes when the move circles around to constitute the abstraction as the originary form from which the world’s multiplicity derives. Then complexity appears as a ‘fuzzing up’ of an essential reality rather than as a manifestation of the world’s holistic nature. (Hayles, 1999: 12)

This back-to-front semblance of the real world in theory is important, but not complete. When considering the interface between ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ realms, the ‘platonic forehand’ comes into play:

Whereas the Platonic backhand has a history dating back to the Greeks, the Platonic forehand is more recent. To reach fully developed form, it required the assistance of powerful computers. This move starts from simplified abstractions and, using simulation techniques such as genetic algorithms, evolves a multiplicity sufficiently complex that it can be seen as a world of its own. The two moves thus make their play in opposite directions. The backhand goes from noisy multiplicity to reductive simplicity, whereas the forehand swings from simplicity to multiplicity. They share a common ideology – privileging the abstract as the Real and downplaying the importance of material instantiation. When they work together, they lay the groundwork for a new variation on an ancient game, in which disembodied information becomes the ultimate Platonic Form. (Hayles, 1999:12-13)

When conceptualising online spaces, it is thus desirable to recognise any instinct towards the abstraction of the Real, and, arguably, over-estimation of the complexity of online representations. For this reason, my interviews privileged students and the meanings that they ascribed to online phenomena and activity, rather than the ‘authentic’ onscreen phenomena itself. Where dissonance between onscreen phenomena and student talk occurred, this was raised within the interview. In this way, the interviews could be characterised as ambulant; moving through online spaces, charting them with respect to the guidance offered by participants.


Paper Accepted for #W4A12 Conference

Earlier this week I returned from San Diego to receive news that my joint paper “A Challenge to Web Accessibility Metrics and Guidelines: Putting People and Processes First” has been peer-reviewed and accepted for the 9th International Cross-Disciplinary Conference on Web Accessibility – 16/17th April 2012 – Lyon, France. This year’s conference theme is “Web of Data”. The conference is notably co-located with WWW2012. Web Accessibility people may also be interested to know that select papers from this years’ conference will be published in a special issue of  Universal Access in the Information Society.

Our communications paper was written in collaboration. Martyn Cooper (Open University) was lead author, working alongside Brian Kelly (Bath University) David Sloan (Dundee University) and myself. Those of you with sharp memories will know that Brian, David and I worked together on a previous W4A paper, Developing Countries; Developing Experiences: Approaches to Accessibility for the Real World which won the John Slatin award for best communications paper back in 2010.  Perhaps interestingly, I still haven’t actually met Brian (or Martyn), but I’m sure that day will come!

“A Challenge to Web Accessibility Metrics and Guidelines: Putting People and Processes First” will be publicly available next month. The paper itself argues that web accessibility is not an intrinsic characteristic of a digital resource by highlighting political, social and contextual factors that shape user experiences in combination with technical aspects.  As a result, it can be inappropriate to develop legislation or focus on metric that deal with the properties of a resource regardless of context.  From this point we describe the value of standards such as BS 8878 and use a case study illustrating how learning analytics could provide data to support the improvement of inclusive learning resources, developing a broader perspective of the resource in-use.

Brian Kelly will deliver a post on the UK Web Focus blog which will discuss these ideas, and the challenges which are presented to legislators,  policy makers and practitioners who develop practices based on a view that web accessibility is an intrinsic property of a resource at a later date. Watch that space!

Multiple Perspectives on Interaction Design for Older People

This week the 27th International Technology and Persons with Disabilities (CSUN 2012) conference begins in San Diego. I will be contributing to three sessions (a discussion panel and two papers) all now highlighted on my diary page and available on the conference web pages. It looks like papers will not be available until after event itself. As a result, mine are available here for preview and comment. Hopefully they will be of interest to general accessibility/social media readers as well as delegates. First up (and previously blogged) was:Peer-to-Peer Accessibility in Social Networks“, a paper for a session that will be exploring how web accessibility can be socially mediated by peers within social networks, using evidence from research with disabled students at UK Universities. Second, a preview of the panel discussion Does Accessibility have to be Perfect?” has been previewed for discussion over at Henny Swan’s blog. Please head over there and check it out.

Finally, I will be presenting a paper on aspects of the project. The paper is entitled “Interaction Design for Older People”. Beneath this rather generic title, I will be specifically focussing on the tensions raised by multiple perspectives on disability and aging in interdisciplinary work. The paper’s introduction is reproduced below. A PDF of the full document (approximately 1,000 words) available below, both for download and embedded in Google’s PDF viewer. If you would like to read the paper in a different format, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Interaction Design for Older People

This paper highlights an approach to promoting e-Inclusion which focuses older users in context. It is based on research conducted as part of the user-centred, collaborative work of the MyUI project (Mainstreaming Accessibility through Synergistic User Modelling and Adaptability). The research has raised important conceptual issues during its conduct, particularly regarding the ‘practical ethics’ of modeling disability and age-related impairments. In short, there is no neutral language with which to describe disability [1, 2, 3], as such all research is conducted through a particular ideological lens. In this interdisciplinary and cross-cultural research, the application of critical perspectives, grounded in social theory and disability studies, has offered fresh insight into the conception of impairment and disability amongst the technically-based prerogatives of human factors and HCI research. This paper introduces the MyUI project and the value of applying post-structuralist approaches from critical disability studies for human factors research.

‘Interaction Design for Older People’ PDF

Call for Papers: Digital Inclusion and Learning Special Issue

Newsflash: Research in Learning Technology currently have an open call for papers for a Special Issue of the journal focussing on Digital Inclusion and Learning, to be edited by guest editors  Jane Seale, Professor of Education at Plymouth University  and William Dutton, Professor of Internet Studies, Oxford Internet Institute.

Abstracts can be submitted to Jane Seale for informal feedback until 1 March 2012; Papers should be submitted via the online submission system by 1 May 2012.

The special issue is not the only reason why the journal deserves special attention. Research in Learning Technology became an open access journal at the start of the year – with it’s entire catalogue being now available freely online. Particularly attentive readers will know I’ve highlighted a previous Research in Learning Technology special issue on Disability Technology and eLearning edited by Jane Seale on this blog as part of a Routledge open access event . The good news is that these articles are now permanently available to all (I’ll be fixing all the links shortly).  For those of us seeking to develop inclusive technologies in practice, teaching and research, this appears to be a step towards a very welcome marrying of a more digitally inclusive form and digitally inclusive content.

University Email: A PhD Exit Strategy

This post marks the third instalment in an occasional series on the underbelly of the PhD.  This week: Developing your exit strategy.

email iconSo you’ve submitted your PhD. Congratulations. OMG, you did it. Two gold-embossed hardbound copies handed over.  Maybe some tears.  Now you simply have to extricate yourself from postgraduate life and reconnect with the real world, your friends, your family and get some hobbies and exercise.

Of course, things do not stop, or even start properly here. There are administrative tasks that you will have to undertake following submission, for which there may be little information available. So let’s come to the point; this post is not about moving on, job hunting or developing your research career: it is about sorting out your university email. Thrilling, I know – but bear with me.

First thing’s first. Your email account has been an academically sanctioned identity for three or more years. And, unless you have a particularly benevolent institution that guarantees email for life, your account is about to end. Full stop.  You may receive a letter asking you to ‘forward all important emails to an external account’ before your account is sedated (suspended) and put out of its misery (erased). If, like me, you have come to rely on your university email, you need an exit strategy, fast.

First you need to recognise how important your email account is. My university email had been honed over the years; I’ve backed up chapters of my PhD and numerous other documents by emailing them to myself. My Outlook address book was incomplete – but the Outlook search function gave me access to details of hundreds of connections. The account also automatically sifted listserv messages from groups I’ve subscribed to, filing them for me to read, or search for specific keywords when I had time. These included:

In addition, all the projects I’ve worked on, applications I’ve made, files I’ve sent and received, funders I’ve communicated with, institutions I’ve visited – everything is recorded in my inbox.  In short, email represented a resource too important to lose, especially given the fact that networks and contacts are essential to next steps in academia. Now, two essential factors come into play. They’re so important; so you can quote me.

  1. Your email is not yours. It belongs to your university.
  2. Your university email address constitutes and validates your academic identity. This signifier is about to expire.

These two facts have various implications. Each requires action.

Step 1: Check the conditions of closure for your university email. At Nottingham, the process of suspension and closure was scheduled over a period of three-six months from my final submission date. My account was due to be suspended three months after submission (ceasing to function) and then deleted three months after that. Note: If you are at Nottingham, you still need to check this. Don’t blame me if conditions have changed.

Step 2: If you haven’t already got an alternative email account, you need to set one up. If you are considering changing your personal email, now is a good time.  In addition, you need to update any mailing lists, social networks, webpages and blogs so they point to your new address.

Step 3: Next set up a notice on your email account (using the Out of Office function) as soon as possible, to let everyone who emails you know, automatically, that your email address will be closing on a given date. This message should include a new email address where you can be reached, along with any other contact details as you see fit. Encourage people to update their address books and start using your new email to instigate communications and respond to messages.

Tip: If your University uses Outlook, you can set your Out of Office function up so anyone emailing you will only receive your closure notice once. If you are giving three months’ notice, you might like to reset this message each month to ensure no one slips through the net.  Adapt this rule as necessary.

Step 3: To reiterate: Your email is not yours. It belongs to your university. If you want to export your email, you have to take action. I was anxious to export my mailbox, so I contacted my institution’s IT Support Team. They indicated that I could export my email as an Outlook Data File (ODF). However, this would require their intervention, and advance permission from the University Registrar. I then contacted the postgraduate administrators in my Department to establish what was required for making this request formally. There were forms to complete, permissions to be gathered, and an appointment to be made with IT Support whilst I still had access to my PhD office desktop. The final steps at my institution were fairly smooth, and I received my email (all 200MBs of it) directly to my portable harddrive, in person. As soon as the file was made, however, my email stopped, so be aware that you need to schedule your email export carefully.

Warning: To access the emails and files contained in my ODF file, I required a new version of Outlook Express, at some expense.

Step 4: Alongside action to export your email, make sure you also forward your most important emails, contacts and documents from your university inbox to your external address.  This is essential, as there is no guarantee that your university will release your email to you, in a format that you can access, at a time that suits you.

Step 5: People will continue to try your old email address after it expires. So at this point, you should consider your online profile. If someone receives a ‘message undelivered’ notice and subsequently types your name into a search engine looking for a point of contact, can they find you easily? You need to make sure that your academic identity remains publically intact as you move on (either within, or without) your Alma Mata. LinkedIn is perhaps the least social of the social networks, but I have found it functions well as an address book for academics on the move. Academia.Edu will also allow you to present yourself, your work and connections. These are two amongst a plethora of options.

Step 5: Recognise that many of your colleagues will not be taking the steps outlined above. Staying in touch with other students (now distinguished PhDs) from your class is important, but not always easy. Again, in my experience, unless your department routinely gives notice of who has completed their viva, corrections and submitted, colleagues can disappear from your wider peer group without a trace.  Facebook has proven to be where I have kept up with the majority of my class, particularly international PhDs, who graduated before and after me, and who are now spread all over the world. However, it’s important not to assume that everyone will be on Facebook, or want to be on Facebook.

So these are my 5 steps to email freedom. Any comments are welcome.


WebAxe CSUN Podcast

RSS Feed symbol wearing headphones

I’m pleased to say that the WebAxe blog has released it’s 94th podcast, a preview of the forthcoming CSUN conference, featuring Glenda Sims  (@goodwitch) Henny Swan (@iheni) Lainey Feingold (@LFLegalLeonie Watson (@leoniewatson) Sandi Wassmer (@SandiWassmer) and Yours Truley! (@slewth).  The aptly named “Women of CSUN” podcast also includes WebAxe host Dennis (@Webaxe) and Jennison Asunction (@Jennison) delivering a useful overview of the conference – a welcome introduction for those of us who haven’t been before.  I haven’t featured on a female-fronted bill like this since supporting Kat Bjelland’s Katastrophy Wife, back in The Day. Needless to say, it should be a good listen. For those who would prefer to read, Dennis has also supplied a podcast transcript. Enjoy!