Tagged: Disability

#5 ‘Hierarchies of Impairment’ by Mark Deal


DEAL, M. (2003) Disabled people’s attitudes toward other impairment groups: a hierarchy of impairments. Disability & Society, 18, 7, 13.

Disability and Society
Disability and Society

This is the second paper I’ve nominated from the pen of Mark Deal, and it’s another cracker. In this paper Deal discusses Hierarchies of Impairment. Once again, this term is essential to building an analytic vocabulary of disability for lay people, academics and techies alike. Hierarchies of Impairment have been researched since the 1970s, however, where previous work has explored how different impairments receive different status in society (and, as a result, with regard to technology, different resources and research attention) Deal extends this analysis to incorporate the attitudes of disabled people themselves. Deal’s research has powerful applied implications – particularly for those of us seeking to create inclusive environments. It identifies how we might desconstruct mainstream notions of ‘disability’ to identify those most marginalised within society. It also highlights how disablism (and aversive disablism) can function between disabled groups, allowing an analysis of representation. For those of us in technical disciplines, Deal’s thesis also allows us to evaluate the ways in which hierarchies of impairment are re-orientated by new contexts (for example, the internet) and different cultures.

A forthcoming publication co-authored with Henny Swan pushes this envelope with respect to Web Standards and the Majority World. Watch this space.

A final word: Hierarchies of Impairment is only available for free via Routledge this month to non-subscribers (April, 2011). If you’re accessing this page outside these dates, investigate Mark Deal’s excellent PhD thesis (2006) Attitudes of Disabled People Toward Other Disabled People and Impairment Groups which is available through the Enham website.

#4 ‘Disability, Technology and e-Learning’ edited by Jane Seale


Disability, Technology and e-Learning, a Special Issue of Research in Learning Technology, edited by Jane Seale.

Research in Learning Technology
Research in Learning Technology

So far this month, I’ve introduced three influential research papers from Disability and Society to highlight academic research that is free to all readers this month as part of Routledge’s Education Free For All event. Today, we divert to a new journal – Research in Learning Technology. [update: 5th Jan 2011] Research in Learning Technology is now Open Access and all back issues are available. Research in Learning Technology is the journal of the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) previously entitled ALT-J, and more specifically, I’d like to highlight a special issue of the journal devoted to accessibility and edited by Jane Seale (Vol 14, Issue 1).

Nine papers and articles are included. As this issue is now five years old, many of the authors have substantially developed their positions as contexts and discourses in the field have developed. Nonetheless, many of these papers remain relevant to the field with implications for wider uses of technology, and I recommend this issue as a Who’s Who of significant authors in Accessibility in e-Learning. In the UK and elsewhere, Universities frequently represent key sites of cutting edge accessibility research. As such, this offers an excellent spring board into more recent accessibility literature across the education journals freely available this month – so flex your search operators!

Note: Many of these authors are on Twitter (for example, @briankelly @sloandr @lawrie @EADraffan @janeseale and others). Be sure to seek them out. If you are accessing this blog post after Routledge’s Open Access period finishes.  In addition,  many of the authors above have also published freely available research elsewhere. For example, Brian Kelly’s stellar back catalogue can be found at UK Web Focus.  Enjoy!

#3 ‘The use and non-use of assistive technologies’ by Soderstrom and Ytterhus


The third instalment in an academic free for all.

SÖDERSTRÖM, S. & YTTERHUS, B. (2010) The use and non-use of assistive technologies from the world of information and communication technology by visually impaired young people: a walk on the tightrope of peer inclusion. Disability & Society, 25, 3, 303-315.

Disability and Society
Disability and Society

This paper by Sylvia Soderstrom and Borgunn Ytterhus presents an essential insight into the importance of social context for the take up of technology, and the place of assistive technologies within this matrix. They remind us that users do not exist in a vaccuum, that, in affluent societies ‘how people use technology is symbolic of various values and identities’. This qualitative study is relatively small, but its results are referent to a swathe of complex socio-technical relations. In this sense it is powerfully illustrative. Where ICT is found to broadly symbolise competence, belonging and independence – the specific nature of specialised assistive technologies can symbolise restriction, difference and dependency. The implications of such findings have resonance across Human Factors, HCI and education, and emphasise the peer-to-peer nature of in/accessibility and its delivery.

#2 ‘Identity and Disability’ by Nick Watson


The second post in my solo April blog festival.

WATSON, N. (2002) Well, I know this is going to sound very strange to you, but I don’t see myself as a disabled person: identity and disability. Disability & Society, 17, 5, 18.

Disability and Society
Disability and Society

In March 2011 Aleks Krotoski, UK technology journalist and researcher wrote a piece about Disability and the Internet for the Observer. Although I recognised many of her arguments and observations, I disagreed with several key aspects of her analysis. In particular, her assertion that disabled people ‘pass’ as non-disabled online. Hers is a very blunt statement – and it is this concern, that disabled people who do not present themselves (or see themselves) as disabled online might in some way be complicit in maintaining, rather than challenging a disabling status quo that Watson’s research tears into.

Here Watson challenges a ‘passing’ interpretation of the actions of disabled people – presenting disabled people’s own accounts and identifying in the process an opposite interpretation, a political assertion of disability as normal. Watson’s research gives important nuance to this crucial area. For anyone writing, designing or researching disability and technology – this paper makes essential reading.

Note: My PhD explores this territory with respect to Social Networks. For an additional alternative reponse to Kotoski’s article, see how Ouch’s Disability Bitch goes into CyberSpasm

#1 ‘Aversive disablism: subtle prejudice toward disabled people’ by Mark Deal


To take advantage of Routledge’s free Education journal access over the course of April 2011, I’m presenting papers to highlight research with powerful applications in the fields of technology, disability and education. Comments and suggestions are, as always, welcome.

DEAL, M. (2007) Aversive disablism: subtle prejudice toward disabled people. Disability & Society, 22, 1, 14.

Disability and Society
Disability and Society

Aversive Disablism is a little-known social phenomenon that exerts huge influence in the lives of people with disability. Deal’s paper highlights the importance of understanding and challenging this form of subtle disablism to ensure (amongst other aims) that design communities responsible for our built (or digital) environment do not perpetuate a society that actively disables people with impairments. In this sense, aversive disablism represents an important concept, without which any vocabulary of disability or design is incomplete. I drew on this paper for my 2010 Blogging Against Disablism post and Web4All joint paper with Brian Kelly and David Sloan last year, applying Deal’s arguments to incorporate online environments. Deal writes lucidly for a broad audience, as such this paper represents essential reading for all.

Further reading:

  • Consider Goggin and Newell’s groundbreaking 2003 book Digital Disability. This identifies the outcomes of web developer’s disregard for disabled users requirements  as “doing production”, resulting in a disabling web that enacts disability. The authors arguments are developed for contemporary Web 2.0 discourse by Ellis and Kent (2010) in their book Disability and New Media. Ellis and Kent develop this notion of “doing production” with regard to Social Networking Sites – their insights into the structural production of disability in social networks, I feel, resonates strongly with Deal’s notion of aversive disablism.

Next post out on Monday 4th.

Investigating Socio-Technical Experiences of Disability: Slides


Following on from my guest lecture at the Centre for Culture and Disability Studies (click for abstract) at Liverpool Hope University earlier this month, I’ve received a number of requests for my presentation slides. As a result, I’ve added them to SlideShare and made them more widely available below.  These slides are supplied with an important caveat, however. I designed the talk to balance descriptions of what worked and what didn’t work over the course of my PhD research; I also talked a great deal around the slides – that means that important content and context is missing in several areas. Nonetheless, I think the literature cited, methods overview and some of the results reported will be of interest to researchers and others in the field. If you require an alternative format, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.


30 Days of Academia: Your Guide to Routledge in April 2011


Over the course of April, Routledge are giving free open access to all Education journals, with no academic subscription or institutional affiliation necessary and no strings attached.  The Routledge stable includes some mighty journals for those involved in Technology, Disability and Education, including Disability and Society, the Scandinavian Journal of Disability Research and Studies in Higher Education. Together, these journals and their peers offer access to hundreds of pieces of groundbreaking research.

To celebrate, from Friday April 1st onwards, I will introduce and link a selection of papers that have been hugely influential in developing and challenging my thinking on disability, technology and education. This curated compilation represents a guided tour of some of Routledge’s ‘Greatest Hits’, to inform readers outside universities (in particular, techies, geeks, accessibility professionals, and others) and, I hope, help open up and apply disability theory and digital inclusion research for debate amongst new audiences. The list will also have relevance for scholars and academics in the field, and those whose universities do not currently subscribe to these journals (for example, my own institution, the University of Nottingham, does not supply access to the Scandinavian Journal of Disability Research, I have my associate lectureship at Sheffield Hallam to thank for this particular literature hack!).

So, over the course of April I invite you to join me as I introduce each paper. You can subscribe to the blog to receive an alert via RSS feed or email when each post goes live, or simply drop by in over the course of the month and see what my suggested bibliography has to offer. If you are considering compiling a similar list in conjunction with Routledge’s Education free-for-all, be sure to signpost below. Comments and suggestions are welcome!

Event: Investigating Socio-Technical Experiences of Disability in Social Media.


On the 8th March 2011 from 4-6pm I will be presenting my doctoral research to researchers and students at Liverpool Hope University’s Centre for Culture and Disability Studies in the Faculty of Education. This guest lecture is offered as part of ‘Introduction to Research Methods: Disability Studies’.  If you would like to attend, please contact the CCDR’s Deputy Director Dr. Ria Cheyne via cheyner@hope.ac.uk.  More details about the location, slides and so forth will be added closer to the day. I hope to see you there!

Title: Disability 2.0: Investigating Socio-Technical Experiences of Disability in Social Media.

Abstract: For many young people, social networks are an essential part of their student experience. My research explores disabled students experiences of disability in social networks to understand how dis/ability difference is ascribed and negotiated within such networks, and the impact it has on student life. This research is firmly located within the social sciences, drawing on the thinking of Foucault to develop understandings of disability and power relations online. However, its research object, the socio-technical mediation of disability, is interdisciplinary; drawing on research territories that are unfamiliar to many disability studies researchers.

 In this talk, I give a backstage look at negotiating a path through interdisciplinary disability studies research, touching on information sciences and human computer interaction, and the particular problems and opportunities that this kind of activity presents. I introduce the notion of ‘bricolage’ as a user-friendly multi-perspective methodology and research approach that has enabled me to develop new, technology-enhanced and accessible research methods, and develop a research lens drawing on complementary methods from Activity Theory, Phenomenography, Discourse Analysis and Case Study.

This will be an interactive session aimed at researchers and students. Prior knowledge of the methods and technologies presented is not necessary. Following on from an orientation in social media research for disability studies, I will also talk about the findings of my research, which consider the ways in which social technologies reposition disabled people within taxonomies of identity, enabling some and dis-abling others.

Who is Researching Disability in Facebook?


This is my first post of 2011, I’d really appreciate your thoughts to develop these arguments. Comments, as ever, are welcome!

At New Year I met some new people and began explaining my PhD research into Disability and Social Networks (no doubt more technically and tediously than my audience had hoped). In the following discussion a ‘disability’ vignette came up. A reveller described how a colleague at work was currently out of the office sporadically, due to anxiety. She was signed off work on grounds of stress. However, word had spread around the office that, despite the leaves of absence being taken, this person had posted several upbeat messages on Facebook over weekends, including photos from parties and other social events. Others in the office were beginning to question the reality of her mental health on this basis.

My own research highlights how the boundaries of disability shift in social networks, as disability and ability are ascribed and mediated by peers, tools and the social context. To me, this vignette highlights the complexity of disability and its representation online, alongside some worrying developments in disability-surveillance.

Research into Facebook highlights powerful social norms that are enacted in social media due to context-collapse. Importantly, Facebook in particular, is an upbeat space where users present their ‘best’ self for scrutiny before a mixed audience of friends, family, associates etc; lots of different contexts are collapsed into one. As a result, many people upload their only best (sometimes airbrushed) photos, comment with only their wittiest witticisms and so on. This instigates a powerful norm of ingratiation. In research interviews, the disabled students I spoke to repeatedly stated that Facebook was not a place to publicly express depression or serious mental illness. Indeed, for some, the only signifier of such disabilities in networked publics was silence, a lack of interaction resulting in greater isolation. Such silences may be noticed by attentive friends, however, as we will see, to insurers and employers, it is noise, not silence, that attracts the most attention.

Somehow, Facebook interactions known to be private and frivolous, have become caught up in a legal and corporate project to define how much disability is required to qualify as disabled. In these terms, Facebook is conveniently identified as the inside track, the Truth of what is going on. Within this, any number of assumptions about what constitutes a disability are enacted. More importantly, an underlying concern can be perceived regarding the force with which the boundaries are decided without reflection. I would argue that these moves ‘discipline’ disabled people. In this way, disabled people must perform a strictly defined role. The abilities of a disabled person are rendered suspect: and, according to this view, there is nothing more offensive than a disabled person who is not disabled, or not disabled enough. Within this dichotomy there is no room for grey areas, i.e. the complexity and diversity of impairments that exist in day to day life. Grey areas are difficult; it is much easier to render these issues in cartoonish black and white.

A recently example comes from the Chicago Tribune (also printed in the LA Times).  The Tibune highlight how insurers are looking to Facebook for evidence to challenge claims.

If someone receiving disability benefits for a bad back brags on Facebook or Twitter about finishing a marathon, chances are their insurance company will find out and stop the cheques.

Chicago Tribune

The newspaper leads with an extreme example, the ‘person with a bad back’ signed off work, who then posts to Facebook that they have completed a marathon.  This vignette is offered as the quintessential disability con.  Underneath this headline, however, any number of more complex cases cascade; including the mundane case of the person experiencing anxiety attacks, signed sporadically on and off work and but maintaining a social life. Expressing such a life in Facebook is important – to challenge stigma and resist isolation. However, whilst employers and insurers stalk the network, I’m concerned that users will be forced to choose between performing Normal according to non-disabled network norms OR performing the externally defined role of the Disabled Person. Increasingly, physical or cognitive impairment has nothing to do with it.

Viva Result: Minor Corrections


Great news! On Monday morning I completed my Doctoral Viva – the examination of my PhD thesis “Disability 2.0: Student dis/Connections. A study of student experiences of disability and social networks on campus in Higher Education.” My examiners were accessibility, disability and education expert Prof. Jane Seale (Plymouth University) and identity and methods specialist Dr Kay Hawe (University of Nottingham).

I’m pleased to report that my research exploring students’ experiences of the socio-cultural aspects of disability in social networks has been accepted, and I have been awarded my PhD pending minor corrections. I will complete these corrections over the next three months. Huge thanks go out to everyone involved, especially my supervisors, Dr Charles Crook and Dr Gordon Joyes.

If you would like more information about my research in advance of the publications of the thesis and related documents, please get in touch with me directly via ttxsem@nottingham.ac.uk.