Disability in the Digital Age: Reconfiguring Access, Inclusion and Equality

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Saltes, Natasha
Accessibility , Technology , Science and Technology Studies , Space , Disability , Mobile Devices
There is an abundance of research that examines disability and technology in the context of computers and the Internet, however few have examined disability and mobile devices. Also largely absent from existing literature are the voices of disabled people themselves. This dissertation draws upon science and technology studies (STS) and disability studies to address these gaps by conducting in-depth qualitative research that examines disabled people’s experiences using smartphones and tablets. At its core, this dissertation aims to provide insight on the following: 1) an understanding of how disability is perceived in the digital age and the subjective meanings of access, inclusion and equality; 2) the ways in which mobile devices impact the lived experience of disability; and 3) how perspectives in disability studies and STS can be applied to understand the relationship between the body, disability and technology. The empirical contribution of this research draws from participant diaries and interviews with disabled people, as well as from open-ended questionnaires completed by mobile app developers. The concept of ‘subjectivities of disability’ is introduced to refer to the uniquely personal and individual experience of disability. Findings reveal that mobile device use amongst disabled people redefines their subjectivities of disability through socio-technical interactions whereby disabled people use their devices in ways that are integrated into their everyday lives and positively shapes how they view themselves in relation to their experience of disability. The responses from app developers reveal that there is a place for disability in the mobile market and that disabled people play a key role in making apps accessible. The data suggests that mobile devices facilitate access, inclusion and equality by integrating the body in ways that recognize and accommodate diversity. The results furthermore make it clear that the interaction between disabled people and mobile devices takes on an embodied and social characteristic. This research concludes that both on an individual level and collectively, disabled people are engaging with digital artifacts in ways that promote agency and independence as well as reshaping how disability is experienced and perceived in the digital age.
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