- Disability, Universal Design, and the Digital Humanities, George H. Williams
Reading this article was really mind-opening for me in its laying out what universal design is, and in making me realize how easy it is to take for granted as ‘normal’ our own approaches to technologies which are actually never something ‘natural’. I think the implications of universal design not just to people with disabilities, but to everyone, are very well expressed in this particular passage:
We might consider, however, that there is no “natural” way to interact with the 1’s and 0’s that make up the data we are interested in creating, transmitting, receiving, and using; there is only the model we have chosen to think of as natural. All technology is assistive, in the end.
However, the idea of universal access also brings back some of the questions we brought up last week, on how tricky it can be not to disempower certain users by making an effort towards access (I’m thinking specifically of D’Ignazio and Klein’s question: ‘When do values often assumed to be a social good, such as “choice,” “openness,” or “access,” result in disempowerment instead?’) I guess that when it comes to designing content, it might be really hard to understand the needs of certain users if we’re not ‘in their clothes’; and therefore it was very interesting to read Williams’ perspective on how working with a blind person for advice on accessibility made him reevaluate his assumptions on using computers. Since getting first-hand advice might not be always possible, I am glad the article flags out guidelines such as those provided by the Web Accessibility Initiative.
2. Located accountabilities in technology production, Lucy Suchman
I have been thinking quite a bit about Haraway’s notion of situated knowledge as I was working on my project, and what Suchman does in this article is really interesting in terms of applying this theoretical notion to her own work experiences and unveil some of the concrete factors that shape and limit the practice of technology work and production. I have to say I struggled following her arguments at times: probably because of the rather complicated language with which she describes very concrete situations, or maybe also because I was forced to envision these very concrete situations but I have little experience of them. In particular, for example, I am rather stuck on what is meant by the ‘detached intimacy’ that, Suchman argues, is imposed upon professional designers by their work conditions (5). It’d be very helpful if anyone has any thoughts or clarifications to share about their take on this particular paragraph!