Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Transforming the process and outcomes of assistive technology research: Reflections on the use of participatory research methods with disabled univers

On March 4th 2010 I gave a presentation at an ESRC funded seminar series called " Researching the use of assistive technologies by children and young people: interdisciplinary perspectives", organised jointly by Chris Abbott at Kings College, London and Jannet Wright at De Montfort University. The talk was organised in 6 sections (see slideshare for copy):

1.The LEXDIS Project: Understanding disabled university students experiences of e-learning and technology
2.Defining participatory research methods in the context of the LEXDIS Project
3.Learner voice as a potentially useful conceptual framework that brings with it aspirations and challenges relating to transformation
4.What was transformational about the participatory research process used in the LEXDIS project?
5.What was transformational about the outcomes of this participatory research project?
6.Implications for Assistive Technology Research.

The crux of my argument in this talk is that using participatory methods to research learners experiences of using technologies has the potential to produce an authentic picture of technology use and in doing so transform our understanding and take us beyond the familiar and what is already known. However in doing so, we may be frequently challenged about our ability as assistive technology reseearchers to really see things differently.

Also speaking at the seminar were Al Roulstone who reminded us how things have (or should have) moved on from the 1980's where technology was viewed as a fix or cure for disability. Technologies therefore absorbed and represented the broader social contexts in which they were being implemented. They are not socially neutral. Disability was seen as a loss and a deficit, technologies therefore normalised. Technology offered a new future for disabled people only if they were prepared to trade their identity as a disabled person, and submit to be being "fixed" and wait for their "epiphany moment" when technology allowed them a proxy for sight, walking etc. Al talked about how he had used the term "enabling technology" to mean technology that enables disabled people to access their environment without problematising their disability and requiring them to leave their identity as a disabled person. This takes us from world that "happened to" disabled people, to a world where disabled people are capable of influencing it. This has real resonance for me in terms of current digital inclusion initiatives, where technology is seen as a fix for social exclusion. Not using technology is viewed in terms of loss and deprivation- there can be no good reason to not want to use technology and all those deemed to be digitally excluded must aspire to economic productivity or civic participation in order to be deemed worthy of being given access to technology...

Michael Clarke, also gave a talk focusing on the methods he used to to try and engage children with communication diffiuclties in AT research. While Sarah Parsons gave a thought provoking talk on how AT can be both the focus of research and a tool for research. I particularly liked Sarah's reflections on whether AT could be used as a tool to gain informed consent from disabled young children.

All in all, a really good day, that took me back to my roots and gave me all sorts of ideas!

TLRP/TEL Digital Inclusion Briefing

I have just finished work on a Digital Inclusion briefing for the TLRP/TEL Programme. The briefing is a Beta version of a research update on digital inclusion. As such, it focuses on existing research, and outlines current themes and issues in the field of digital inclusion. Its main focus is to begin a discussion within and beyond the TEL programme and projects, which will push forward the state of the art in the field. The briefing challenges projects within and beyond TEL to assess and critique all aspects of their work as it relates to digital inclusion, from conceptualisation of terms to evaluation of outcomes. There are 6 chapters:

1. Definitions of Digital Inclusion
2. Why is Digital Inclusion Important?
3. Where does Digital Inclusion happen?
4. What kind of learners might benefit from Digital Inclusion?
5. How does Digital Inclusion Happen?
6. What can future research contribute to our understanding of Digital Inclusion?

An online version of this briefing, which offers members of the Digital
Inclusion community the opportunity to comment and suggest additions or revisions, can be found at: http://www.tlrp.org/tel/digital_inclusion_writing/

The TEL Programme will be using this briefing as a springboard to launch an editorial task group who, led by myself, will work together to produce Version 1.0 of the Digital Inclusion Research Update in late 2010, early2011. Version 1.0 will synthesise and update current research in the field of digital Inclusion, drawing on themes and outcomes of relevant TEL projects, to highlight and discuss research challenges for the future.

Developing a retirement plan for the magic fairy of digital inclusion: identifying the challenges for digital inclusion practice

On February 9th 2010, I gave an opening Plenary presentation at the one day conference organised by ALT and TechDis called "Rewiring Inclusion". I didn't have long, just 15 minutes, to set the scene for the day and to offer some challenges for delegates to think about. I drew on my accessibility work, and experience working on the LEXDIS project to identify three main challenges or imperatives for digital inclusion work. The need to:

1. Examine our conceptualisation of digital inclusion and in particular who is dominating these conceptualisations and therefore determining for learners, what meaningful use of technology is.

2. Examine digital inclusion practice and in particualr involve all stakeholders in determining what "best" practice is and upon what evidence judgements about "best practice" are made.

3. Examine notions of success and failure in relation to digital inclusion projects to address the extent to which learners are empowered to decide what constitutes success or failure andalso to allow for "organisational slack" so that projects have the freedom to stray from project objectives where appropriate, take some risks or engage in some possibility thinking in order to potentially increase or enhance digital inclusion opportunities.

By addressing these challenges it is my argument that we can move beyond the wishful thinking of digital inclusion and therefore seek to retire the magic fairy of digital inclusion.