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Trans competent research

In this video course contributor, Cami Rincon discusses their trans competent research practice.
<v ->This specific term, trans competent design,</v> builds on Alex Ahmed’s work in human computer interaction. Trans competency in design is understanding the needs, context, and experiences of trans people. The way to do this, both in design and in research, is to integrate trans users or trans communities, and have them be the focus of where knowledge is produced and where insight for design is generated.
My research started as a general exploration of the risks and opportunities for LGBTQ people in AI. I noticed that AI is a technology with absolutely huge impact across the globe. And as I was learning this, I was wondering what impact might this have to a community that is already marginalised and already experiencing disparities? So, my research, actually, began with interviewing a lot of industry experts in this area that is actually quite niche, and it evolved into identifying risks across branches of AI, and then honing into voice-activated AI. The reason why I chose voice-activated AI is because it is a area of AI that has already been greatly studied through a feminist lens.
But I noticed that most of this research was omitting, essentially, the existence of trans people and what their needs might be.
There are two reasons. The first one is just around how highly embedded voice assistants are becoming in society. These are devices that are both spreading across the globe and increasingly engaging in intimate settings. So, the relevance of voice-activated AI is, actually, huge, irrespective of the subject of voice itself. And then more specifically, the relationship between voice and representation and trans people is huge. Voice is very much related to the body, it’s very much related to how we project ourselves into the world and how the world sees us. And, therefore, it is something quite relevant to trans people. Going back to Alex Ahmed’s work, a lot of what that focused on was voice training.
So, this is already a theme that very much exists, both within trans communities and also within emerging technologies, as they relate to trans communities.
Thus for.. Most of my research has revolved around interviewing. It began with interviewing industry experts and academics focused on this intersection between artificial intelligence and LGBTQ communities. It progressed onto conducting user interviews with trans users, and has now progressed further to gathering data through participatory design processes in attempts to understand and enhance design, that in practical terms accounts for the needs of trans users.
My goal is for my research to give trans and non-binary people, as well as queer people, more broadly, a voice in the conversation that is tech ethics and the design of ethical technology. The way that I recruit participants for my research is very much framing it as something that might benefit their communities. And I very much frame it as something that they are volunteering for willingly, if they believe in the narrative that I am holding around tech ethics and the advocacy for LGBTQ people in technology.

Now we’d like to introduce you to an example of inclusive research in action. In this video, Cami will introduce you to a particular way of researching, defined as ‘trans competent research’.

Trans and non-binary people are some of the most underserved in society, Cami’s work as a conversation designer has focused on the needs of trans and non-binary people, identifying their particular requirements when engaging with technologies such as voice-activated assistants.

Notice how Cami has tailored their research to address the needs of a specific group of people so that their work can effectively address the problems faced by trans and non-binary people.

In the video, Cami notes their work is inspired by Alex Ahmed, a ‘socially-conscious user experience researcher trained in human-centred design’. You can find out more about Alex on her website.

What are your thoughts on conducting research to address the needs of a specific underserved group? Has this example made you reflect further on your own practices?

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Gender-Inclusive Approaches in Technology

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