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Accessibility today

In this video, Gerard Goggin describes how technology has changes the way we live our lives, and what this means for people with disabilities today.
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MAN: FutureLearn. [THEME MUSIC] UNSW Australia. Accessibility today.
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GERARD GOGGIN: In contemporary society I suppose technology is found in lots of different places in lots of different ways. So if we think about what we’re doing now in terms of learning, and we are in a MOOC, finding information, hearing people talk, interacting in a virtual environment. And I think this goes on in different ways through our lives. So we keep in touch with our families, our friends, our loved ones, those who are close to us via mobile phones, for instance. We increasingly use the internet for all sorts of things, whether it’s memories, whether it’s to find information. We take photographs with all sorts of devices.
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We, in our environments, have a lot of sensors, for instance, that might open doors for us, or measure pollution rates, or a whole bunch of other things. So technology is really very much embedded in our lives. We could look at the long histories of technology. So people could look at the invention of the wheel and certain sorts of mobile ways that people got around in carts or get around now in cars or wheelchairs or bicycles or a range of different things. Particularly, I think, technology is really crucial for how we communicate.
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So one of the things that people have been very fascinated with over the last 20 years is the ways in which now when we communicate, we can communicate face to face, but increasingly, we have been telecommunicating, which means, literally, communicating at a distance. So we can Skype with people. We can send messages in a way that previously when you sent mail to people that were 1,000 miles or a couple thousand miles away, that would take a while to arrive. So communication has become highly mediated. It’s become very much about media. So I think this has some real implications for how we live our lives and for how we think about the good life.
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And I think when we think about disability this has had perhaps two major implications. The first one perhaps is about participation, so that increasingly, everyone to participate in society needs to have access to digital technologies, because if you want to pay your bills, if you want to get in contact with your politician, if you want to make friends, if you want to fall in love, you’re using digital technologies. So this is really crucial, I think, that also the technologies, these platforms– platforms for living, tools for living– are accessible to everyone, including the 20% of the population who we would see as having some major form of disability.
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I suppose the other part of this that’s related is the technologies are providing new modes of participation I think, for everyone, but particularly for people with disabilities. So we can see new opportunities for people with disabilities to socially participate, to create new kinds of culture, new forms of meaning, new forms of belonging and also new cultures of innovation. In the future, what’s really important is that we try and break through and crack these twin issues around innovation and around design.
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I think one of the issues we face is that everyone is interested in the ways in which people with disabilities have invented incredibly creative, interesting ways to use technology, so there’ve been these real cultures of innovation that we can see with people with disabilities around text messaging, for instance, or around computing, around a whole lot of areas. You see this also in mobility devices in wheelchairs– how users are very creative. But how can we make sure that this is at the centre of how we respond to technology and society?
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And I think we can look at ways, really, to try and put resources and to put a platform under this to make sure that people with disabilities can actually be at the centre of processes of design. And I think there’s great opportunities to do this. There could be funds for innovation. There can be education training resources. And if we look at something like 3D printing, for instance, we can see people with disabilities engaging in creative maker spaces around this.
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But, there’s a danger, I suppose, in that we’re just relying on that occurring against the grain, where really here’s an opportunity to actually foster innovation and to really amplify and give power to people with disabilities to make a major change to technology and accessibility, really, for everyone, because this will be something that ensures that technology is of greater benefit for everyone in society.

In the previous step, you learned a little about the history of the Disabled People’s Movement and the history of disabled people’s fights to have their rights recognised. In particular, we saw how the Disable People’s Movement was aimed to address discrimination and exclusion.

In this step, we would like you to think about the current situation and how — with new technologies — issues around exclusion and discrimination are continuing to affect the lives of people with disabilities.

Gerard Goggin, Professor of Media and Communication at the University of Sydney, talks about both barriers and opportunities for people with disabilities in an increasingly digital world.

Talking points

  • In what ways does Gerard say people with disabilities might be excluded from an increasingly digital society? What sorts of solutions does he propose?
  • What have been your experiences of new technologies like mobile phones and the internet? Do you think the design of these is taking notice of the full range of people’s dis/abilities?
  • In what ways do you think people with disabilities might lead the way in the development of new technologies that can benefit everyone?

Expand your interests — We consider global accessibility in Step 3.12: Accessibility worldwide.

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Disability and a Good Life: Thinking through Disability

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