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Expanding your interests: Disability and innovation

In this video, Gerard Goggin and Wayne Hawkins describe the challenges to accessible information and communications technology, and some ways forward.

Some disability studies scholars argue that working with disability — rather than treating it as an add-on — can drive innovation in designing a more accessible world.

In the above video, Gerard Goggin, Professor of Media and Communications at the University of Sydney, describes how disability intersects with technology in terms of access. He points out that whenever we introduce any new technology, there is often a new set of exclusions around that. This means that people with disabilities have often had to advocate for greater accessibility of existing technologies.

Wayne Hawkins of the Australian Communication Consumer Action Network, himself an advocate for accessible information and communications technology (ICT), emphasises the importance of universal design — or designing with the needs of diverse users in mind from the start. He notes that when people with disabilities aren’t included in design considerations, this can result in long delays in accessing a new product and greater expenses for everyone.

Gerard and Wayne then discuss the usefulness of international human rights frameworks like the UNCRPD, the importance of domestic and local laws like Disability Discrimination Acts and Telecommunications Acts, and the importance of advocacy in the area of ICT access. They emphasise how important it is for organisations and governments to recognise accessibility as an opportunity for innovation, not just as something they need to legally comply with.

Gerard has written about how such shifts are already occurring. He suggests that by linking disability to the language of innovation, we can move towards making accessibility a central part of discourses.

If you’d like, read his essay below, and see if you agree.

Gerard Goggin. (2008) “Innovation and Disability.” M/C Journal, Vol. 11, No. 3.

Talking points

  • What are the pros and cons of retro-fitting versus designing with the needs of diverse users in mind?
  • In what ways do you think viewing accessibility as a driver of innovation might help to challenge different assumptions about people with disabilities in society?
  • How does thinking about disability give us a different lens for thinking about innovation?
  • What are some of the advocacy efforts around accessible ICT in your own national or local context?

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Disability and a Good Life: Working with Disability

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