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Expanding your interests: Assistive technology

In this video, Gerard Goggin and Wayne Hawkins describe assistive technology as a form of support for people with disabilities.
MAN: FutureLearn. [THEME MUSIC] UNSW Australia. Assistive technology
GERARD GOGGIN: If we think about where technology’s been a tool in the lives of people with disabilities, the mobile phone, one of our everyday objects now, provides some great examples. So the first generation mobile phones, people with disabilities used particularly to provide communication while mobile– that’s the idea, in a way, of mobile phones; to address issues around security. If you look at second generation mobile phones, you find the emergence of text messaging, which becomes particularly of interest to deaf people who have been able to communicate via that.
And then with the advent of smart phones, and iPads, tablet computers, because of the software in those, because of accessible operating systems, you then find really interesting ways in which, for instance, people with intellectual disabilities take that kind of technology. And there’s many other examples, I suppose, of the ways in which technologies have been taken up as tools. I mean some of the newer examples, I think, have to do with areas such as 3D printing. So the idea that you can, in your home, have a printer, print an object, has become something of fascination to people.
But one of the ways it’s been taken up is for personalisation and customisation of disability technology, so that for people who have prosthetics, for instance a prosthetic limb, they can now conceivably print their own limb, in a sense to customise the design in the way that they wish to do so. So this is a really interesting direction in technology, that in many ways puts the technology increasingly into the hands and the lives and the capabilities of people with disabilities.
WAYNE HAWKINS: In my own example, I went blind in midlife, and I can’t imagine what it would have been like trying to create a life if there hadn’t been technology around. You know, I’m a twice Braille school dropout. It’s very difficult to learn Braille in middle age, and those kinds of things would be very difficult. And technology has made it really– not easy, but it’s made it possible for myself, and for many other people who are blind or have got disabilities later in life, to actually continue to do the work that they’ve done in the past, and create new ways of participating.
I think there are some really, really key areas where technology has been a boon for people with disabilities. You know, social media, things like Second Life, provide people with disabilities who are home-bound or unable to get up, provide them with a way to interact with the rest of the world– also in ways where their disability is not obvious. So people can be participating in social media, or they can be participating in online forums, and their disability is not front and foremost of what the other people participating see. So they have the opportunity to disclose that or not at their own choice.
But what the real benefit is is that it allows them to become part of society in a way that they have not been able to before. So those are some of the really fantastic opportunities that assistive technology, or technology as a whole, has provided, and specifically assistive technology for people with disabilities.

In the above video, Gerard Goggin and Wayne Hawkins discuss the ways in which assistive technology and technology in general have been used as tools by disabled people in working towards good lives.

Gerard and Wayne emphasise the creative and diverse ways in which disabled people take up and adapt technologies to make them tools of agency. Gerard uses the example of the 3D printing of prosthetics, in which people are customising their prosthetics at home. Similarly Wayne says that he cannot imagine having adapted to acquiring his impairment without technology.

Talking points

  • What unusual ways do you use technology to work towards a good life?
  • In the video, Wayne talks about disabled people using the computer game Second Life as a way of living in ways that they would not be able to in their day-to-day lives. What do you think about this idea? Is this a form of support? Why or why not?
  • We began to discuss some technological support tools last week, when we were discussing access. Now that you have nearly completed this week, what do you think are some of the important links between access and support, particularly in the area of technology?
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