Meeting users and meeting needs - negotiating use in assistive technologies
Paper short abstract:
My presentation draws on ethnographic data and reports on practices of assistive technology professionals in the UK's public healthcare system. My aim is tracing connections between critical approaches to design and practices of accommodating dis/abled people with technological means.
Paper long abstract:
My presentation draws on ethnographic fieldwork into the work practices of assistive technology professionals within the UK's public healthcare system. The aim of their work is using technological devices to accommodate people diagnosed with neurological conditions. This work consist of delivering personalised systems, and it is underpinned by an institutional culture that places value on the specific individual's use instead of an abstract and potential usability.
So far, in Disability Studies and STS, the potential of creating better technological arrangements for dis/abled people was mainly discussed in terms of good design, especially novel techniques of engaging users (at an initial stage). My data presents a different case insofar as my interlocutors' practices can be simultaneously described as the implementation of established technological products, and as an inventive, ongoing technological practice that results in novel and productive human-machine configurations. It can be argued that my interlocutors, without taking much interest in design or STS, conducted a form of critical technical practice (Boehner et al, 2005), and this can be linked both to critical making (Ratto, 2008) and repair cultures (Jackson, 2014).
By unpacking some episodes of these practices, my presentation considers how dis/abled people are accommodated by ways of redistributions of expertise agency and resources, and how this ultimately entails unsettling and transforming the figures of user, device and design. Finally, I trace how this critical technical practice relates to sustainability and institutional culture and evaluation regimes that utilise technologies primarily as social goods.