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Access and Technology

In disabilities studies, when access is associated with technology, access often signals government-supported initiatives toward standards and practices designed not only to make information and communication technology available and usable to people with disabilities (Technical and Information Services Access Board 1; see also Strauss) but also to ensure their very participation in "the information age" (Coombs 44). Within reports such as the federally sponsored Telecommunications and Electronic and Information Technology Advisory Committee's 2010 recommendations for improving the accessibility of information and communication technology, hearing disabilities ("hard of hearing and deafness") is listed as one list of six groups (e.g., those with visual disabilities or physical disabilities or "some combination of [...] conditions") for whom access to technology is considered a civil right (Coombs 43).4

In this context, accessible technology refers both to tools for locating and securing information at the other end of the technology and to media that scaffold and mediate the very discursive spaces in which people engage in a whole host of purposeful communications. Thus, technology and access attend to Web design and to the design and availability of "telephones and cellphones and other telecommunication products, computer hardware and software, websites, media players, electronic documents, and PDAs [Personal Digital Assistants]" (Technical and Information Services Access Board 1). Additionally, when paired with technology, access pertains to the documentation that accompanies these devices—or better yet to design features that render such documentation unnecessary. Within much of this public discussion, accessible interface design and product documentation tests the extent to which people who cannot hear or who have lost significant degrees of hearing can put a device to the use for which it has been designed. However, the history of "digital disability" is also a history of innovation—chronicling the "unexpected uses and ends" for which people with disabilities put available communicative tools (Goggin and Newell 159). Although the public discourse on technology and access tends to assume that technology's relation to access is inherently positive, a growing body of scholarship not only calls for more careful scrutiny of the evidence beneath such a claim but also acknowledges that "the introduction of new technologies often creates new forms of exclusion for people with disabilities" (Goggin and Newell 159).

Against this public discourse, which renders issues of technology and access rather abstract and decontextualized, the literacy narratives within the DALN situate claims and concerns regarding access and technology within the lived experiences of those interviewed. In listening for this localized knowledge, listener-rhetors might pay particular attention to narratives around questions of how access to and through technology is constructed, such as: What does technology offer access to? Under what conditions does technology limit or enhance access? How have contributors appropriated technology to creatively gain or offer access to information or something/someone else? What are the costs of access to or through technology? How is access to the interviewees themselves limited or enhanced by technology? What values are implied by particular technologies?

Below are two critical incidents culled from the DALN Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing literacy narratives pertaining to access and technology. The first dramatizes a Deaf DALN contributor using digital technology to access information; the second shows a Hard-of-Hearing contributor using sound editing software to provide his friends with some access to what the world sounds like through the sound frequencies available to him.

4 Readers interested in understanding access and technology as civil rights will also find instructive a work by Adam J. Banks: Race, Rhetoric, and Technology: Searching for Higher Ground. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2006.

Access and Deaf Culture Access and Technology Access and Discourse
Jane Fernandes Jane Fernandes Brenda Brueggemann
Christopher Driscoll Warren Francis Anonymous

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