Disability studies as a source of critical inquiry for the field of assistive technology

Jennifer Mankoff, Gillian R. Hayes, and Devva Kasnitz.

Description: In October 2010 at ASSETS, Jennifer Mankoff, Gillian R. Hayes, and Devva Kasnitz published this paper which was the first to identify and bridge the gap between the assistive technology research field and the field of critical disability studies.

Bringing decades of critical thought in social and behavioral sciences to computer scientists, the paper presents important theories from disability studies and shows how they influenced the authors to critique and improve their own work. As a field, assistive technology research started to move from a somewhat insular, technology-driven, paternalistic ‘helping’ model, to a more inclusive, self-advocacy mode of thought. This is a vitally important change, with enormous impact on the way we define and approach research problems. As a result, the social impact of our work is correspondingly greater, leading towards equal participation, respect and access for people with disabilities and the neurodivergent community.

The impact of this paper is evidenced by the number of its citation count of 172 (as of October 19, 2021) as reported by Google Scholar. According to the ACM Digital Library, it has been cited 96 times (as of October 19, 2021) in ACM sponsored journals and conferences.

Paper Year: 2010

Abstract: Disability studies and assistive technology are two related fields that have long shared common goals – understanding the experience of disability and identifying and addressing relevant issues. Despite these common goals, there are some important differences in what professionals in these fields consider problems, perhaps related to the lack of connection between the fields. To help bridge this gap, we review some of the key literature in disability studies. We present case studies of two research projects in assistive technology and discuss how the field of disability studies influenced that work, led us to identify new or different problems relevant to the field of assistive technology, and helped us to think in new ways about the research process and its impact on the experiences of individuals who live with disability. We also discuss how the field of disability studies has influenced our teaching and highlight some of the key publications and publication venues from which our community may want to draw more deeply in the future.

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