Prepping for STS 3284, Fall 2020 edition. Let’s get Dis-Oriented.

In the midst of a pandemic, I’m committed to serving my students and colleagues best – in their health and lives and community – by teaching online for Fall 2020. I’m encouraging other instructors to do the same, when their universities allow (and to protest with them when their universities do not).

There are lots of reasons universities should, as much as possible, be online in the Fall. I understand that people can’t teach equine surgery, for instance, without a little live, in-person horse action. But, for those of us who teach in the humanities, we have the opportunity to enact and model an ethics of care in the classroom by not being inside a literal classroom space, by maintaining social distancing and masking up for the safety of others, by listening to our students and respecting that they have lives outside of our virtual classroom, and by working to make content accessible and open as we continue our work.

The humanities have never been more important to conversations about technologies than they are now. Questions of access, equity, oppressive narratives, bias in technologies, racism, paternalism, and institutionalization are all bubbling up right now in contemporary news for good reason. While we will be online as a class, we have an opportunity for engaged citizenship, context-driven understanding, and a reckoning with things that have long gone untaught and unspoken.

I welcome this incoming class to become dis-oriented. How we have usually been oriented when it comes to disability places value upon nondisabled practitioners as experts about disability, undercuts authentic disability community takes (discrediting those who speak up against things), and sees nondisabled people as “helpers.” The cultural narratives here suggest that being disabled, especially in the absence of kinder, wiser nondisabled people and their technological interventions is shameful, pitiable, freakish, and wrong.

We need to be dis-oriented from narratives that paint disabled life as inferior. We need to shaken up by stories that disabled people themselves tell about technology (assistive tech and devices), infrastructure (both physical as well as legal), medical systems, and institutions (group homes, nursing homes, prisons). We also need the stories that don’t get shared or celebrated as widely — about disability community resistance, celebration and pride, DIY hacks and crip cultures, history and interdependence.

That’s what this class is up to.

I’ll post materials on this website – adding tabs for this semester soon. I also keep a public Technology & Disability facebook page where I share news stories that pass through my feed about technology and disability. I’m also shouty on Twitter, @ashleyshoo. For me, this class is one component of a larger project and body of scholarship (NSF Grant #1750260), and I’m thinking about technology and disability every day.

I welcome your engagement to the topic too – whether you take the class or not, whether you took it in the past or might in the future, or whether you are just a community member with an interest who wants to check out the topic.

For people taking the class, starting in August, I’ll have the Canvas Learning Management System set up with links and materials and assignment portals too.

In the meantime, I’m lucky to have two recent publications flowing out of some of the materials we’ll have in class —

“Ableism, Technoableism, and Future AI” in IEEE Technology & Society Magazine

“Let Covid-19 Expand Awareness of Disability Tech” in Nature

Thanks!

Author: techanddis

Dr. Ashley Shew, Assistant Professor, Virginia Tech. Please address queries to shew@vt.edu.

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