Tech and Dis Class OFFICIAL SPRING 2018

Just received word of approval for STS 3284: Technology and Disability!!!! This is now an official course offering and not a rotating topics course!!!!

If you are looking to take STS 3284 during SPRING 2018, course sign-ups are open! The CRN is 20072 if you don’t want to go surfing through the timetable.

We will be meeting in Goodwin 241 on Tuesdays & Thursdays 2:00-3:15pm.


[Graduate students who are interested, please standby: we are working out a course listing at the grad-level.]

Here is the course ad: STS 3284 Course Ad Sp 2018

For Screen Readers

For those with screen readers whose computers are going to get boggled by this PDF, it features an image and text. The image shows 7 versions of the same military-ish guy in a Lockheed Martin exoskeleton moving from wheelchair on the left to fully standing on crutches and about to take a step by the 7th frame, and then it has all this info about the course, a good bit of which is repeats from above —

It reads:

Technology and Disability

New Class!

Dr. Ashley Shew

Questions? Write to Dr. Shew at

Visit Dr. Shew’s course webpage at

News stories frequently report the development of “game-changing” and “life-altering” technologies for people with disabilities, from colorful 3D printable prosthetic hands to wheelchairs that climb stairs. But the reality is often far different from the claims of these feel-good stories. A device might not live up to the hype, may be functional only under certain environmental/architectural constraints, or may not be covered by insurance and therefore unattainable. This class equips students to enter a cultural conversation of growing importance at a level deeper than dominant media portrayals.

Students will play an active role in the development of classroom content, leading class in discussion, and presenting on individual technology projects of their choice. We will also learn how to measure to ADA specs and check out neat stuff in the assistive tech lab! Technologies we’ll look at will include: cochlear implants and hearing aids, prosthetic arms and legs, exoskeletons, apps for a variety of disabilities, computer tech for blindness and learning disabilities, mobility tech (walkers, canes, etc.), and more!

STS 3284       SPRING 2018

Tuesdays & Thursdays 2:00-3:15pm, Goodwin 241

CLE AREAS 2 and 7 – CRN 20072

Technoableism, Cyborg Bodies, and Mars

I’ve been tweeting for the @WeAreDisabled this week, and I worked my way to talking about tech (and not just disability issues) today.

The thread where I briefly lay out my own current work is here: @ashleyshoo on @WeAreDisabled. I am copying the text below for two reasons: (1) this seems like a blog post and not a series of short tweets and (2) word is that screen readers can’t all read the new 280 character Twitter posts (only the first 140 characters). Here it goes:

Thinking about Cyborg and/or technologized bodies. Attended a tech conference last week where many people had in mind “fixes” to problems of aging and disability (even when it was not couched that way).

I got to speak, and I felt like it was in a different language – about disability pride, about how everyone will one day be disabled (if they get to live), about designing while respecting “nothing about us without us.”

I love the stuff I get to use. But there’s a real problem with glamorizing technology and/or being cyborg. Glamorizing the tech and the idea of these technologized bodies makes us ignore important issues, like maintenance and social meanings.

Keeping technologies in and on one’s body actually takes a lot of work. My fake leg breaks – and it disrupts my week or month, depending. I might end up gluing pieces of it together or trying to find the right screw combo as I sit on the floor of my local hardware joint.

Every 6-8 weeks, we flush the port-a-cath installed on my chest w saline. If it doesn’t flush: extra appts at the hospital to check it out with radiology. This device is hella useful for someone with hard-to-locate veins and ppl with strong chemos – but it takes maintenance.

If my hearing aids need work, I send them away for the week while my dealer’s company fiddles with them — usually a quick turn around, but this is disruption.


Cyborg bodies aren’t these shining examples of human “overcoming” and technological triumph. I use stuff because I need it – and sometimes I even like it. But ideas about cyborgs usually gloss over what it is actually like.

I’ve started to reflect on this idea and plan a book project around it — technoableism. Technoableism is a particular strand of ableism that is perhaps most prominently figured in narratives around transhumanism, but enjoys wider capital than that.

Technoableism suggests a very particular narrative about overcoming disability, how to do that and how other folks should engage in it. And, if you question it, the replies you get back doubt your experience and suggest that you actually agree.

In other words, either you are wrong/deluded about your experience or you actually agree because – gasp – you do use technology. It suggests that using devices amounts to agreeing with narratives about technology as overcoming disability.

I like my tech – sometimes I even have multiple things for the same state of my body, using crutches or a rolling-walker or a prosthetic leg…. That doesn’t mean that every tech device that attempts to solve a “problem” – as framed by someone nondisabled – should be lauded.

And technoableism completely ignores social factors. The awfulness it is to go out as a young person with a walker, for instance, is why I might not use my walker more often.

Even though walkers/rollators are hella rad.

I just want to write an ode to my third shiny blue rollator now. I take off my leg at the end of each day, and sail away with the fluid movements of my body on wheels. No more heavy, only free — as long as I stay on the wood floors. LOL.

Technoableism also discounts different devices for different situations and bodies. It imagines that there will be a solution to the problem of body – with the idea that bodies are problems. But the problems are often surfaces, environments, interfaces, places, and others.

I gave a talk a few weeks back in a colleague’s class. The colleague’s class has a theme of planning to live on Mars. He wanted me to give some history to help students imagine social justice issues in this context. I, cheekily, presented about how Mars is for disabled people.

Mars is an environment so unlike Earth that any human making the journey there would become disabled, if they are not already. Their bodies and minds would not be normatively nondisabled as people consider them now. (Yes, this does play on the medical model a bit.)

I had the students give me many examples of this from what they learned, and we had a ton of fun with it. Because they had had the assumption that disabled people couldn’t and wouldn’t be astronauts. And opening this space was huge.

Also part of this suggestion was that some disabled people may be better constituted for Mars, especially when we consider what it is to move in space. I showed them some of the Crips in Space narratives from and videos from the CFP from the group.

Technoableists can’t see the value in disabled bodyminds. Thinking about does some of that work, though.

Technoableism allows people to celebrate the glamorized image of the cyborg as a mode of freedom and resistance while also completely neglecting those with actually technologized bodies and what they say.

Technableism enables disability discrimination through this neglect. And it continues to perpetuate it in how tech is created, marketed, and understood.

(See, really very bloggish. Apologies for shortened words and abbreviations. #twitter.)

Chronicle Article

After the Sit Out protest that a group of us staged on my university’s campus, to protest the university’s lack of accessibility in planning, as demonstrated by the new set of stairs without any marked or nearby ramped access, I stood in my shower and sobbed. I couldn’t get a hold of myself. I tried to explain to my spouse, happy that the protest had been so well attended, why I was crying. I had to dry off, sit down, and write it all out. I cried in the writing and remembering.

I posted what I wrote as a Note on Facebook, to share with my friends, those cheering from afar and those who sat with me in solidarity. Someone I know though phil-tech community suggested I polish it and send it to see if it could be published.

The result came out with the Chronicle for Higher Education online today. It’s part of the Sept 22, 2017 issue. They have entitled the piece “The Long Way Around.” 

Infrastructure is technology: it’s the technology that can either permit bodies and minds to exist in different spaces – or bar that access. You can’t think about technology and disability without thinking about the structures – administrative, bureaucratic, and physical – that can either make it easy to be somewhere or not.

The participants in Technology and Disability classes have expanded my ideas of what counts as this subject matter and have assessed different facets of our campus through their own research projects.

Summer Publications

This summer has been busy with finishing up last details for an edited volume, proofreading my forthcoming book, and working on a major grant app. In the meantime, two of my shorter essays have found venues and been published:

All of this pales personal excitement has coincided with the energizing news of ADAPT protests and arrests at offices of legislators in different spots in the country. Honestly, it’s been hard to get much done, so busy watching the assertion of disability rights and the value of disabled life in the face of devastating legislation. I *wish* this was happening during the academic year so that students could keep up with the action unfolding. I look forward to the conversations I will have this fall with students. Disability organizing and action has made national news in ways that are only rarely seen!


Semester Wrap-Up, Late and Plus

It’s actually the end of Spring semester now, and I am just getting to writing about the end of Fall 2016 semester. Whoops. My apologies! I’ve been busy writing up and submitting Tech & Disability as a permanent offering for the new Pathways undergraduate curriculum. So, I’ve been working on class-things, just not as publicly.

I also plan to submit paperwork for a grad-level course on the topic – but one thing at a time! The class was mixed for its first two runs.

STS 3284, currently proposed my number for T&D, has made it through my department’s and my college’s curriculum committees and is off to the university and Pathways committees. Fingers crossed. They ask for a little modification at every stage, but it’s been interesting to see the process so far. My department chair has been incredibly helpful through the hurdles and forms. When the class is approved (fingers crossed), it will count for credit in both my department’s longstanding and excellent Medicine & Society minor and the newly developed Disability Studies minor, as well as my department’s new Science, Technology, and Society major. I’m pretty excited about the possibilities for students from these areas, as well as continuing with populations that I’ve already really enjoyed having in class (shout out to industrial design and public health-interested students).

As for the last run of T&D with special topics numbers,  I feel pride. Student research was wonderfully all-over-the-place. Here’s a few highlights, hard to summarize such a dynamic batch:

  • One student presented a study of an adult-day center, looking at how technologies for mobility and safety were set up and talking about creating home like environments; she presented this work to leaders of this center, and I hope some of her ideas will be adopted.
  • Another student with a passion for photography took some wonderful stills of signage for access on campus – often obscured with plant growth or unclear. His narration through the images was a really amazing piece of performance art.
  • Two students did a group project documenting “accessfails” in our town’s downtown, from recycling cans blocking access to poorly maintained walkways, etc.. They are set to present this information soon to the Town’s ADA Committee!
  • We also had some more traditional research papers in the mix, one about the phenomenology of technology for diabetes monitoring for Type I diabetes and another on technological access for people with cognitive and learning disabilities in the context of educational software and design.
  • An industrial design student worked on better designs for hearing aid cases – and I wish his design was on the market for my own HAs! Since he presented the idea, I think about it every time I take mine out.

And last semester wouldn’t have been what it was without the assistance of Martina Svyantek, my teaching apprentice for this course. Yesterday, I sat and watched as she defended her prelim exams. Congrats, Martina.

Since I won’t be teaching the class again until Spring 2018, please do keep up with our Facebook page for news items on technology and disability. That page gets more updates than this one – and shorter so you don’t have to read through so much! 🙂

Class has started off – great

We are two weeks in, and the students are fantastic. We’re already having conversations about intersectionality and sharing experience and knowledge with one another. With a variety of backgrounds and trajectories, our conversations have been expansive. We get some experts in on the ADA next week, so that should be a treat too.

Field trip to the library bathroom – to learn how to measure to ADA specs!

Gearing Up for Fall 2016

I can’t believe it’s less than a week away before I have the pleasure of teaching Technology & Disability class for a second time around. I am grateful to my department for letting me teach this again, and I have a paperwork to make this a permanent offering in the works. This class was such a source of joy and education the first time around, and I am looking forward to more fun.

Very pleased to announce that Martina Svyantek will be joining me as a part of a teaching apprenticeship. Martina is working on her iPhD on the topic of disability in Higher Ed and will be an excellent resource and leader as we move through the semester. She will lead several of our sessions.

To highlight a few other highlights –

This semester, we will have field trips to a bathroom in Newman Library and VT’s Assistive Tech Lab. We’ll explore and measure the bathroom with our guide ADA specialist Mike Kutnak. At the Assistive Tech Lab, Christa Miller will introduce us to cool stuff, including mouses of various shapes, nifty keyboard layouts, a Braille machine, and more.

We will have the excitement come to us when Donna Smith of VT’s disability service office presents on Disability in Media, PhD student Josh Earle lectures on eugenics, and Mallory Kay Nelson skypes in to share her ideas about “transmobility” and the human form.

In terms of materials –

We’ll be reading serious academic papers, checking out first person accounts and blogs, watching some neat documentary footage – and there may even be some poetry in the mix. Be ready for some terrific “hands-on, minds-on” engagement and lots of discussion within our group. We can disagree and still be friends.

In terms of grading –

It’s Choose Your Own Adventure, so start thinking about what you want to create or write or assess  during this semester.

Thanks so much for signing up, those who have, or for checking this out, for those who maybe haven’t yet.

John Kinder visits!

Please mark your calendars for Friday, February 19th, at 4pm. Historian Dr. John Kinder will be delivering a Mullins Distinguished Lecture entitled “The Cripple Ceases to Be: War, Veterans, and the ‘End’ of Disability” in Surge 118B.

This lecture is made possible through the CLAHS Diversity Committee and sponsored by the Departments of English, Philosophy, and STS and the Disability Alliance at Virginia Tech. ASL interpretation will be provided through the generosity of the WMASLS fund. Surge is a physical space with no stairs, and I can happily answer any other questions you might have about the space at

“The Cripple Ceases to Be”: War, Veterans, and the “End” of Disability

Abstract: In October 1917, barely six months after America’s entrance into World War I, the US Army Surgeon General predicted, “Probably one of the strangest as well as one of the best things that will come to our country through this war, if its duration is of sufficient length, is that from now on the cripple ceases to be.” Like many other medical experts of his era, he was optimistic that newly developed military rehabilitation programs would soon erase war disability from modern society. Although World War I-era rehabilitation failed to reach its lofty goals, the dream of disability-free warfare remains as powerful (and illusory) as ever. In this talk, John M. Kinder examines Americans’ century-long campaign to bring an “end” to war disability. What accounts for this effort? And what can it tell us about contemporary attitudes toward war, veterans, and disabled people as a whole?

Biography: John M. Kinder is Associate Professor of History and American Studies at Oklahoma State University. He received his PhD in American Studies from the University of Minnesota in 2007, and he is the author of Paying with Their Bodies: American War and the Problem of the Disabled Veteran, which was published by the University of Chicago Press in 2015. His research focuses on the relationship between war, trauma, and culture in the United States and around the globe.



In the midst of grading…..

This class has been excellent. The material results of this class include: a graphic novella about prenatal diagnostics, ADA surveys of campus locations, a new design for adaptive ski harnessing, statistical data on disability in engineering curricula, many exciting potential units for classes (including units on the Friendly Restaurant accessibility project in Taiwan, technologies used by communities in the context of mental illness and dwarfism and blindness,  and more),  a few good syllabi for classes related to this one, and some really funky-fun research papers. The Choose-Your-Own-Adventure grading system has made this the most diverse set of projects and papers I’ve ever gotten from a class, and it’s been a pleasure to grade.  (Who says that?)  I couldn’t be more proud of a set of students. They have really engaged and tackled interesting questions.

I hope the material results reflect the intellectual results for all students. I have rethought many things, and their questions and comments have given me many things to think about — which is great because I’ve been told the class will run again in Fall 2016!

Thanks to all the participants. And thanks to Jonathan for putting some of the student work on the site for others to view!