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!


Mid-Semester Post

So far this semester, the following activities and discussions have been introduced —

Field Trips to the library to learn how to measure bathrooms to ADA Title II specifications with Mike Kutnak and to the Assistive Tech Lab with Christa Miller.

Pam Vickers, ADA Coordinator, and Mike Kutnak came to our class to tell us about the ADA and their work.

Josh Earle, class participant, led us in discussion and reflection on the history of eugenics.

We’ve talked about the social model of disability, inclusion v. compliance, transhumanism, eugenics, social resistance to new technologies, media depictions of disability, social meanings of mobility technologies, pre-ADA retrofit, the policing of disability, and identity issues as they relate to technology choice.

Technologies we’ve looked at in particular include ones aimed at hearing, mobility and walking, online access, and infrastructure.

I’ve been pleased by the engagement of the class. Many of your adventure plans are looking great, and I’m excited about our last three classes of presentations about the work you are developing. Thanks for playing along!

First week

Thanks to you all for your participation during the first week of class. I’m even more excited about the semester.

Please be reminded that Adventure Plans are due September 10th. Can’t wait to see what future of project grading you will be inventing for me! Please contact me (shew at vt dot edu) if you have any questions or just want to bounce some ideas around.

First Post & Introduction

Welcome to the Course Site for Fall 2015’s “Technology & Disability” course. While the semester has not yet begun, I’m setting up a structure to fill with content during the coming semester, so please bear with the current disorganization!

I’m Ashley Shew, course instructor, page admin, and assistant professor in STS at Virginia Tech. I’ve published work on nanotechnology & society, am engaged with the interdisciplinary graduate education program on Regenerative Medicine at VT, work in the area of philosophy of technology, and am an amputee.

I’m interested in when, how, and why technologies are adopted or fail to be adpted when they are made. Now at the outset of a project on the intersection between philosophy of technology and disability studies, I am so excited to learn with this class. My book project, which I’m calling Human Again: Technology, Enhancement, and Disability, will offer readers an introduction to philosophy of technology and disability studies. By placing primacy on the lived experience of disability in the context of technological enhancement and in the context of assumptions about the nature of technology and disability, I hope to highlight the tensions we all often feel about any technology – the seduction of the new, the tug of the familiar, the incorporation of identity into the things we use, and the way identity and perception set up around technologies.

With a focus on the lived experience of technology and body, I invite students to develop and deepen their own specific research interests in line with the course theme. We will engage with the course theme through a variety of mediums – academic articles, memoirs and personal reflections, field trips to engineering labs that focus on assistive technologies, relevant documentaries, and a variety of guest speakers. This class requires a “hands-on, minds-on” approach, and I cannot wait to dig into the content with class participants!