Fall 2020 Materials

STS 3284: Technology and Disability Fall 2020 

Dr. Ashley Shew, Associate Professor, Science, Technology, & Society 

Office Hours: Mondays & Wednesdays 11am-Noon (right after our class)

Big Lecture/Session: Mondays & Wednesdays 10:10-11am. Discussion Sections with TAs on Fridays.

Lecture and discussion notes posted in our class Google Drive.


This undergraduate course introduces students to the material cultures surrounding disability, the social meaning of “health” technologies, and the lived experiences of those who deploy, resist, and wrestle with technologies aimed at their bodies and minds.

Having successfully completed this course, undergraduate students will be able to:

  • Identify landmarks in the history of technologies for disabilities
  • Understand the social and medical models of disability and how those play into technological design
  • Recognize and critique common narratives and assumptions about technology and disability 
  • Analyze the relationship between disability studies and engineering orientations of disability
  • Discuss contemporary issues and controversies about technologies for disability communities
  • Identify, lift up, and defend the voices of disabled people in the context of policy and engineering
  • Recognize ableism in social narratives about technology and disability

Students will also play an active role in the development of classroom content, working through material in teams, and engaging with literature on their selected topics. Specific topics include:

  • Cochlear ear implants and hearing aids
  • Prosthetic arms and legs
  • Exoskeletons
  • Text-to-speech interfaces
  • Apps for ipads aimed at a people with disabilities
  • Closed captioning
  • ADA specifications
  • Mobility aids (wheelchairs, crutches, scooters, canes)
  • Genetic interventions
  • Other technologies as incorporated by student choice

We will pay close attention to the historical and social contexts within which technologies are aimed at disabilities, resistance to and acceptance of technologies, and identity and passing in the context of technologies. In all these things, we will take disabled people as experts on the experience of disability and on disability-related technologies.

Classroom Accessibility for all students

Disability rights are civil rights, and disabled people fought hard to secure the rights to your accommodations in the classroom and workplace. Those people who fought for your accommodations were spit on, arrested, isolated, and dismissed, but they wouldn’t take less than they deserve when it came to securing your rights to things like access education and other public goods. They are my heroes, and their work also works to accommodate me as a multiply disabled university employee. You can bet that I really want you to use your accommodations, or help you get them if you don’t have any in place, or find a system that works for us if you don’t care to go through the official channels. Most requests are easy – and you don’t have to be disabled or diagnosed to request from me; I am happy to distribute any in-class readings in larger or otherwise more accessible fonts, disability issue or not! And, if you need text-to-speech software to read aloud with you, I would love to introduce you to my friends in Accessible Technologies and then make sure you get the formats you need to use the AT. 

Attendance and Participation

While I do not take attendance as such for our Monday and Wednesday meetings, your TAs are welcome to take attendance on Friday. Class participation and engagement are an essential part of this course, and so missing many classes will work against your engagement and robust participation. However, I know attendance is not always possible, and I will make some materials available. Participation and engagement also doesn’t always mean talking a lot in class – but in taking the materials we cover seriously and reflectively, which can flow through how you engage with the course. We will meet by Zoom. Absences, tardy arrivals, and early departures interfere with your concentration and ability to take advantage of this course, but, also, I would rather have people attend some of a class than miss it all.

Technology, Tricks, and OK Zoomers

Make space for your own participation and full engagement. Close your other tabs (or reduce them) as we are in class together. Do the readings/watchings, come to class with questions, pay attention to guest speakers. It may help you to take notes on paper or other surface as we Zoom. If you need other technologies or formats, please let me know. Zoom does not not have auto-captioning for this campus yet, but I do know of other tools and formats to work around if we need to.

If you want captioning or would benefit from it (meaning, maybe you retain more information when you listen and read at the same time), Web Captioner (which you would open and use in a browser tab) does a pretty good job for computer generated captions, so does Otter.ai. For voice-to-text, some of us also keep a Googledoc open and use the “voice typing” tool (doc > Tools > Voice Typing). All of these can be useful in helping you to produce transcripts from presentations; they always require some correction. If you have accommodations for captioning, please do let me know because then we can get a live human captioner looped into our Zoom sessions if that is the case! The university also has Read & Write (toolbar) for anyone who wants things read aloud.

A few Zoom guidelines (not hard rules) from your professor:

  • You don’t have to dress up, but please wear clothes. This one is a rule.
  • You don’t have to keep your video on, but it would be useful to your professor (as someone who is hard of hearing) if you could please turn on your video when you speak or are waiting to speak. 
  • You are welcome to use the chat feature in Zoom for questions, especially if you are having AV trouble or your mic is crackly. I’ll ask my TAs to keep an eye on the chat, but anyone is welcome to turn on their mic to alert me to a question if I am cruising onto some other topic.
  • Yes, I’d like to meet your pets. I’ll start the Zoom at 10am if anyone’s good puppers or cattos would like to be a Zoom celebrity before we start class at 10:10am.  
  • Please stop your prof or instructor if we are going too fast, if AV is problematic, or if you have a question. You can do this by turning your camera on and raising your hand or using Zoom chat.

Honor Code

The Undergraduate Honor Code pledge that each member of the university community agrees to abide by states: “As a Hokie, I will conduct myself with honor and integrity at all times.  I will not lie, cheat, or steal, nor will I accept the actions of those who do.”

Students enrolled in this course are responsible for abiding by the Honor Code. A student who has doubts about how the Honor Code applies to any assignment is responsible for obtaining specific guidance from the course instructor before submitting the assignment for evaluation. Ignorance of the rules does not exclude any member of the University community from the requirements and expectations of the Honor Code.

For additional information about the Honor Code, please visit: https://www.honorsystem.vt.edu/

Please ask questions as we go if you want clarification on what is expected in this course.

Mandatory Reporting

Please be advised that, in the capacity as faculty members at Virginia Tech, your instructor and TAs are mandatory reporters, which means that we are obligated to notify the Title IX Office at Virginia Tech if we are given knowledge about sexual assault or violence by other employees and students. Confidential sources, those who do not have to report to the Title IX Office, include staff members at the Schiffert Health Center, the Cook Counseling Center, Virginia Tech Mental Health Centers, and The Virginia Tech Women’s Center.

Additional Notes

If you are a student who faces food insecurity, domestic violence, or issues with housing, including issues related to covid19, please contact the Dean of Students Office in Student Affairs. They can also help arrange medical leave and help students in crisis. https://www.dos.vt.edu/

I know, and you know, that there’s a global pandemic of covid19 happening right now. We will all try to be gentle with each other, recognizing interdependence as a core value and vulnerability as a condition we all share. 

Grading – Choose Your Own Adventure System

We (your TAs and prof) have a menu of choices for some of what you turn in. If you want to propose something different to be graded on, we are also open to those conversations. Please turn in your “Adventure Plan” for the semester – that is, what you are choosing as your assigned work with descriptions of the item and short descriptions of what you plan to do (1 page) by September 11, 2020. 

Choose 3 of the following options for 75% of your grade (25% each):

  • Group Book Project: People who are interested in Group Book Project will be grouped together in groups of <4 people, and will subsequently be given a list of potential books to decide upon which they would like to present to the class during the last weeks of class. Presentations can be pre-recorded (and captioned) or done live during our class time. Projects should include a study guide of the book describing major themes in addition to the oral presentation.
  • Visitability Assessment: For this assignment, students will assess how ‘visitable’ where they live is — is there a barrier free entry? How accessible are bathrooms? Are there features for hearing or sight disabilities? Students will turn in a written narrative assessment of their chosen space. Images can be included as long as they are image described using alt-text. https://visitability.org/
  • Website Check: For this assignment, students can choose to analyze the accessibility of a website using WCAG 2.0 guidelines. Students will turn in a narrative about elements in the webpage and an overall description of whether and who the site works for. 
  • Interview (with transcript): Students can choose to interview someone about the technologies they use related to their disabilities. Your professor has guidelines for students who choose this option.
  • Skill Development: Teach yourself some skill related to accessibility/inclusion (get approval and ideas from your TA or professor for how to assess your new skill). Could be video description (and then you demonstrate this by describing a 10 minute video and recording).
  • Topic Projects (25%): Pick a technology or theme in disability culture and follow its history or how it is contemporarily depicted; what is the story of some technology or object aimed at disability? Students will present on these topics. Please include two dates on which you would be willing to present on this topic in your adventure plan. You are welcome to work in teams. You will have 10 minutes for presentation.
  • Opinion/Editorial (25%): Write an Op-Ed Style article that stakes a position on some item of policy or politics about disability, technology, or health. Get approval on your topic from your TA. Op-Eds are fairly short (750 words), but harder to do because you have to argue well for some action or policy in a short space.
  • ADA Survey (25%): Using the ADA Small Business Guide and ADA Checklist for Existing Facilities, students will assess the accessibility of a location of their choice. Don’t forget the bathrooms. Students will turn in the ADA checklist/survey and narrative assessment of their choice and any interesting findings. Images can be used, but must be described in alt-text.
  • Participation (25): Yes, you can ask for a participation grade. The work you would do for this would be showing up to class, especially your class section, remaining engaged, and participating. 
  • Create Your Own (25): This course has had people make comic strips, design objects, make *captioned* youtube videos explaining concepts for general audiences, review a scholarly book for an academic journal, and more. For Create Your Own, please propose something you’d like to make, write, act, build, or do, and please tell me how much of your grade you think it should be worth. You can do up to 2 of these – as long as you get approval from your TA+prof. Or you can do a large one of these for 50% of your grade.

Quizlets 25%

The remaining 25% of your grade will be accounted for in Quizlets. These short form quizzes with quick answer items (multiple choice and/or true-false or things like this) and open answer questions to answer in a few paragraphs. These will be taken outside of classtime and are not timed, but there will be deadlines for their completion. 


#Extra note: We have an exciting opportunity this semester since my department’s longstanding event on Choices & Challenges is themed on Narratives: Technology & Disability — and it’s happening this semester. 

You can find discussion section notes in our class google drive as well as other notes files. 

Week/ThemeMondayWednesdayFriday – Discussion Sections with your TA
FundamentalsAugust 24: Disorientation
In class, we will read fromAccidents of Nature HMJ excerpt, Lynn Manning’s “Magic Wand,” and Emily Ladau’s “The Complexities of Curing Disability.”
August 26:Introduction-Video: Sunaura Taylor’s Walk with Judith Butler-Video: Stella Young’s TEDx Talk-Short Article: Sylvia Yee’s “People Should Not Be Defined…”
August 28:Section Feedback and Groups
Pre-Class Survey / Quizlet 1 Due
OrientationAugust 31:Disability Simulation -Social Sci Paper:“Crip for a Day: The Unintended Negative Consequences of Disability Simulation” by Norio-Redmond et al.  (PDF attached to weekly email)-Short Article: “I Won’t Pretend Disability Simulation Works” by Emily Ladau-Optional: “The Limits of Empathy” by Rose EvelethSeptember 2:Film: NO CLASS meeting, but watch Documentary:
Fixed: the Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement.(have to be authenticated through VT to view)
September 4:Fixed Discussion in Discussion Sections
September 7: LABOR DAY, NO CLASSSeptember 9:Catch up: We will talk about Disability Simulation because Dr. Shew got us a little behind in lecture. 😀
September 11: Discussion Sections
Quizlet 2 Due -Adventure Plan Turned in
Exos to EugenicsSeptember 14: –Zoltan Istvan’s “In the Transhumanist Age, We Should Be Repairing Sidewalks, Not Disabilities” Replies to this article – students should pick one of these to read: Rose Eveleth’s “The Hidden Burden of Exoskeletons for the Disabled” –Kim Sauder’s “When Celebrating Accessible Technology Reinforces Ableism”Emily Ladau’s “Fix Discriminatory Attitudes, Not Sidewalks”
September 16:Current & Future-Alice Wong’s Disabled Oracle Society Address (transcript)- you can start at minute 4:30 of the video-Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded by Molly McCully Brown, selected poems (on canvas files and attached to weekly email)
September 18:
Institutions & EugenicsSeptember 21:-Disability Gulag by HMJ-Excerpt from Imbeciles(Both in Files on Canvas and attached to weekly email)
September 23:-Jason DaSilva Op-Doc#AutisticWhileBlack The Sacrifice of Andre and Cheryl McCollins
September 25:

Quizlet 3 Due
InfrastructureSeptember 28:-Bess Williamson’s “Electric Moms and Quad Drivers” (canvas file)-Liz Ellcessor’s LifeAlert article (canvas file)
September 30:-Bill Peace’s Letter #3Stephen Kuusisto’s Letter #4 Imani Barbarin’s “Things I’ve Learned in this Black Female Body” from Crutches and Spice (cw: violence)
October 2:
ADAOctober 5: –David Laposky tours new Ryerson University (Canada) buildingADA Title II Primer –ADA Checklist for Existing FacilitiesBill Peace’s Letter #4
Adventure 1 soft deadline
October 7: ADA 30th Anniversary: Readings/Watchings:-ADA30InColor (watch/listen to the video + read one of the articles – your choice)October 9:
Quizlet 4 Due
Sports & ArtsOctober 12:Watch Murderball instead of coming to class (NO CLASS)October 14:
Discuss Murderball and watch paralympic commercials-
Optional Reading: O’Toole “Court Crips”
Sports and Arts /Deafness and HearingOctober 19:
Flex /catch up day. 
October 21:-
Harlan Lane’s Social Construction of Deafness (attached and on Canvas)-
Bruggeman’s, On (Almost) Passing (attached and on Canvas)-
And listen to Jaipreet Virdi’s interview on Science Friday.
October 23:
ProstheticsOctober 26:-New publication: Ymous et al. on Tech and Dis-
Hands Chapter from Staring by RGT
October 28:
-facial prosthetics reading-
Technology Sits Cross Legged 
October 30:
Prep WeekNovember 2: ABA ReadingsOptions: Finn Gardiner’s “Rejecting the Politics of Shame”Julia Bascom’s “Quiet Hands”  (CW: abuse, forced compliance)
Amy Sequenzia’s “Normalcy is an Ableist Concept”
“ABA” by Sparrow Rose (CW: abuse)
“Why I Left ABA” by Anxious Advocate (CW:abuse)
Optional reading: Rua Mae Williams’s PDF’d paper on metaeugenics 
Quizlet 5 Due
November 4: –
Read Alice Wong’s The Political Is Personal
Watch Jaipreet Virdi’s conversation with Liz Jackson
November 6:

Adventure 2 Suggested Deadline
BIG WEEKC&C on Narratives: Tech & DisabilityNovember 9:
Autistic Experience and Autism Tech Panel
November 11:
High Tech Fixes Panel
November 13:
Cyborg Promenade 1:30pm
Genetics & DisabilityNovember 16:
“Unspeakable Conversations” by Harriett McBryde Johnson (DOCX)
“The Case for Conserving Disability” by Rosemarie Garland-Thomson (PDF)
November 18:Crispr-CAS9Kulyash lectures
We’re Failing Our Test Run for CRISPR by David Perry
Optional, but highly recommended: “Human nature” documentary (2020) https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/video/human-nature/Available also on Netflix
November 20
Quizlet 6 Due
Your TAs will have open office hours during your section times for anyone who wants to check in.
Thanksgiving BreakNovember 23:
November 25:
November 27:NO CLASS
November 30:
December 2:

December 4:
Discussion Sections
December 7: Presentations

Quizlet 7 Due
December 9:

Adventure 3 Suggested Deadline
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