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When disability tech is just a marketing exercise
When disability tech is just a marketing exercise
Companies love to get press for disability tech projects, but they often aren’t all that interested in actually putting real money behind them.
roseeveleth  accessibility  deankamen  capitalism  assistivetechnology  vaporware  ibot  powerchair 
april 2019 by jesse_the_k
When disability tech is just a marketing exercise | The Outline
"This cycle is a common one. Companies know that accessibility projects can garner great press. They also probably know that many journalists are unlikely to follow up and see whether the big promises are actually coming true. So they flaunt their minimal or nonexistent ties to accessibility, reap the glowing media coverage, and let the projects slip quietly into the night.

BMW got great press for making four special chairs for the Paralympics, but it seems to have stopped at those four. The Dot, a braille smartwatch, is a darling among journalists who call it the “first smartwatch for the blind,” but all it does is display some text from your phone in braille. Apple’s smartwatch is actually far more useful for blind users. Companies also advertise products as being accessible, but these claims are rarely put to the test.

Google is a repeat offender when it comes to claiming accessibility brownie points while failing to provide truly accessible tech, said Kit Englard, an assistive technology specialist. “If you read anything from Google it says: Google is accessible, it works with screen readers. Eh, it doesn’t really,” she says. Google Docs and Google Drive are both notoriously hard to use with a screen reader (a system, usually incorporating audio, that blind and low-vision people use to access visual content). “The way to force a screen reader to work with Google Docs, you have to go into your screen reader, turn it off in some ways, and then go back into Google Doc,” Englard said. “You have to memorize a whole series of commands that are completely different from any other commands you’d be used to.”

Vaporware — the term for products and features touted to the press that never materialize — is endemic in tech. When that non-existent product is a smartwatch or a sex robot, the harm is minimal. But when companies claim they are building products for people with disabilities and then don’t, Englard says that does real damage. More and more big companies are adopting systems like Google Drive, thinking that they are accessible, when in fact they’re not, which could lock disabled people out of jobs and promotions. “When they ask ‘is our equipment accessible to you?’ and the answer is no, that person can’t have that job. It’s not okay to lock people out of educational opportunities or social engagements or research,” Englard said. “Think of how many surveys are done on Google Docs these days.”"
disabilities  disability  edtech  marketing  google  googledocs  googledrive  2017  roseeveleth  wheelchairs  deankamen  segwy  ibot  toyota  bmw  vaporare 
december 2017 by robertogreco
prosthetics, child-rearing, and social construction - Text Patterns - The New Atlantis
"N.B.: I am not arguing for or against changing child-rearing practices. I am exploring how and why people simply forget that human beings are animals, are biological organisms on a planet with a multitude of other biological organisms with which they share many structural and behavioral features because they also share a long common history. (I might also say that they share a creaturely status by virtue of a common Maker, but that’s not a necessary hypothesis at the moment.) In my judgment, such forgetting does not happen because people have been steeped in social constructionist arguments; those are, rather, just tools ready to hand. There is a deeper and more powerful and (I think) more pernicious ideology at work, which has two components."

"Those who look forward to a future of increasing technological manipulation of human beings, and of other biological organisms, always imagine themselves as the Controllers, not the controlled; they always identify with the position of power. And so they forget evolutionary history, they forget biology, they forget the disasters that can come from following the Oppenheimer Principle — they forget everything that might serve to remind them of constraints on the power they have ... or fondly imagine they have."

[See also: “Blueprint for a Better Human Body: People who wear and design prosthetics are rethinking the form of our species.” ]

[Follow-up post:

"I think there is a great tendency among academics to think that cutting-edge theoretical reflection is ... well, is cutting some edges somewhere. But it seems to me that Theory is typically a belated thing. I’ve argued before that some of the greatest achievements of 20th-century literary criticism are in fact rather late entries in the Modernist movement: “We academics, who love to think of ourselves as being on the cutting-edge of thought, are typically running about half-a-century behind the novelists and poets.” And we run even further behind the scientists and technologists, who alter our material world in ways that generate the Lebenswelt within which humanistic Theory arises.

This failure of understanding — this systematic undervaluing of the materiality of culture and overvaluing of what thinkers do in their studies — is what produces vast cathedrals of error like what I have called the neo-Thomist interpretation of history. When Brad Gregory and Thomas Pfau, following Etienne Gilson and Jacques Maritain and Richard Weaver, argue that most of the modern world (especially the parts they don't like) emerges from disputes among a tiny handful of philosophers and theologians in the University of Paris in the fifteenth century, they are making an argument that ought to be self-evidently absurd. W. H. Auden used to say that the social and political history of Europe would be exactly the same if Dante, Shakespeare, and Mozart had never lived, and that seems to me not only to be true in those particular cases but also as providing a general rule for evaluating the influence of writers, artists, and philosophers. I see absolutely no reason to think that the so-called nominalists — actually a varied crew — had any impact whatsoever on the culture that emerged after their deaths. When you ask proponents of this model of history to explain how the causal chain works, how we got from a set of arcane, recondite philosophical and theological disputes to the political and economic restructuring of Western society, it’s impossible to get an answer. They seem to think that nominalism works like an airborne virus, gradually and invisibly but fatally infecting a populace. "]
alanjacobs  posthumanism  prosthetics  technology  culture  2015  biology  multispecies  cyborgs  humans  humanism  control  power  robertoppenheimer  roseeveleth 
may 2015 by robertogreco
Man Hands | Motherboard
"But finding a female prosthetist isn’t always easy. In 2007, according to the American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics, and Pedorthics, only 13 percent of the industry was female. Nancy Havlik, a prosthetist who works at Hanger Prosthetics, remembers entering the field when it was even worse.

“When I was in school, there was only one other female with me. In my region there were only two other female practitioners when I started," she said. Havlik came across prosthetics at a career fair, but she wasn’t exactly encouraged to pursue it. “I remember walking in in college, and they said 'you’re a female, you cannot do this job.' I will never forget that."

Havlik has worked at Hanger since she graduated in 1996 largely out of loyalty. She said that her bosses at Hanger were the only ones who would take her seriously when she was just starting out.

Having a female prosthetist isn’t only about accessing sensitive areas, it’s also about being sensitive to a female amputee's needs. Both Lacey and Havlik were quick to stress that there are good male prosthetists out there, but they also said that women simply seem to understand more intuitively what other women care about and want.

“A female prosthetist, they understand why it’s a big deal to make sure that you have something that’s not as bulky, something that’s slimmer that will work for skinny jeans,” Lacey said. “I think that men don’t [always] understand that about fashion choices and why that’s important, and a part of your identity and still feeling feminine and not disabled.”

Havlik agrees, saying that she’ll spend time trying to slim a prosthetic down by as little as an eighth of an inch. “Men in general can sometimes see a female patient as being irritating and too concerned about cosmetic looks, and really not take them seriously,” she said. “I really care what it looks like, I know that that eighth of an inch would really bother me.”"

"After finding and fitting a device, women’s struggles with prosthetics continue to diverge from men’s. Women tend to have more variable bodies, and gaining and losing weight can change the way a prosthetic socket fits. Pregnancy can totally throw off a woman’s center of gravity, and the weight gain associated can mean going through several different sockets. “One mom I think we went through 6 sockets,” Havlik told me. In a paper on a 2010 panel for female amputees, Christine Elnitsky, a researcher at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, describes one woman who had both an upper and a lower limb prosthetic who decided to switch to a wheelchair while pregnant and nursing because she didn’t trust her devices to hold her or the baby. “That’s the worst thing for blood pressure, for edema and hypertension. You want them up and walking,” said Havlik.

Even delivery can be complicated by an amputation. In the Disabled American Veterans report, the authors note that “for women with above-the-knee amputations who need a caesarian section, a higher abdominal incision should be planned to avoid irritation by the socket brim.”

But simply making a smaller, lighter prosthetic isn’t easy. You can’t just shrink the whole thing down and expect it to work the same way. “From an engineering perspective, the smaller you go on motors and mechanicals the price for each one goes up exponentially,” said Miguelez. Most companies are only going to invest money in that kind of engineering if they know they’re going to make that money back. “The Defense Department can throw a couple of millions at a computer controlled knee, that’s not a big deal to them, but that’s a big deal to us,” Hoover said.

But even the Defense Department isn’t willing to throw all that much money at developing a female sized prosthetic. Right now, DARPA is developing two prosthetic arms, the DEKA Arm and the Modular Prosthetic Limb. Only the ​DEKA Arm is FDA approved, and is currently being tested by the VA. The Modular Prosthetic Limb, developed by Johns Hopkins, requires more advanced neural interfaces, and is still in the research phase. Both only come in one size.

“We’ve known the one hand size is suboptimal, but the DEKA Arm is a very expensive piece of medical technology that’s proving very difficult to get deployed,” said Brian Schulz, a program manager at the Veterans Health Administration Office of Research and Development. “As much as we would like to have multiple sizes of hands, it’s going to be a lot of work to get the one hand out. It’s unfortunate that it doesn’t fit everyone, but it’s kind of a logistic and manufacturing problem.”

All this said, things have gotten much better for women in the last ten years. Despite all the roadblocks and funding concerns, some companies are starting to create products for women. The College Park heel height foot is a good example. Ossur has been a leader in female sized legs for years now, and some companies are starting to bring women on as consultants to help them better understand women’s needs. Bassett works for Ossur, the company that makes the famous Cheetah blades. Lacey’s organization is a part of Hanger."
bodies  feminism  gender  prosthetics  roseeveleth  2015  nancyhavlik  jenlacey  body 
march 2015 by robertogreco
Group Projects and the Secretary Effect - The Atlantic
"In one study from the late 90s, researchers interviewed students in London about the attitudes of both students and teachers in their classrooms and found that both genders felt girls put more effort into their work. "I think girls spend too long over their handwriting and presentation and things and the boys just scribble it down but have got all the answers right and just sit around mucking around for the second half of the lesson," one student said. A male head teacher at that same school noted the same thing, saying, "If the boys can do the minimum they will, whereas girls will devote much time to writing it up."

Deborah Tannen, a linguist at Georgetown University and the author of You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, has found similar social dynamics between boys and girls. "When girls get together in groups, nobody likes to stand out, girls don’t like the girl who stands out," she said. "Boys in contrast are actually trying to stand out; they’re trying to get center stage to attract attention." She pointed me to another study from the 90s on groups within a science classroom. When there were three girls and one boy, the girls would make the boy the center of attention. If the ratio was flipped—three boys and a girl—the boys would either make fun of, or ignore, their female teammate.

This isn’t necessarily because boys are greedy attention seekers, or because they consciously want to keep women down. Often, Tannen said, it’s because they’re not sure what else to do. In her own class, she recalls a 1985 incident in which she had students work in small groups and then asked one member to come up in front of the class and present their work. Most of the presenters were boys. When she asked the students to reflect on their roles in their groups, Tannen was surprised to hear that in some cases it wasn’t that the boys necessarily wanted to present; rather, nobody else in the group stepped up, and they felt obligated to do so.

Tannen says that this kind of expectation—that women will fill in behind-the-scenes, secretary-like roles while men step into the limelight—is reflected in how women are typically treated later on in their careers. She recalls one evening in the late 80s when a male student continually came into her office asking to borrow things: whiteout, pen, paper, and so on. It eventually became clear that the student assumed Tannen was a secretary, not a professor at Georgetown. Tannen might have otherwise written this off as a one-time fluke, but when she told the story at a conference of college presidents, the women in the room nodded and shared stories of similar experiences.

And women in all sorts of fields are likely to nod at Tannen’s story. Technology is a prime example, an industry in which men continue to dominate and women continue to fight to break in. Sergey Brin and Elon Musk get to be innovative and off the wall, while Marissa Mayer is described in the Wall Street Journal as overly detail-oriented, according to "people who have worked under her."* These people say "she has an obsessive attention to detail, often micromanaging details down to the shade of colors in new product designs," the Journal reported. Women who don’t step back and let their peers take the spotlight are often docked in performance reviews. Men, on the other hand, are typically praised for taking initiative.

These are generalizations. There are girls who can’t keep track of their own shoes, and there are boys with great handwriting. There are girls who readily take on leadership roles in groups and boys who enjoy keeping track of the details. Again, this isn’t to say that secretaries aren’t important; without them most companies would fall apart entirely. And, of course, there’s a lot more keeping women from becoming CEOs than their middle school science projects. But it’s worth thinking about how teachers prime their students to accept certain roles later in life.

Stetson University's Piechrua-Couture says that teachers shouldn’t let kids divide the labor up themselves: "We really encourage you not to just give kids groupings, what you really want to do is give roles in the group and you make sure you rotate those roles." Tannen agrees, citing a study from the early 90s that compared two teachers who differed in their approach. One let the groups proceed as they pleased, while the other defined roles for each student. "The girls did better if it was described, because if the students were left to their own devices the girls would be ignored," she said.

Dale Baker, an education professor at the Arizona State University, wrote in an article for the National Association for Research in Science Teaching that it’s important for teachers to do more than just lump students into groups and let them divide up the labor on their own. "Group dynamics often reinforce stereotypes," she wrote. "Girls are often found in stereotypical roles, such as secretary, and they take a passive rather than active role in hands-on science activities."

In other words, avoiding the Secretary Effect is easy, really. But it first requires realizing that it exists."
education  gender  groupwork  groupprojects  collaboration  girls  boys  teams  2015  roseeveleth  deborahtannen  dalebaker  secretaryeffecy  kathyjopiechura-couture  conversation  creativity  obedience  organzation  howweteach  howwelearn  culture  society  stereotypes 
january 2015 by robertogreco

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