Liberation technology part II

Posted on Friday 24th August, 2012

In his second blog post on 'liberation technology' Phillip Connolly concludes his thoughts on how innovation can be led by disabled people in order to achieve equality. 

Of course keyboards present problems but the keyboard itself is set to disappear.  Voice recognition systems such as Apple's Siri or Samsung's Galaxy3 111 app for mobile phones allows people to speak to their computer or mobile and have it converted to text so that the user can send emails or text messages or obtain a spoken answer.  The future is oriented towards hands free technology and it will not all be about the screen but sound too. 

This in itself prompts the question - how can we predict future technology and know whether it will be of value to blind and partially sighted people.  Technology is traversing a path that John Robb helpfully describes using an engineering template as STEMI - Space (less volume), Time (faster), Energy (more energy efficient), Mass (less waste) and Information (higher efficiency and less management overhead).  None of these characteristics inherently present a barrier to people with sight problems.  However digital exclusion is very real therefore it is necessary to interact with designers to ensure accessibility at the outset.  Could blind and partially sighted people offer themselves as members of user or testing groups and could course awarding bodies stipulate assessment for understanding of accessibility in software design courses?

Liberation technology has to be not just accessible but affordable too.  Here, too, trends in innovation are significantly reducing manufacturing costs.  At one time the cost of making something for a small market such as visually impaired population was prohibitive but now 3D printers can be programmed to print out an object without having to set up a whole new production line or commission the object to be made by hand.  As Kevin Carsen describes in his "Home Brew" Technology manifesto even the cost of setting up factories is now a fraction of what it once was.  This raises the possibility once more of local production for local need.  The Reprap 3D printer is one such commercially available printer and can print out even transparent objects such as a pair of glasses. 

3D Printer
The internet is increasingly being used to source crowds.  Crowds: for finding shared interests so people can begin the search for love.  Crowds: for consumers wishing to exercise the collective strength of a group's purchasing power.  Crowds: for activists working to organise protests like the Arab spring.  In the near future disabled people will also come to experience the liberating power of crowds.  It is a key task of the Disability Resilience Network. 

The bigger problem may be the speed of technological change.  The Intel co-founder Gordon E Moore coined Moore's law as far back as 1965 to describe a doubling of the capabilities of digital electronic devices every two years.  He predicted that the trend would continue for ten years whereas it has continued ever since but is now thought to be slowing slightly to a doubling every three years.  Nonetheless at this rate what we will all need to reboot most will be our personalities. 

Rebooting our personalities will be the ultimate form of liberation.  It will call for a relearning of our previous storylines so that we can ourselves become liberated.  It isn't simply the inventors of assistive technology that are set to liberate lives.  The people who help us to do reboot our personalities in readiness to capitalise on it are the real liberators.  New thinking such as Byron Katie's "The Work" or Al Siebert's "Resiliency Advantage" will be vital to doing this.  Reggae star Bob Marley sang "You've got to fulfil the book." Of course Bob Marley wasn't talking about "Facebook" but If you are a "Facebook" user it shouldn't seem like a radical idea for a community to write a book.  Disabled people need their own book to identify and name the transformative thinking in their lives so that in turn they make use and even influence the force that is liberation technology. 

The Disability Resilience Network (see New Beacon, January 2012) has drawn in people keen to harness liberation technology to support people's ability to find adjustments or coping strategies in response to shocks in the external environment.  There already exists an invisible revolution of people labouring even in their own kitchens to invent that technology.  It is likely that first amongst the products that the Network will pioneer will be new peer to peer support networks and a self-help manual to make that revolution visible. 

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