«A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Text & Technology in the College of ...»
DECONSTRUCTING DISABILITY, ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY:
SECONDARY ORALITY, THE PATH TO UNIVERSAL ACCESS
TARA PRAKASH TRIPATHI
MPhil, Jawaharlal Nehru University, 2004
A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements
for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Text & Technology
in the College of Arts & Humanities
University of Central Florida Orlando, Florida Spring Term Major Professor: Anthony Grajeda © 2012 Tara Prakash Tripathi ii
ABSTRACTWhen Thomas Edison applied for a patent for his phonograph, he listed the talking books for the blind as one of the benefits of his invention. Edison was correct in his claim about talking books or audio books. Audio books have immensely helped the blind to achieve their academic and professional goals. Blind and visually impaired people have also been using audio books for pleasure reading. But several studies have demonstrated the benefits of audio books for people who are not defined as disabled. Many nondisabled people listen to audio books and take advantage of speech based technology, such as text-to-speech programs, in their daily activities.
Speech-based technology, however, has remained on the margins of the academic environments, where hegemony of the sense of vision is palpable. Dominance of the sense of sight can be seen in school curricula, class rooms, libraries, academic conferences, books and journals, and virtually everywhere else. This dissertation analyzes the reason behind such an apathy towards technology based on speech.
Jacques Derrida’s concept of ‘metaphysics of presence’ helps us understand the arbitrary privileging of one side of a binary at the expense of the other side. I demonstrate in this dissertation that both, the ‘disabled’ and technology used by them, are on the less privileged side of the binary formation they are part of. I use Derrida’s method of ‘deconstruction’ to deconstruct the binaries of ‘assistive’ and ‘main stream technology’ on one hand, and that of the ‘disabled’ and ‘nondisabled’ on the other.
Donna Haraway and Katherine Hayles present an alternative reading of body to conceive of a post-gendered posthuman identity, I borrow from their work on cyborgism and
tested example of an identity without body and a space without disability.
The opposition between mainstream and speech-based assistive technology can be deconstructed with the example of what Walter Ong calls ‘secondary orality.’ Both disabled and non-disabled use the speech-based technology in their daily activities. Sighted people are increasingly listening to audio books and podcasts. Secondary Orality is also manifest on their GPS devices. Thus, Secondary Orality is a common element in assistive and mainstream technologies, hitherto segregated by designers. The way Derrida uses the concept of ‘incest’ to deconstruct binary opposition between Nature and Culture, I employ ‘secondary orality’ as a deconstructing tool in the context of mainstream and assistive technology.
Mainstream electronic devices, smart phones, mp3 players, computers, for instance, can now be controlled with speech and they also can read the screen aloud. With Siri assistant, the new application on iPhone that allows the device to be controlled with speech, we seem to be very close to “the age of talking computers” that William Crossman foretells. As a result of such a progress in speech technology, I argue, we don’t need the concept of speech based assistive technology any more.
This dissertation went through many ups and downs. Some of them did not have anything directly to do with the dissertation or its author. The cynicism prevalent in the political and academic environment may make one ponder many times about the fecundity or futility of any meaningful academic endeavor. Yet, if my dissertation has been a journey through a desert, I enjoyed a lot. I enjoyed all the oases I came across. The mirages on the way were tempting, but not enough to dissuade me from the correct path I took and stuck to all through this academic journey.
For a successful completion of this journey, I would like to give credit to Dr. Anthony Grajeda. He took out time from a very busy semester to read my dissertation and offered valuable suggestions to improve on my work. His course pertaining to visual technology offered me valuable insights in to the topics I cover in this work. In addition to his intellectual support, his moral support was also required, and he offered it to me in abundance during some tough times. I want to sincerely thank him for helping me accomplish what seemed impossible just a few months back.
I would also like to express my gratitude to Dr. James Campbell and Dr. Barry Mauer, they contributed significantly to my theoretical understanding of various issues pertaining to this study. The courses they offered helped me write and organize this dissertation. Their comments on my academic work throughout this doctoral program prepared me for this final product.
Dr. David Metcalf helped me understand the role of ubiquitous devices in education. It was thanks to him that I started viewing iPhone with a positive perspective. I must also thank him for taking out time for the defense of this dissertation on such a short notice.
admission in charge before joining the program. She not only encouraged me to join the programs, she lent her kind ears whenever I wanted her attention, especially during difficult times.
There are many others whom I should be grateful to. I am thankful to all those whom I could not mention here and who helped me complete this work. I will, however, mention my wife Shabori Sen and my dear friend Mary Tripp. Mary, by showing interest in my research and asking me about it, helped me organize and articulate my ideas clearly. She not only offered me rides when I needed them, she made them pleasant as well.
Shabori was critical on the technical side of this dissertation. She devoted her valuable time in reading, revising and formatting my work. Her presence ensured that when I worked on this dissertation, the ideas came to me but the kids did not. As always, I am grateful to her.
CHAPTER ONE. INTRODUCTION
Background and Rationale
Statement of Purpose
Scope and Limitations
Chapter 2: Deconstructing Disability: Discourse on People without Reality to People without Corpo-Reality
Chapter 3: Disabling Barriers, Inaccessibility of Electronic Spaces: The Role of Assistive Technology
Chapter 4: Orality and Universal Access
CHAPTER TWO. DECONSTRUCTING DISABILITY: DISCOURSE ON PEOPLEWITHOUT REALITY TO PEOPLE WITHOUT CORPO-REALITY
Foucault, on Formation of ‘Abnormal’ Subjects and Construction of a ‘Disabled’ Body....... 37 Lennard J. Davis
Metaphysics of Normalcy
Cyborg Theory: Theorizing a Post-Disabled World
CHAPTER THREE. DECONSTRUCTING SPEECH-BASED ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY:
PRINT-DISABLED AND EMBODIMENT OF BOOKS IN TO ALTERNATIVE BODIES.... 76Disembodiment of Sound and Disembodiment of Book
Print-Disabled, the Unintended Beneficiaries of a “Late-Modern” Device
From Orality to Literacy: Books for the Blind, Early Ventures
From Literacy to Secondary Orality: Talking Books
Problematizing Assistive Technology
Kindle, a Twist to Kindled Hopes
Universal Design: From Principles to Problems
viii CHAPTER FOUR. SECONDARY ORALITY: THE PATH TO UNIVERSAL ACCESS...... 116 The Age of Secondary Orality
Why Study Orality?
The End of the Gutenberg Era?
Secondary Orality and Talking Books
Problem with Audio Books Stated by Birkerts
Hypertext and Secondary Orality
The Talking Hypertext
Universal Access to Ubiquitous Technologies
Digitally Accessible Information System
This dissertation sets out to deconstruct the concept of speech-based technology as assistive technology specifically designed for the visually challenged or print disabled people.
Assistive technology, also known as AT, as defined by Kevin Crow, is a collective name for software or devices “designed especially for people with disabilities with the aim of providing such people means to function normally in the world.” Assistive technology has, as Marcia Scherer explains in her Living in the State of Stuck: How Assistive Technology Impacts the Lives of People with Disabilities, “contributed significantly in the attempts of leveling the social, academic and professional fields for the blind and visually challenged individuals” (23).
As I demonstrate in this dissertation, due to significant changes in society and with evolution of technology, the terms ‘Disability’ and ‘Disabled’ have undergone a theoretical displacement. Consequently, I argue, the concept of an exclusive technology for disabled people needs to be reexamined as well. As I enunciate later in this dissertation, speech--based AT has many enabling aspects vis-a-vis the print disabled individuals, yet, as this dissertation attempts to establish, assistive technology based on speech has served its exclusive purpose towards the print disabled individuals, and now this technology need not be preceded by the qualifier ‘assistive.’ Technology, in my view, is by definition assistive. The qualifier ‘assistive’ in ‘assistive technology’ is, therefore, redundant, and serves the only purpose of keeping the disabled in a segregated technology zone.
When Thomas Edison applied for a patent for his phonograph, he listed audio books for the blind as one of the benefits of the device (Markovic). Ever since Edison’s prediction, speech technology was relegated to the marginalized territory of AT. There is no denying that Talking books or audio books have indeed immensely helped the blind to reach their academic goals.
They have also been used by the blind for pleasure reading. But several studies have demonstrated the benefits of audio books for people who are not defined as disabled.
The qualifier ‘assistive’ implies that the technology is specially designed for disabled individuals. The fact that many non-disabled frequently use speech technology in their diurnal activities provides ample reason for us to reexamine and deconstruct the concept of the speech based AT. When a speech based device is categorized as AT, it becomes limited in scope. It is targeted to very few individuals— those with ‘special needs,’ those with ‘disabilities.’ The label of assistive technology also ensures a higher price tag, the justification being that it is a specialized product. Thus, however benevolent, the concept of Assistive Technology perpetuates the segregation between the visually challenged and sighted populations around the world. The segregation is apparent in the fact that those who cannot read print on their own are made to pay significantly more to be able to use the same device as their sighted counterparts. For example, sighted people can reasonably satisfy their computer-related needs with a $400 computer. A blind individual, on the other hand, has to buy a screen reading software that costs about $1000, to be able to use that $400 computer. That blind individuals have to buy expensive software to be able to use their computer is not in the spirit of the ideals of equal access to technology and learning environments championed by the proponents of Universal Design (UD). The concept of UD argues for “providing a framework for considering how products and environments can be designed to accommodate the broadest range of users” (Bowe 13). The history of UD will show
that the proponents of UD first campaigned against barriers in the built environment: