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Making Connections: Disabilities, Technologies and Affordances

Yvonne Latham, Lancaster University


This is a paper about disabled bodies, technologies and their connections. It demonstrates how these connections emerge as situated and indeed ongoing collective accomplishments.

This paper draws on material collected from ongoing (2005 - 2008) participant observation study of a scheme initiated and funded by a UK Non-Governmental Organisation (here pseudonymously called 'Opportunity'). The aim of the scheme - which has come to be known among organisational actors as the "Sociability Project" - is to use IT in order to address social isolation and disadvantage among housebound disabled individuals in the North West Region of England. More specifically, the main objectives of this scheme are as follows:

  1. To facilitate social inclusion through the provision of information technology equipment (reconditioned computer) and IT support, within the homes of adults who are socially isolated as a result of their disability.
  2. By providing access to equipment and individualised programmes of IT learning and support through volunteers, the scheme aims to enhance the level of social support offered to disabled people in the North West Region.
  3. Over two years the scheme aims to enable twenty five disabled individuals to access a range of on-line services that would otherwise be unavailable to them and to maximise their involvement in social, recreational, leisure and educational activities.

The material collected is used in order to explore the strengths and limitations of the concept of affordances (Gibson, 1977) as has been debated in this and other fora (eg Costall, 1997; Hutchby, 2001; 2003; Rappert, 2003; Woolgar, 2002; Bonderup Dohn, 2006). The paper proposes that the subject matter of such debates is, in settings such as the above, encountered by local actors not as a set of arcane philosophical issues but as pressing practical problems. Practical problems, the highlighting of which, will inevitably bring to the fore and force us to (re)examine a whole range of taken for granted assumptions and social arrangements that normally remain hidden and unexamined.

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