Interdependence as a Lens for Assistive Technology Design and Research
Independence is a very important word for people with disabilities. The Disability Rights Movement in the United States premised on people with disabilities asserting their equal rights and taking charge of defining and securing their own accommodations. As such, assistive technology design and research has adopted this important goal, leveraging computing power to enable people with disabilities to live more independently. During this collaboration, colleagues Stacy Branham, Erin Brady, and I responded to a somewhat different trend we were noticing in our research with people with disabilities. We were intrigued how often our participants worked together to make objects, spaces, and experiences more accessible for and with others with disabilities. Drawing on Disability Studies scholarship and Disability Justice activism, we decided to call this phenomena interdependence to honor and build upon the important disabled people who have written about the term outside the assistive technology field. We then came up with four tenets that outline what interdependence can offer if taken up as a frame for assistive technology, and we hope any, design and research.
First, interdependence focuses on relationships as a foundation where access is built or not built and assumes all parties in an interaction are contributing to and shaped by that interaction in some way. Second, interdependence makes available the possibility that multiple humans, objects, and environments can come together simultaneously toward these ends. Third, since interdependence assumes all parties interacting are contributing, it makes more visible the often underrecognized work done by people with disabilities. Finally, in recognizing this important work, interdependence challenges predominant hierarchies that prefer ability. Read our ASSETS 2018 paper for examples from all of our research that contextualize these tenets. Finally, we present interdependence to complement, not replace, independence as we recognize many people with disabilities are still fighting for basic rights to make choices about their own lives.