I am Meryl Alper, a Ph.D. Candidate in Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. I research and write about families’ evolving relationships with technology from a historical and sociological perspective, with a particular focus on mobile communication use among families of youth with disabilities and young children.
My scholarship is located at the intersection of media and communication studies, science and technology studies, and disability studies. I also draw on my professional experience in educational children’s media as a researcher and strategist with Sesame Workshop, Nickelodeon, and Disney.
For my dissertation, I am studying how parents of children with communication impairments manage their children’s communication technology use, and what this says about families’ connections and disconnections in the digital age.
Specifically, I have been conducting qualitative research with parents of children ages 3-13 with developmental disabilities (e.g. autism, cerebral palsy) who have difficulty producing embodied oral speech and use iPads as augmentative and alternative communication devices in order to “talk.” My interest is in how these technologies do and do not figure into families’ lives, the functions they serve as mobile communication devices, and how caregivers navigate complex and interconnected technical, sociocultural, and institutional systems. I am complementing this fieldwork with historical research on children’s use of speech generating software and devices, ranging from the early 1980s (see imagery below) to the present.