Reimagining the Good Life With Disability: Communication, New Technology, and Humane Connections

Today, I’ll have the pleasure of chairing and participating in a panel at the Annual Conference of the International Communication Association with Gerard Goggin (University of Sydney), Elizabeth Ellcessor (Indiana University), and Katie Ellis (Curtin University) on the topic of “Reimagining the Good Life With Disability: Communication, New Technology, and Humane Connections.”

Goggin is speaking on “‘Oh Brave New World’: Disability, Media Justice, and the Question of Technology,” Ellcessor on “Hidden From View: Closed Captioning, Digital Labor, and Ideologies of Ability,” Ellis on “Power Games: Disability and Digital Television,” and myself on “Reconsidering Theories of ICT Adoption: The Case of Tablet-Based Augmentative and Alternative Communication Devices”

Below is the abstract of our panel:

Many deeply cherished notions of the “good life” are based on limiting notions of humans, things, and their environment. In particular, the good life is often imagined as a realm beyond illness, impairment, and especially, disability. With contemporary communication and new media, disability is even more seen as an impediment, barrier, or tragedy, to be overcome with digital technology. Regrettably, the very widely shared experience of disability, and its complex relationships with communications, is only rarely seen as a resource for how we achieve the good life, in our own lives and societies, now and in the future.

Indeed while various divisions within ICA increasingly engage with questions concerning marginalized populations—including issues of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and diasporic populations—the study of disability and its relationship with social, cultural, and political life is stagnant. New media are often hailed as a great “equalizer” for people with disabilities. Such arguments though tend to obscure the complex ways in which disability and technology intersect for better and for worse in the lives of people with various disabilities from diverse backgrounds. However, with the rise of new social movements, disciplinary formations, and theories—such as critical disability studies—communication studies is slowly engaging with the challenges and new conceptual possibilities disability offers.

Accordingly in this theme panel, we take up pressing yet sorely neglected questions of disability and communication—in order to illuminate how we might see the good life in much more enabling, humane, and democratic ways. To do so, firstly, the panel discusses the state of the art of communications and disability research and theory. Secondly, the panel focuses on the ways in which contemporary information and communication technology shapes and is shaped by notions of disability and ability. Thirdly, the panel will identify and debate the lessons from disability and communication studies that help us to rethink the good life, especially in the new media environment.

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