I had the pleasure of visiting UC Irvine’s Department of Informatics on October 24, 2014 and delivering their weekly Friday Informatics Seminar. The title of my talk was, “Augmenting Communication for Non-Speaking Youth with New Media and Popular Culture.” Thanks to Gillian Hayes for being a wonderful host, and to the faculty, students, and guests for being a receptive and engaged audience.
The language of “deficit” dominates popular conceptions of disability, as well as discussions of children’s recreational media use. The deficit model of disability emphasizes what people with disabilities are thought to lack, and this absence becomes their defining trait. In the deficit model of children’s recreational media use, popular culture is defined by its lack of value for children. In this talk, I discuss the limitations of both of these models, based on my fieldwork with parents of children with significant communication impairments and developmental disabilities (most of whom are on the autism spectrum). Parents spoke at length about how recreational media and technology use helped their non-speaking children reveal a side of themselves that the scientific, medical, and educational communities did not acknowledge. I propose an asset model of non-speaking children’s engagement with media, and discuss broader implications for understanding the role of communication technologies in the lives of historically marginalized youth.