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Disability and Smart Cities


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Disability and Smart Cities:
On Communication Policy, Technology, and Justice in Future Societies

by Gerard Goggin (University of Sydney)

paper presented at Communication Policy and Technology section of 'Memory, Commemoration and Communication: Looking Back, Looking Forward', International Association of Media Communication Research (IAMCR) conference
27-31 July, 2016, University of Leicester

Published in: Technology
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Disability and Smart Cities

  1. 1. Memory, Commemoration and Communication: Looking Back, Looking Forward IAMCR 2016 Conference, 26-27 July 2016 Communication Policy & Technology section Gerard Goggin/@ggoggin University of Sydney Disability and Smart Cities: Communication Policy, Technology, and Justice in Future Societies
  2. 2. argument of paper • informed by critical disability studies, science and technology studies, media studies, & mobilities research alike, the paper explores the issues and opportunities for policy and technology presented by disability and smart cities. • As a form of “future thinking” or “social imaginary,” disability and smart cities offers insights into: histories of media technology; politics of technology in the present; and shaping of future societies
  3. 3. Disability is often invoked in discourses of smart cities; & a key element of social imaginaries of urban & media technology
  4. 4. Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Microsoft’s Chief Accessibility Officer, announced the company’s support and sponsorship of the initiative stating, “Technology empowers persons with disabilities to achieve more in the places where they live and work. As cities evolve and integrate new technologies, we can help them define what it means to be smart – and accessible – to make sure no one is left behind.” Source:
  5. 5. The Smart Cities & Digital Inclusion June 2016 initiative is a significant intervention; however, there, as yet, has been little research or critique of disability and smart cities; Whereas, there are important critiques & research on smart cities, from a range of standpoints – disability media research can build on, enrich & complicate this work
  6. 6. ‘ … self-congratulatory nature of the smart city … what do we actually mean by the term, and precisely what elements go into making up a smart city? What underlying ideological assumptions are made by invoking the concept, and what are its central social contradictions and problems?’ Robert G. Hollands, ‘Critical Interventions in the Smart City’, Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society (2014)
  7. 7. ‘Large scale visions of the smart city that are presented in many academic research papers and corporate marketing materials seem in direct contrast to the ways in which citizens envision it. The citizen’s vision and sense of scale is a perspective that is largely absent from [this] literature … our paper seeks to introduce the concept of smaller, more tangible interventions in the city that have the potential to be more meaningful for citizens’ Vanessa Thomas et al., ‘Where’s Wally? In Search of Citizen Perspectives on the Smart City’, Sustainability 2016
  8. 8. disability helps us reimagine cities & media
  9. 9. outline 1. genealogy of disability, cities, & media 2. Disability, mobilities & smart cities 3. state-of-play of “becoming” of smart cities globally now. What is the state of play of disability and accessibility in actual cities now?
  10. 10. 1 genealogy of disability, cities, & media
  11. 11. majority of world’s population lives in cities great opportunities, terrible inequalities majority of people with disabilities in world live in ‘global south’ (majority world) - how many in cities? ‘cities are terrains of struggle’ (Mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa, Tshwane, South Africa)- ‘our cities are profoundly unequal places’ (Steven Friedman) disability increasingly important urban struggle, esp. in ‘service’ & ‘being part of city’
  12. 12. Source: Violeta Blue Ayalay Facebook post
  13. 13. Are our cities ‘enabling’ rather than ‘disabling’? What about: transport? housing? Work? Welfare? health? Education? - for people with disabilities living in cities? Social, cultural & political participation in the new spaces & polities of cities? What is role of urban communication & media digital media, interacting with these dynamics? Where do mobiles, Internet, digital technologies fit into the lives of urban dwellers with disabilities? Where does disability fit into smart cities? How does disability help us reframe cities, media technology & policy?
  14. 14. disability + mobile tech in everyday life disability is now recognized as a significant part of social life & life course digital technology – esp. computers, the Internet, mobile media, social media, apps, geolocation technologies, and now, ‘smart’ homes, wearable computers, mobilities technologies including driverless cars - have emerged & are being ‘imagined’ as a significant part of the mediascape, cultural infrastructure, social support system, and personal identity and repertoire of many people with disabilities mobile & mobilities are central to disability & participation, esp. in cities
  15. 15. ‘A significant and persistent characteristic of society is disabling spaces that are rarely sensitised to the needs of disabled people … More often than not, designed environments revolve around a spatial logic that separates people by virtue of their bodily differences and variations in cognitive and physiological capabilities. Such separations are tantamount to an infringement of disabled people’s liberties, and curtail, potentially, their rights to occupy, and to inhabit and be present in everyday places, the use of which is intrinsic to a person’s realisation of their well-being.’ Rob Imrie, ‘Space, Place, and Policy Regimes: The Changing Contours of Disability and Citizenship’ (2014)
  16. 16. ‘Crippling the Landscape 1 : Québec City is a thirteen minute video that chronicles a five kilometer journey from Laval University to the Ste- Foy train station. Join filmmaker and disability activist Laurence Parent as she takes you on the trip of a lifetime! Feel the experience of the road from the point of view of her wheelchair!’ – see 53 s mark onwards
  17. 17. Will Hawkesworth critiquing the GreyFriars Hotel, Colchester, entrance foyer redesign project Source: Rob Imrie’s Universalising Design blog
  18. 18. The idealised format of modern living and design requires space, light and a lack of clutter in design and spatial planning … As a result, the entrance foyer is an open and airy design, where the emphasis on a lack of “clutter” has extended to the use of an invisible lift to allow access from the entrance foyer to the reception desk area; the protective barriers being invisible by sinking into the floor … Yet there is no signage as to how to use the lift, and wheelchair visitors need to shout up to the reception desk (or get their friend to ask/press a button externally) to gain help as the operating system is also hidden. Source: Will Hawkesworth critique of GreyFriars Hotel, Colchester, entrance foyer redesign project Source: Rob Imrie’s Universalising Design blog ‘A day in the life of accessible design: the case of the invisible lift’
  19. 19. ‘the need to re-(politicise) the body as part of the development of what citizenship is or ought to be, in ways whereby impairment becomes regarded as the normalcy of everyday life’ Rob Imrie, ‘Space, Place, and Policy Regimes: The Changing Contours of Disability and Citizenship’ (2014)
  20. 20. So: what would a re- politicising of bodies & citizens & media technology in ‘smart’ polis look like?
  21. 21. Repoliticising bodies & media tech, step 1: writing the disability media histories of the city
  22. 22. Author: ‘Tape Aids for the Blind’, Sign on Main Street, Cape Town, August 2015
  23. 23. Blind people have long histories of using media – sound/audio such as clicks; guide dogs; GPS; mobile phones – for navigation, wayfinding, and mapping cities
  24. 24. sonic pathfinder (Tony Heyes, Melbourne-based)
  25. 25. 2 Disability, mobilities & smart cities
  26. 26. 7 July, 2014, ‘ReWalk’ website, reproduced from Boston Globe
  27. 27. Exchange Telstra blog, 1 May 2014
  28. 28. Molly Watt - Living with Usher’s Sydrome Blog, 29 April 2015
  29. 29. Stacey Zoern’s Kenguru, from Paul Richoux, ‘Kenguru: the perfrect car for wheelchair users?’, ‘Wheelchairs and Mobility’, 24 September, 2014
  30. 30. 3 smart cities globally now: state of play of disability, exclusion & accessibility
  31. 31. The right to the city for people with disabilities? right to political and public participation is a key article (29) in UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD) right to political and public participation interacts with article 21 on freedom of expression and opinion, and access to information (new right to communicate) & article 30 - Participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport
  32. 32. Megafone, MONTRÉAL*in/accessible,2012-2014*Arseli
  33. 33. ‘driven by the disability rights movement and fuelled by an understanding of social structures rather than the individual as the point where disability has been activated, there have been attempts to hack cities and streets to retrospective provide access for people with disabilities’ Cake, D & Kent, M 2014, ‘Hacking the City: Disability and Access in Cities Made of Software’ in T. Brabazon (ed.)City Imaging: Regeneration, Renewal, Decay. Springer, Berlin.
  34. 34. How smart cities & associated digital technologies (e.g. mobiles) are ‘imagined’, design, made & sold - & configured in policy - do not capture the realities, desires, uses of people across the world, especially the emerging mobile internet in urban Africa, Latin America & parts of Asia Case in point: Facebook’s - access to selected websites/services with no data charges Case in point: public free WiFi is now coming on agenda (e.g. various cities), b/c it responds to realities of people’s mobile use Mobile imaginaries are very narrow when it comes to disability; let alone urban lives of people with disabilities, negotiating city systems, participating in city politics, wishing to thrive, survive & enjoy their cities Little media coverage of disability issues in cities - - major issues in journalism & media in coverage & representation of disability
  35. 35. The experience of mobile communications of the majority of participants was limited to making calls, receiving calls, sending or receiving SMSs and instant messages. Few participants living in low and very low-income households experience the wide array of communications services and mobile Internet communications that are on offer … largely because price levels are out of alignment with household income levels. -- Luci Abrahams and Kiru Pillay,The Lived Costs of Communications: Experiencing the lived cost of mobile communications in low and very low income households in urban South Africa 2014 R2K/Wits (2015)
  36. 36. Roads & highways & transportation is often very difficult for people with disabilities to use & access how do people with disabilities in South Africa - especially in suburban, townships, ‘peri-urban’ & rural areas - afford, access & use local buses? Is there accessible design? ‘overwhelming majority of South African households do not have regular access to any form of motorised transport and that this seriously undermines their ability to participate in key economic and social activities’ (2007/2008 RSA Dept of Transport survey, cited in Karen Lucas, ‘Making the connections between transport disadvantage and the social exclusion of low income populations in the Tshwane Region of South Africa’, Journal of Transport Geography, 2011)
  37. 37. ‘Mobility may be considered a universal human right, yet in practice it exists in relation to class, racial, gender, and disabling exclusions from public space, from national citizenship, and from the means of mobility at all scales’ Mimi Sheller, “Uneven Mobility Futures”, Mobilities, 2015
  38. 38. conclusion Critical analysis of disability & world cities offers us new perspectives on fundamental questions of communication policy, technology, and justice, in the imagining and making of future societies
  39. 39. ‘why would the future utopia of mobilities and social justice and people with disabilities not start here and now, not just in our cities, with their growing hybrid mix of virtual and built environments, but also in areas outside the metropoles where infrastructures and resources to support differential mobilities are typically constrained?’ Gerard Goggin, ‘Disability and Mobilities: Evening Up Social Futures’
  40. 40. ‘After all, if we do not comprehend the “becoming” of disability and mobilities in situ now, and the embodied sensory, social, cultural, collective, and personal practices in place and space presently — how can we imagine, design, and enact expansive, enabling, and just societies in the near or far future?’ Gerard Goggin, ‘Disability and Mobilities: Evening Up Social Futures’
  41. 41. Further reading Gerard Goggin, ‘Disability and Mobilities; Evening Up Social Futures.’ Mobilities 11 (2016) Laurence Parent, Parent, L. 2015. “Wheeling NY City. Who Does Winter Belong To?”, M.I.A. Collective Blog, Rob Imrie, ‘Space, place and policy regimes: the changing contours of disability and citizenship’, in Soldatic, K., Roulstone, A., and Morgan, H., (eds.), Disability – Spaces and Places of Exclusion, Routledge, London, 2014, 13-30. Charlotte Bates, Rob Imrie and Kim Kullman (eds), Care and Design: Bodies, Building, Cities, 2017 Kim Sawchuk, K. (2014) ‘Impaired’, in Adey, P., Bissell, D., Hanman, K., Merriman, P. and Sheller, M. (eds.) The Routledge Handbook of Mobilitie (London: Routledge, 570- 584) Katie Ellis and Gerard Goggin. ‘Disability, Locative Media, and Complex Ubiquity.’ In Ubiquitous Computing, Complexity, and Culture, edited by Ulrik Ekman, Jay David Bolter, Lily Díaz, Morten Søndergaard, and Maria Engberg, 270-285. New York: Routledge, 2016.