Disability and Technology

My research on disability and technology started at a college in Tokyo. I needed to find my way around campus, but the resources available for students with disabilities were quite limited. After experiencing similar issues at the University of Pennsylvania, I decided to set up a mobile platform for crowdsourcing information about accessibility, which eventually became the basis for my “Accessibility Mapping Project” (AMP). The first step of building the AMP was to recruit partners from across the university: students, faculty, staff, and other members of the campus community interested in design and social justice. Using my position as Chair of Equity and Access for the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly (GAPSA), I brought together more than one hundred collaborators from the Greater Philadelphia Area to develop software and promotional materials for the AMP. Before long, local and national media like The Philadelphia Inquirer and CNET began to take interest in the project, boosting awareness, technical and financial support. I produced a prototype of the AMP, which I carried back with me to Japan and shared with the public via a TEDx talk: “Paralymics as Possibility: The Past, Present, and Future of Accessibility.”

With the AMP, I had found a partial solution to the problem of campus accessibility in both Japan and the United States, but that didn’t mean that I was able to use all spaces in my wheelchair. Indeed, public awareness of disability remained an issue in both countries despite my best efforts. I was faced with another series of questions: (1) What barriers does technology create for persons with disabilities? (2) How does disability inform the production of new technologies? and (3) Can technologies truly resolve issues of representation and communication for persons with disabilities? I have taken up these questions in my doctoral dissertation by tracing how the development and implementation of different kinds of technologies did not always improve (and often impeded) accessibility for persons with disabilities living in Japan over the last one hundred and fifty years.