Reflections for the Open Pedagogy Event on Access Beyond the ADA, Thursday, 9/19/19

Jason Ellis' Boy Scouts Merit Badge sash with 40 badges, including Handicap Awareness.
Jason Ellis’ Boy Scouts Merit Badge sash with 40 badges, including Handicap Awareness.

On Thursday, 9/19/19, the OpenLab, which I joined as a Co-Director this academic year, is hosting an Open Pedagogy event on “Beyond the ADA” at City Tech in the Faculty Commons at 4:30pm. We will lead a discussion about issues of access, including those related to disabilities, while looking beyond compliance to dynamic, inclusive, and supportive pedagogies that enrich learning for all students. OpenLab’s theme for this academic year is “Access.”

While reading through the suggested texts informing the background of our discussion, I reflected on my personal, workplace, and classroom experiences relating to access.

My first memory of disabilities relates to my Uncle Pat. After returning from Vietnam, he started a family in Walnut Grove, Alabama and worked for the railroad. While at work cutting an in-service rail, another truck accidentally bumped his truck, which ran over him and left him a quadriplegic. On visits, I saw first hand how he overcame him disability through mobility with a puffer-controlled electric wheelchair, but the constraints of 24-hour nursing care and accessible buildings were also obviously apparent. Nevertheless, he always trounced me at chess–I just had to setup the board and move the pieces.

In my hometown, Emory Dawson was another quadriplegic that I knew through Boy Scouts. His injury originated from the Vietnam War and he had some shoulder mobility, which enabled him to drive his own van with the aid of a suicide knob and special controls for brake, throttle, and shifting. In addition to Scouts, Mr. Dawson was involved in many social groups and charities, and he led an active life to support them. I don’t know if it was *the* factor in its construction, but a fellow Scout took on the building of a concrete wheel chair ramp for a rank-level project at Troop 224’s hut in the back of Lakeside United Methodist Church on 341 Highway and Mr. Dawson visited our meetings on occasion.

It was during that time that I earned my Handicap Awareness merit badge on Feb. 5, 1990, which you can see on the seventh row of the image above of my Boy Scout merit badge sash with the International Symbol of Access surrounded by a green circle. The requirements of the merit badge focused on learning about disabilities and gaining an empathetic awareness of disabilities through simulated impairments of hearing, sight, manual, and mobility. Less visible disabilities were outside the scope of that component of the merit badge’s requirements, but they could be reintroduced through the learning and outreach components (but this was not, as I remember, something that I was cognizant of at that time).

I wondered how the merit badge might have changed since I earned it, and I’m glad to report that it had changed for the better, I think. In 1993, the merit badge was renamed as Disabilities Awareness, and its requirements shifted from personal simulation of physical impairments to learning first hand from others’ lived experience, identifying accessibility issues in the community, and performing advocacy for better accessibility. There was an advocacy element to Handicap Awareness (publicly sharing what you’ve learned with others), but Disabilities Awareness foregrounds this in a more integrated fashion. It would be interesting to read the merit badge series handbooks for the former and latter versions of this merit badge, but I only have access to the requirements while writing this blog post.

When I worked in Technical Support at Mindspring Internet in Atlanta, Georgia, I was tasked with working with the Deaf and Hard of Hearing via a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD). With a single line of LCD text and a running paper tape, I communicated with deaf customers to solve their technical support issues. Unfortunately, many customers had their TDD in a different room, different floor, different part of the house, than their computer. This introduced a tremendous lag between what I wrote questioning or instructing and their response following a result. Also, I was given this extra task to supplement my lower-than-expected phone support numbers (It’s my understanding that Mike McQuary pushed raw number of support calls over the quality of calls and successful resolution of customer issues–valuing quantitative measures over the qualitative effects of those measures on customers and employees). So, I was on the phone with one customer and on the TDD with another customer. Over time, I got better at switching my attention between customers, but more often than not, the customers on the TDD got the short end of the stick as my phone call numbers were given priority by management (QA Brian: “You’ve got to take more calls or you’ll get fired.”). It was an unfair situation for the deaf and hard of hearing customers.

When I began teaching, I worked with a student on the autistic spectrum. This was a challenging situation for the student as the reported accommodations couldn’t support their success in the classroom, and I took it on myself to provide additional support to help the student progress in the course. I was advised that there was only so much that I could do to support the student, and I should have, in retrospect, dialed back my professional involvement. Nevertheless, this student did help me recognize another side of student needs and the impediments to access that students on the spectrum encounter. I have adjusted my syllabi to be more accommodating to students–self-reporting or not–through multiple activities and assignment adjustments on a one-by-one basis (as long as course learning outcomes are always met).

Another student had a severe vision impairment and had reported accommodations, including a phone with magnifying app for reading text and a student volunteer note-taker. While the classroom and supporting material could be adjusted to support the student when present, outside life prevented the student from attending some classes. This led to testy encounters between myself and the note taker, who felt their time being wasted, and follow-up conversations between myself and the student to facilitate peace between the student and note taker so that support would be maintained. Of course, life outside of school was creating a different kind of access problem for this student–getting to campus was a hurdle in part due to the student’s vision problem and the issues that can come up in one’s personal life that lead to problems, such as not having someone to help you navigate from home to campus.

I’ve come to realize that there are things that I can do to help as an instructor–those things that I have control over, such as pedagogy, syllabi, assignments, activities, and one-on-one support, and there are many other things outside the classroom that I don’t have control over. Also, the Open Pedagogy event conversation and the work that we can do together to increase access and lower barriers–in the classroom, online, on campus, and in our lived world–for students and faculty with disabilities is something that we must endeavor to accomplish.

In addition to the informative readings OpenLab Digital Pedagogy Fellow Jesse Rice-Evans assembled for the Open Pedagogy event, I found these additional readings useful for my thinking:

Adams, Rachel, Benjamin Reiss, and David Serlin. “Disability.” Keywords for Disability Studies, edited by Rachel Adams, Benjamin Reiss, and David Serlin, NYU Press, 2015, 5-12.

Campbell, Kumari. “Ability.” Keywords for Disability Studies, edited by Rachel Adams, Benjamin Reiss, and David Serlin, NYU Press, 2015, 12-14.

Mullaney, Clare. “Disability Studies: Foundations & Key Concepts.” JSTOR Daily, 13 April 2019, https://daily.jstor.org/reading-list-disability-studies/. Accessed 18 Sept. 2019.

Williamson, Bess. “Access.” Keywords for Disability Studies, edited by Rachel Adams, Benjamin Reiss, and David Serlin, NYU Press, 2015, 14-16.

Notes from LMC Conversation Panel on “Books, Libraries, and the Digital Future” with Jay David Bolter, Lauren F. Klein, and Me

These are my speaking notes and discussion notes from today’s School of Literature, Media, and Communication Conversation following Robert Darnton’s talk yesterday on “Books, Libraries, and the Digital Future.” The panelists included Jay David Bolter, Lauren F. Klein (remotely), and me.

We met with an audience of about 25 members of the Georgia Tech community in the Stephen C. Hall Building, Room 102 from 11:00am-12:00pm.

  1. My research in the area
    1. My interest in eBooks comes from two tangents.
      1. First, it comes from my research interests in video game narratives in older software for the Commodore 64, Amiga, IBM-PC, Apple II, and Apple Macintosh platforms. Part of this research focuses on the way characters read within the game—particularly, computer based reading on terminals, tablets, virtual displays, etc. and how these ideas filter into reality/production and vice versa.
      2. Second, it comes from my dissertation research on something that William Gibson wrote about obsolescence and how our technologies—typewriters, Apple IIc, etc.—are fated to become junk littering the Finn’s office—in an “Afterword” to his Sprawl trilogy of novels: Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive [To read it, scroll to the bottom of this page]. The trouble with sourcing this text was the fact that it was not published in a physical book. Instead, I discovered from a Tweet that a mutual friend made with the writer that it come from an early eBook designed for the Apple Macintosh Portable by Voyager Company (what’s left of this company today creates the Criterion Collection of films).
        1. Gibson, William. “Afterword.” Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive: Expanded Books. Voyager Company. 1992. TXT File. Web. 25 March 2012.
        2. Gibson has done other things with ebook and experimental writing such as his exorbitantly priced Agrippa: A Book of the Dead, a floppy disk based e-poem that erases itself after “performing” one time.
      3. Since working with Gibson’s ebook, I’ve begun studying other ebooks—rediscovering ones that I read a long time ago and rethinking what constitutes an ebook—thinking about encyclopedia precursors to Wikipedia and other software such as the Star Trek: TNG Interactive Technical Manual, which does on the computer things that Rick Sternbach and Michael Okuda could not do in their print Technical Manual.
      4. We can talk more about this later, but I support Aaron Swartz’s “Guerilla Open Access Manifesto.” In my research, I have deployed my own tactics for reading and manipulating text that enable scholarship that I otherwise would be unable to do. Read more about fair use and transformation.
  2. My response to Darnton’s talk
    1. Aaron Swartz’s “Guerilla Open Access Manifesto
    2. Peter Purgathofer’s Lego Mindstorms-MacBook Pro-Kindle-Cloud-based OCR assemblage for ripping text from Kindle ebooks
    3. DPLA  scans of Dickinson’s manuscripts (open) and copyrighted scholarly editions (closed).
    4. Issues of the Archive, Access, and Control.
  3. My suggestions for future research directions
    1. The relationship between haptic experience of pulp books and ebooks (e-reader, tablet, computer, Google Glass, etc.). How do we read, think about, and remember books differently based on the modalities of experiencing the book? We know that the brain constructs memories as simulations, so what are we gaining and losing through alterations to the methods of interacting with writing?
    2. A history of eBook readers—fascinating evolutionary lineage of ebook reading devices including Sony’s DD8 Data Discman (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Data_Discman).
    3. How are our students reading? More students this year than last asked me if they could purchase their books for ENGL1101 and Tech Comm as ebooks. How many students are turning to ebooks due to their cost or ease of access (pirating)? I don’t mind students purchasing ebooks over traditional books, but I have them think about the affordances of each.
    4. As researchers, how should we assert our fair use of texts despite the intentions of copyright holders? We no longer own books, but instead, we license content. [Purgathofer mentions this, but Cory Doctorow and others have commented on this at length: one source. Another more recent source.]
    5. How do we use ebooks and traditional books differently/similarly? For example, Topiary (aka Jake Davis), one of the former members of LulzSec, said earlier today on ask.fm that he prefers ebooks for learning and studying, but he prefers traditional books for enjoyment.
  4. Other responses, comments, and questions
    1. Jay Bolter: What about the future of books, the status of the book, and the status of libraries? What will happen to literature and the literary community? What is the cultural significances of print/digital to different communities (e.g., general community of readers vs. community represented by the New York Review of Books)?
    2. Lauren Klein: What are the roles of the archive and how do readers access information in the archive? We should think about how people use these digital archives (e.g., DPLA). In her work, she deploys computational linguistics: techniques to study sophisticated connections between documents. How is the information being used? Deploying visualization techniques to enable new ways of seeing, reading, and studying documents.
    3. Grantley Bailey: What about people who grow up only reading on screens/ebooks? What will their opinions be regarding this debate?
    4. Aaron Kashtan: Commented about graphic novels and comics in the digital age and about how these media remain entrenched in traditional, print publishing. Also, Aaron is interested in materiality and the reader’s experience.
    5. John Harkey: Commented on poetry’s dynamism and its not being wedded to books/chap books. Poetry is evolving and thriving through a variety of media including the Web, as electronic art, and experimental literature. We should think about literature as vehicles of genres and artifactual heterogeneity (essay, collage, posters, augmented reality, etc.).
    6. Lisa Yaszek: Pan-African science fiction is likely a model for the future. In the present, no single nation can support a thriving publishing industry for SF, but together, African SF is taking off with the diffusion of  new technologies of distribution and reading (ubiquity of cellular phones, wifi, cellular data, etc.).

eBooks and Librarys

I know that there has been a lot more interest in eBooks following Amazon’s introduction of the Kindle and Kindle DX, but I was surprised to hear that ebooks, while only making up 3% of the book “publishing” market, represent the fastest growing segment of the book market according to this New York Times article.  I wonder if ebooks are beginning the logarithmic rise that mp3s did not too long ago to (almost) replace CDs.  MP3s were around for awhile before the firebrand RIO PMP300, and the style-and-function conscious Apple iPod took the stage and catapulted the digital audio file technology into something more than just a new technologically mediated way to listen to music.  The iPod with iTunes added a streamlined system for selling, distribution, and portable playback of purchased songs.  This, combined with rampant file sharing and a proliferation of inexpensive portable mp3 players, catapaulted mp3s over the walls of the compact disc stronghold.  Now, the rows of CDs for sale in big brick-and-mortar stores are dwindling.  Will the same be true in the near future for books and bookstores?

Amazon and Interead have reading devices and online ebook stores.  Many folks are scanning books and making them available online.  It seems like history may be repeating itself with books following the music model of going online–bits and tech replacing words on a published pulp page.  I’m weary of this transition, because I like controlling the bits that I own.  However, Amazon’s ability to remotely change the way a Kindle works (as in the case of the text-to-speech feature that was killed) leaves me concerned about who controls the device after it is purchased.  

Those concerns aside, what does the ebook mean for libraries?  Ebooks are much cheaper than books, which would give a library the ability to purchase more of them to satisfy their readers.  But, I don’t think the big ebook companies (like Amazon) or publishers want ebooks to follow a lending/reselling model that we’ve enjoyed with real books.  With a real book, I can lend it to a buddy, or sell it to someone else.  Additionally, lending and reselling may take place indefinitely for the life of the book.  This is not possible with the current offering of ebooks.  Amazon prohibits lending, and Interead allows you to trade books four times (kind of like Apple’s iTunes model of sharing songs–read more here). Additionally, there is the initial cost of a reader.  Electronic paper displays on ebook readers are much easier on the eye than traditional, backlit LCD, but this is a new and apparently costly (I wonder how much of this is licensing and not materials production) technology.  The point of libraries is to make reading available to a wide audience, but a greater shift to ebooks may marginalize libraries and their patrons.  What solution might the publishing industry offer libraries?  What should folks like us demand of the publishing and tech companies in the long term as books transition to the digital realm?  This seems like another case of the haves-vs-the-have-nots, and those persons with access to technology will make off with the spoils.  However, according to the Wall Street Journal, the homeless (this is not to say that all homeless experiences are the same) have computers and get online (read more here).