Look back to the turn of the nineteenth century and collective excitement of physicists anticipating the limitless implications of wireless, it is very easy to compare those feelings to that of modern-day inventors coupling the internet with mobile technologies. In 1880 Heinrich Hertz was able to understand how electromagnetic waves travel through the atmosphere. He was not the first one to devise the idea, as there was a man who was killed in the twelfth century on counts of black magic for speaking the same idea. Hertz on the other hand was able to develop a working model of what we call wireless. Skipping forward, within the first twenty years of the twentieth century a patent war had begun between two inventors that would stunt the explosion of modern day radio. Lee De Forest and Howard Armstrong were working hard on technology that was building off ideas from John Ambrose, Reginald Fessenden, and Thomas Edison. Although De Forest in 1906 invented the audion, a vacuum tube that allowed for voice and music to be heard over the air rather than just Morse code, he ultimately failed to describe how it worked in laymen or technical terms. It would be Armstrong that ended up on top with his invention of the regenerative circuit in 1914 that paved the way for crisp sound over the airwaves.
Now, the last thing on the minds of these fantastic inventors and many other to come was how to make any of their technologies available or accessible for the disabled. They were faced with competition and economic crises of WWI. Sill, new technologies were on the way. Halfway through the twentieth century, in 1948, the development of the transistor in works with the integrated chip, allowed for the mobile telephone system. By the 1970s vehicle owners had the opportunity to have a mobile phone installed in their car. And by the 1980s hand held mobile phones like the one Motorola introduced in 1983, were integrating into people’s lives. From chapter 5 (Cellular disability: consumption, design, and access) of Gerard Goggin’s Cell Phone Culture, Goggin calls the mobile phones of the 1970s-80s the first generation. He argues that these phones were very bulky at first and then as technology became smaller so did the phones. This presented a problem to the accessibility of the first generation mobile phone users who had a disability that made the phone difficult to hold on to. Then came the second-generation mobile phones that were introduced in the 1990s that created even more exclusion to disabled people.
Before getting too into the topic of accessibility of mobile cellphone technology for disabled individuals, it is important to note exactly what Goggin is arguing. His focus is on critical disabilities studies, which “critiques the dominant understanding of disability via the medical model”(90). This puts the individuals into categories that depict their disability. He clearly states that his approach goes beyond the social model, where disability is socially produced, and is aimed at “the politics of bodies and ability, as an integral part of cellphone culture”(91). With that in mind and returning back to Goggin’s discussion of second-generation mobile phones, he presents the obvious drawbacks for people that are visually impaired/blind, hard of hearing/deaf, and the mobility disabled. He regurgitates the idea that manufacturers are putting a low priority to fix these problems and in turn giving alternative solutions. This illustrates the point that if you look back at the competitiveness of the early radio days and contrast it with modern manufacturers of cellphone technology, there isn’t much of a difference besides a few alternatives to potentially assist and include people with disabilities into the “users” category. Goggin notes that whenever a technology is reshaped it is due to the spectrum of “imagined users and use, with particular sorts of ‘normal’…bodies and abilities”(92). Even hands-free wasn’t implemented with visually impaired people in mind; it was for drivers who wanted to use their mobile device while on the road!
Goggin drives home some really good points about how different emerging technologies are followed up by substituting outputs rather than redesign. Alternatively, the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act forced many companies and manufacturers to couple inventions that were devised in the 1960s like the Telecommunications Device for the Deaf (TDD) and the teletypewriter (TTY) into the first-generation mobile phones. The second-generation cellphones, however, did not go so well, as Goggin notes that the “transmission errors can cause characters to be lost or changed, resulting in unintelligible messages”(94). To follow up that piece of history, Goggin reminds us of the switch to digital that happened in 2000. This would undermine the telecommunitive process that deaf people were just starting to be comfortable with. This was not taken lightly, as Goggin brings up the FCCs role in the reshaping of wireless TTY compatible systems. At that time though, mobile TTY systems still did not exist. This forced a new creative solution brought on by deaf people: text messaging. Something almost all teens today take for granted. Goggin also goes on to cover Blind peoples use with mobile technologies and how a software application called TALKS converts content and screen-based menus into synthetic speech.
Many applications, devices, and accessibility controls have been created with the disabled in mind since Goggin has written this book. One in particular is an accessibility called Voice-Over built into the Mac Book Pro that is used in the video posted. Goggin concludes the chapter very smoothly with an incentive for the reader to keep reading on. Ending the chapter, Goggin questions why these technologies are created with imagining people with disabilities as users. Especially, he adds, when most of the technologies are very profitable, and mentioned at the beginning of the chapter, around 15-20% of people in many countries are disabled.
Edison, Thomas. [TommyEdisonXP]. (2013, Jul 16). How A Blind Person Uses A Computer. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UzffnbBex6c]
Goggin, Gerard. (2006). Cell Phone Culture: Mobile technology in everyday life. London: Routledge. Chapter 5, p. 89-103.
?. (2008, Feb 23) Hands Free Cell Phone. [Photograph]. http://www.foundshit.com/hands-free-mobile-phone/