Panel 6: Assistive Technology and Care

Tuesday 6th September

By Zoë Shacklock and Gaby Smith

  • Anna Piccoli (University of Amsterdam): Are Digital Platforms and Touchscreen Devices Effective Caretakers? The Touch-and-go of Visually Impaired Users
  • Bonnie Millar and Derek Hoare (NIHR Nottingham Hearing Biomedical Research Unit): Discourses of Care and Sonic Media
  • Kerr Castle (University of Glasgow): TV, Or Not TV: The Practitioner’s Approach to Audio Description (AD) and Transforming Television

Takeaway points:

  • People with various sensory impairments use everyday technologies in adaptive ways
  • We cannot make assumptions about who can or cannot use certain technologies, or what sorts of sensory experiences are more authentic
  • Technologically-mediated care practices can be sites of creative agency, storytelling, and empowerment

Anna Piccoli debunked the widespread belief that touchscreen devices cannot be used by visually impaired people, demonstrating widespread use of such devices amongst the visually impaired in Italy and the Netherlands. Her interviewees suggested that touchscreen devices allowed access to feelings of independence and empowerment, through allowing them to carry out everyday activities independently (like dressing, grocery shopping, or texting). As well as these instrumental forms of care, digital devices open up affective forms of care, helping visually impaired users maintain social ties and feel connected to the world around them. They can also act as a form of ‘camouflage’, allowing users pass in a world in which everyone is digitally connected. Piccoli concludes by suggesting that digital devices are ‘relievers’, relieving the cared-for from their need for constant care, and relieving the carer from their duties.

Moving on to a different sensory category, Bonnie Millar introduced us to her research (with Derek Hoare, who could not be present) on how people suffering from tinnitus use sonic media as a form of care. This includes white noise, radios, music, or other audio tracks. They collected medical questionnaires from people with tinnitus, analysing the language in their stories to consider how they perceived this treatment. Interestingly, the most therapeutic sonic treatments were linked with the intimate and the everyday – conversation, running water, kettles boiling, soft music. Millar highlights the limitations the questionnaire format places on how sufferers can describe their experiences, and suggests that increasing the vocabularies through which people can tell their stories may help alleviate their feelings of suffering.

Finally, Kerr Castle rounds out our sensory panel with a discussion of audio description on television, in which television’s images are described for a visually impaired audience. Castle interviewed audiovisual translator  Jonathan Penny about the challenges of audio description – how does an able-bodied person describe images and action for an audience who processes information differently? Castle stresses the creative and expressive role of the translator, who must ensure that their description fits between dialogue but leaves space for silence, and describes the physical signifiers of emotion in a way that allows the audience to  make their own inferences. Castle concludes by suggesting that television audiovisual translation differs from that of the cinema: where the latter uses more disembodied descriptions of mise-en-scéne, television AVT is more intimate and familiar. The television audiovisual translator becomes a companion to the audience, sitting along them on the couch.

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One Response to Panel 6: Assistive Technology and Care

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