Giving Voice: Mobile Communication, Disability, and Inequality

Speaker: Meryl Alper
Date recorded: Apr 6, 2017
Meryl Alper talks about her new book Giving Voice: Mobile Communication, Disability, and Inequality.

Meryl Alper- Mobile communication technologies are often hailed in the popular press and public policy as a means of “giving voice to the voiceless.” Behind the praise are determinist beliefs about technology as a gateway to opportunity, voice as a metaphor for agency and self-representation, and voicelessness as a stable and natural category. In this talk, based on her new book Giving Voice: Mobile Communication, Disability, and Inequality (MIT Press, 2017), Meryl Alper offers a new angle on these established critiques through a qualitative study of individuals with significant communication disabilities who use mobile devices for synthetic speech output. Alper finds that despite widespread claims to empowerment, these tools are still subject to disempowering structural inequalities. Culture, laws, institutions, and even technology itself can reinforce disparities among those with disabilities across class, race, ethnicity, and gender. Alper argues that voice is an overused and imprecise metaphor in media and communication studies, one that abstracts, obscures, and oversimplifies the human experience of disability. She will discuss implications of her research for our rapidly changing media ecology and political environment, where the question is not only which voices get to speak, but also who is thought to have a voice to speak with in the first place.