Technology as a Part of Disability Culture

Jalyn Marks

Technology and culture are as integrated as healthy eating and exercise, books and learning, churches and prayer. Technology fuels culture, technology aids culture, technology provides a home for culture. Not merely a tool to be mastered, technology mediates an action done by an actor (Latour).

“Action is simply not a property of humans but an association of actants” (Latour 182). For example, in disability culture, many individuals who are nonspeaking, speak minimally, or speak unreliably use a piece of technology called an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) device (there are a bunch of different kinds). Disabled people who need to use AAC mostly use a personalized combination of unaided systems–systems where just the body can be used to generate communication–and aided systems–a tool or device is needed to communicate (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association). AACs are examples of an “association of actants” by serving as a middleman, or as a mediator, between the AAC-user’s thoughts and other individuals. The person who uses the AAC is who Latour would refer to as the actor, and the AAC itself is the acting as a “technical delegate,” standing in as the “voice” of the actor (pp. 189). This idea of actors and delegates can be extended to other examples of technology integrated into disability culture, like wheelchairs, hearing aids, canes, and screen readers. “It is time to think them [culture and technology] systematically one by the other, one with the other” (Debray 4).


Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

Debray, R. (August 1999). What is mediology? (Martin Irvine, Trans.). Le Monde Diplomatique.

Latour, B. (1999).  Pandora’s Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies. Harvard University Press. pp. 174-217.