Author Archives: Jalyn Marks

Digital Disability Storytelling (DDS) as a Sociotechnical System

Jalyn Marks

Abstract

Can a planned sociotechnical system change culture? I hope to do this with a website that collects stories by disabled people and people with mental illnesses. The fields in which I am working are interdisciplinary. Disability Studies in higher education is often departmentalized as English, Anthropology, and American Studies courses. In this piece, I bring Disability Studies into conversation with the fields of Communications and Computing. I look at artefacts, Mahoney’s “Histories of Computing(s), and systems.

 

Author’s Note

My inspiration for the Disability Storytelling (DDS) website comes from my experience as a disabled person (my main disabilities are Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and rapid cycling bipolar disorder).  As an undergraduate student at Grinnell College with undiagnosed physical health conditions and mental illness, I faced isolation and confusion around where to seek help and how to talk about my experiences, like so many others with disabilities. My close friend and classmate, Devyn Ellis, another self-identified disabled person, and I received funding from Grinnell’s Student Publications and Radio Committee (SPARC) to publish Vantage Point, a magazine highlighting multiple student perspectives on disability and mental health on campus, including research papers, poetry, photography, scanned journal entries, and more. Vantage Point distributed over 600 copies in two years.

Use of identity-first language (the conscious choice to use “disabled person” instead of “person with a disability) is used throughout this piece because disability is such an integral part of identity, and shapes the need for the computing I am describing. The disability community frequently advocates that “disabled” is too often stigmatized as a negative characteristic, rather than a simple fact of humanity.

Within the disability community, I have many people to thank for their personal encouragement: Liz Weintraub, Pat Kinley, Devyn Ellis, Jennifer Tuell, Oksana Klimova, Rylin Rodgers, Emily Ladau, Sheida Raley, Alice Zhang, Ben Kaufman, Andy Imparato, Luis Valdez, and my crew, Teresa Nguyen, Andy Arias, and Frances Isbel. Others, whom I admire from afar, include Alice Wong, Sara Luterman, Imani Barbarin, Caitlin Wood, and the AUCD Network. An additional thanks to Georgetown University professors Tawara Goode, Martin Irvine, Denise Bedford, and Jeanine Turner.     

 

Introduction

As a disabled student, employee, family member, etc., I’ve been lucky enough to have the advocacy skills and family support that I’ve needed in order to be successful. One aunt, though, recently lovingly reminded me that everything I’ve worked hard for could be taken away because of my disabilities. If I acted a certain way because of my mental illness, or even if someone assumed I was acting that way because they knew I had a mental illness, then I risk being fired, being pressured to leave school, being accused of being crazy. Every day that nothing bad happens is an accomplishment for me. And I’m not alone. Go to any disability or mental health advocacy event, and you will get the message, “One in four Americans has a disability, one in four Americans has mental illness.”

When I was first working toward my undergraduate degree, I formed a community of disabled and mentally ill students by collecting various student perspectives on their experiences with disability and mental health on campus, publishing and disseminating our information in a magazine. At the time, I knew nothing about the disability community, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was a new concept for me–I never even learned about it in school. Since then, I have expanded my network and disability knowledge, and dreamed of expanding this idea into a national, digital, fully accessible endeavor.

I know that networking and sharing experiences is a way of building disability culture. “Culture is the name we give to the infinite web of meaning that human beings have been weaving for millennia. We participate in culture when we imitate one another’s behaviors, adopt common values and practices,  share symbolic codes like language, music, or the latest dress style. To see any artifact (i.e., any human-made object) as part of culture is to understand how it becomes meaningful through the social activities, thoughts, and actions of the people who engage with it” (Murray, 2012, pp. 1). Within cultures, users are meant to manipulate those artefacts (Vermaas, 2015). Disability culture is as rich as disability itself. “Disability is mutable and ever evolving. Disability is both apparent and nonapparent. Disability is pain, struggle, brilliance, abundance, and joy. Disability is sociopolitical, cultural, and biological. Being visible and claiming a disabled identity brings risks as much as it brings pride,” (Wong, A., 2020, pp. xxii).  I know computing is going to be the most widespread, accessible way to manipulate and affect change within disability culture, by disabled people.

Materials: black ink, white paper. The side profile of a concerned-looking woman. Her hair is in a tight bun, lips pursed, and has a thin frame (sharp collarbone and cheeks). Text in all capitalized letters reads "Therapy is sill. No more therapy!"

Vantage Point Submission: Sketchbook excerpt from Rein Brooks, 2015. Materials: black ink, white paper. The side profile of a concerned-looking woman. Her hair is in a tight bun, her lips are pursed, her eyebrows are slightly raised, and she has a thin frame (sharp collarbone and cheeks). Text in all capitalized letters reads “Therapy is silly. No more therapy!

 

Vantage Point, 2015. Artwork by Linden Deforest. Cartoon-style black ink on white background. Image of boy with long hair in a bathrobe walking a dog, lifting its hind leg to urinate on a tree. Speech bubble reads "Emotional support dog: 1. Depression: 0.

Vantage Point, Submission: Cartoon by Linden Deforest, 2015. Black ink on white background. Image of boy with long hair and glasses in a bathrobe walking a dog, smiling. The dog is lifting its hind leg to urinate on a tree. Speech bubble reads “Emotional support dog: 1. Depression: 0.”

Like the magazine I created in college, I want to use computing to create a Digital Disability Storytelling (DDS) sociotechnical system. “A system is understood to be an entity that can be separated into parts, which are all simultaneously linked to each other in a specific way” (Vermaas et. al, 2015, pp. 68). The goal of DDS is for it to be a system which ultimately enhances the agency disabled people. Enhancing the agency of disabled people will elevate our power and roles within society, reduce ableist stigma, and improve attitudes of mainstream culture to accept and include disabled culture. Disabled people will be adding to their own history. “History is the record of our collective experience, our social memory. We turn to it as we do our personal experience, consciously when we meet new situations, unconsciously as we live day to day,” (Mahoney, 2005, pp. 120). In this piece, I am going to examine what a sociotechnical system is and how computing can make DDS possible.

 

Main Body

“Sometimes there is the expectation that… I am looking for solutions to social problems. In fact, though, I am looking at the processes of the problems.” —Anna Deavere Smith, Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992

In one of the letters from the editors from my undergrad magazine (which I now repeat as much as possible), I say “stories are one of the most powerful tools we have” to enact change. When I reference “stories” and “storytelling” throughout this piece, I am using Alice Wong’s definition. “Storytelling can be more than a post, essay, or book. It can be an emoji, a meme, a selfie, or a tweet. It can become a movement for social change,” (Wong, A., 2020, pp. xviii). Going digital is a way to make these stories accessible to everyone, combining knowledge of disabilities and accessibility with the knowledge of computing. “We can manipulate them, and they in turn can trigger actions in the world,” (Mahoney, 2005, pp. 129).

“From the early 1950’s down to the present, various communities of computing have translated large portions of our world–our experience with it and our interaction with it–into computational models to be enacted on computers” (Mahoney, 2005, pp. 127). That translation of information from our world to the virtual world is a transformation of information (Denning & Martell, 2015). Translation from storytelling to a digital format is a process that I am not completely comfortable with yet, but know that a great deal of it involves making each story searchable, so that others can find it based on keywords and metadata.

Some of these submitted stories will be short. Others, longer. Each story contributes symbolic culture to the system. Think of each story like a symbol for something else going on outside of the digital space. “A symbol-based system of communication” is “the defining aspect of the human mind” (Wong, K., 2005, p. 94). The symbolic culture of DDS will represent a sample of all disabled people’s perspectives, which will be accomplished by its design. “Design is… about modelling the world in the computer, about computational modelling, about translating a portion of the world into terms a computer can ‘understand,'” (Mahoney, 2005, pp. 128). Computation is symbolic, syntactical, sequential, and structural (Mahoney, 2005, p. 129).

If disabled people can find others’ stories based on search terms like “autism”, “education”, and “midwest,” then they will be able to find people like them. Finding others through software and computation is empowering to disabled people, validating their own experiences, fighting feelings of isolation, and providing agency to feel like they are doing something by contributing to the DDS. “Software and computation were specifically designed from the start as inter-agency and extended or distributed cognition (delegating cognitive tasks and creating actions that computers can do, perform, or ‘execute’)” (Irvine, 2020, pp. 5). Agency is often something that is challenged or even unavailable to disabled people, for a number of social and political reasons, but DDS will be an interface which offers agency for disabled people to describe their own lives, to share their own stories, possibly for the first time in their lives.

It’s quite common for publicly-funded research projects “to make their data available for free to the public” and for other projects to “mine” that data “for possible insights” (Denning & Martell, 2015, p. 31). In addition to fostering community between disabled people, I would like for DDS’ data to be available for free to scientists, educators, policymakers, and anyone else who wanted to use these stories.

Disabled people submitting to DDS will use their personal phones, tablets, and computers. “To ‘use’ a ‘personal’ computer today is, despite its much-hyped origins in the counter-culture, to work in a variety of environments created by a host of anonymous people who have made decisions about tasks to be done and the ways in which they should be done,” (Mahoney, 2005, pp. 132). Designing DDS will prioritize accessibility, and contributors will not need to be tech savvy in order to participate. “Most of the ‘computing’ actions, what makes the device work as you perceive it, is actually distributed across many invisible networked computers, the “massive modularity” of Internet system design” (Irvine, 2020, pp. 2). Using combinatorial design principles of existing programs and systems will be key, and something I will be thinking about when designing DDS.

“Different groups of people saw different possibilities in computing” (Mahoney, 2005, p. 124), and it is with this same type of vision that I am able to have a goal of using computing to help solve a social problem. Too often, to the point of incarceration, and murder, disabled people’s voices and stories are not heard, and not cared about. I know computing is powerful, and wanted to learn more about technology because I think I can use it to better the lives of disabled people and their loved ones. Through computing, I want to form a database of narratives collected from disabled people in order to 1) form a community of practice, and 2) enhance scientific research, education, and advocacy efforts benefiting disabled people.

Computers were first designed for and by scientists and engineers (Mahoney, 2005, pp. 124). The use of computers has evolved based on the groups who need them for different purposes. Using computing to manage data is no new concept. Data processing, the field of management science, is the first group, or community of practice, to use computing for commercial purposes (Mahoney, 2005, pp. 124). This data, when applying “media theory and technical mediation as part of social systems theory provide conceptual models that enable us to get inside the ‘black boxes’ by recovering the implemented design principles that come from the same system in which we are a part” (Irvine, 2020, pp. 1).

In discussing how problems get solved, it is helpful to look at the tools people are using. These tools, or technical artefacts, are physical objects combined with a plan to peform a function (Vermaas et al., 2011). Who uses these tools? People who need to accomplish a task. The people using technical artefacts are in the position to accomplish said task based on the roles they play within society (Vermaas et al., 2011).

Figure 1.2 from Vermaas et al., 2011, pp.19.) Text reads: A conceptual anatomy of the notion of technical artefact. A circle with "technical artefact" written inside. A diagonal solid ray extending from "technical artifact" to the bottom right connects with another circle, with "use plan" written inside. A diagonal solid ray extending from "technical artifact" to the bottom left connects with another circle, with "physical object" written inside. Another circle, with "function" written inside, is at the top of the figure, connected with a solid ray extending up from the middle "technical artefact" circle. Dotted rays from "function" extend down, one to each side, connecting "function" to "physical object" and "use plan.

(Figure 1.2 from Vermaas et al., 2011, pp.19.) Text reads: A conceptual anatomy of the notion of technical artefact. A circle with “technical artefact” written inside. A diagonal solid ray extending from “technical artifact” to the bottom right connects with another circle, with “use plan” written inside. A diagonal solid ray extending from “technical artifact” to the bottom left connects with another circle, with “physical object” written inside. Another circle, with “function” written inside, is at the top of the figure, connected with a solid ray extending up from the middle “technical artefact” circle. Dotted rays from “function” extend down, one to each side, connecting “function” to “physical object” and “use plan.”

 

DDS is going to be a tool that solves a problem, but it doesn’t have a physical object. Does this make it an artefact still? Yes, but instead of a technical artefact, all of the submissions, since virtual will be examples of cognitive artefacts. DDS will be an example of a “cognitive-semiotic” technology (Irvine, 2020, p. 2), as the unseen and unheard stories of disabled people are collected. Also, users of DDS will not see the computing or other technological mechanics of how the metadata helps the code retrieve a submission or anything else; the interface will be user-friendly and imperatively accessible. A huge part of my future research will be dedicated to making the interface accessible, but for now, I think it’s just important to highlight how each submission is a representation of and a tool demonstrating the perspective of the the person who submitted it. This is huge because too often disabled people are treated like they’re stupid, or their thoughts don’t matter, like they are less than human. This is wrong. These incorrect stereotypes are what keeps disabled people excluded from society, denied access to resources like employment, healthcare, and education, and in the worst cases, killed.

There are known features of interfaces that are well-accepted navigational tools, which DDS will apply, like WIMP. “The graphical user interface, known for its main features as ‘WIMP’ (windows, icons, mouse, pull-down menus), emerged from the human augmentation community, with roots in behaviourist psychology and military command and control systems” (Mahoney, 2005, pp. 132).

Lastly, DDS will be a hybrid system. “Hybrid systems, in which certain components, are described and researched using the natural sciences and other components, are described by drawing on the social sciences are called sociotechnical systems” (Vermaas et al., 2015, pp. 69).

 

Conclusion

The future of the humanities is digital (Mahoney, 2005), and as a hybrid, sociotechnical system, DDS will create agency for disabled people. It will gather cultural artefacts which act to symbolize multiple perspectives of disabled people, foster community, and affect the mainstream culture in a way that makes life easier for disabled people.

 

References

Denning, P. J., & Martell, C. H. (2015). Great principles of computing. MIT Press Books.

Irvine, M. (2020). “Understanding media, mediation, and sociotechnical artefacts:
methods for de-blackboxing.” Georgetown University. (Draft of book chapter, for student reference only.)

Mahoney, M.S. (2005). “The histories of computing(s).” Interdisciplinary science reviews, 30:2, 119-135, DOI: 10.1179/030801805X25927

Murray, J. H. (2012). Inventing the medium: Principles of interaction design as a cultural practice. The MIT Press.

Vermaas, P., Kroes, van de Poel, I., Franssen, M., & Houkes, W. (2011). Technical artefacts; Sociotechnical systems. In A philosophy of technology: From technical artefacts to sociotechnical systems (pp. 5-20; pp. 67-81). Morgan & Claypool Publishers.

Wong, A. (2020.) The disability visibility project. Vintage Books, a division of Random House Publishing, LLC.

Wong, K. (2005.) “The morning of the modern mind: controversial studies suggest that the roots of our vaunted intellect run deeper than is commonly believed.” Scientific American. June 2005. Scientific American, Inc.

Case Study: Telehealth by simplepractice, from the Patient’s Perspective

Jalyn Marks

App: Telehealth by simplepractice

Network of socio-technical dependencies: “The way we are socialized into media and computers, the pressure of consumerist ideologies, and technology marketing hype on products keeps the Internet blackboxed and the deeper histories and dependencies closed off from awareness and understanding” (Irvine, 2018). The internet’s design principles of being “complex, modular, scalable, and extensible system” (Irvine, 2018), is what contributes to the structure of the socio-technical dependencies of all apps and internet-related tools.

Looking at Telehealth, is a very simple layout for patients. There are no navigation options, just a single homepage for users to enter the link that their doctor’s office sent them and their name.

Telehealth by simplepractice homescreen. There is the brand logo and name, a space for users to add the link to the video location and their names.

Telehealth by simplepractice homescreen. There is the brand logo and name, a space for users to add the link to the video location and their names.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The app’s complexity is hidden; if users are having difficulties, they are directed to either contact their doctor’s office or test their internet connection. When one clicks on the connection, a status bar displays that the “test” is happening–what the “test” is remains blackboxed.

Text reads: "Wait one moment while we check your internet connection." There is a status bar and a time countdown. Text reads: "Less than 30 seconds left."

Text reads: “Wait one moment while we check your internet connection.” There is a status bar and a time countdown. Text reads: “Less than 30 seconds left.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The latency of the app is covered up with the loading bar/status bar image.

The app is modular; you can test your internet, have a phone call, or make a video call. The app is scalable; you can use it on your phone, tablet, or computer. The simplicity of the app makes it extensible; anything could easily be added on in the future, allowing it to adapt to patients’ and doctors’ needs.

History of Technological Development: “Probably one of the earliest and most famous uses of hospital-based telemedicine was in the late 1950s and early 1960s when a closed-circuit television link was established between the Nebraska Psychiatric Institute and Norfolk State Hospital for psychiatric consultations” (Institute of Medicine, 2012).

Per the Association of American Medical Colleges, come 2033, the United States could have between 54,100 and 139,000 unfilled primary and specialty health care physician roles (Pando, 2020). Telehealth was initially used to try to offset the increasing dearth of physicians and patient wait-times, and extend hours to after the business day and weekends, but has become normalized since the start of the pandemic.

Economic Ecosystems:  The app is no additional charge for patients (included in payment to the doctor’s office).  Doctor’s offices pay $10 per month to use the app (simplepractice, 2020). “The global Telehealth and Telemedicine Market is projected to reach USD 55.6 billion by 2025 from USD 25.4 billion in 2020″ (MarketsandMarkets, 2020).

Institutions of Mediation (standards, policy and regulation, industry groups, patents): All hospitals, public and private, have to abide to the state medical board. There are few federal laws that govern medicine (like the ACA, HIPAA, and rules around using patients as test subjects), but most standards are state-regulated. This includes how hospitals and doctor’s offices deal with insurance companies, having an impact.

simplepractice “meet or exceed all the requirements of HIPAA as a business associate, including the Business Associate Agreement (BAA) in which SimplePractice agrees to be responsible for keeping all client information private and to immediately report any breach of personal health information” (2020).

Markets and demographics: Telehealth is designed to make going to the doctor more accessible for everyone. The goal of telehealth is also to prevent patients from turning to the ER in non-emergency situations due to lack of insurance (Pando, 2020).

Some of the barriers to telehealth are the same ones found in all medical situations. These include rural situations, older patients not used to technology or disclosing health information, acceptance (or lack thereof) of insurance types (especially Medicaid), and the fear of private health information being shared.

References

Board on Health Care Services; Institute of Medicine. The Role of Telehealth in an Evolving Health Care Environment: Workshop Summary. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2012 Nov 20. 3, The Evolution of Telehealth: Where Have We Been and Where Are We Going? Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK207141/

Irvine, M. (2018). “The Internet: Design Principles and Extensible Futures.”

MarketsandMarkets. (2020). “Telehealth market worth $55.6 billion by 2025 – exclusive report by MarketsandMarkets™. PR Newswire. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/telehealth-market-worth-55-6-billion-by-2025–exclusive-report-by-marketsandmarkets-301030816.html#:~:text=Telehealth%20Market%20Worth%20%2455.6%20Billion%20by%202025%20%2D%20Exclusive%20Report%20by%20MarketsandMarkets%E2%84%A2,-News%20provided%20by

Pando, A. (2020). “Telehealth and the future of the US health care industry. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2020/08/10/telehealth-and-the-future-of-the-us-health-care-industry/?sh=41291d8666d6

simplepractice. (2020). “Telehealth FAQs”. https://www.simplepractice.com/telehealth-faqs/

Design Interactions in Telehealth by SimplePractice

Jalyn Marks

Using one of the most common mobile device apps used for telehealth, “Telehealth by simplepractie” as an example, I can start to point out ways in which this is applied. Using some of Shneiderman’s Eight Golden Rules (2016) as an outline, we can explore design interaction and its relevance to culture (specifically, telehealth needs) and accessibility.

Consistency
Every meeting has the same format as an in-person doctor’s visit. Users provide their name, and wait in the “waiting room” before being admitted to the room where the appointment will happen with the specialist, nurse, technician, or doctor.

Universal Usability

I’m always weary when apps claim they have “universal design”, but one feature that contributes to this app’s accessibility is that the doctors’ offices who use this app for telehealth tend not to customize the experience too much on their end. For example, the waiting room for an appointment with, say, my therapist, would look the same as the waiting room for my rheumatologist. This creates a sense of familiarity and comfort for users. They know from experience which buttons to click to enter their appointments.

Feedback
Users can test their microphones/sound and videos while in the waiting room. This allows for the prevention of errors property, as well as for feedback testing on their ends to ensure what they’re seeing matches the doctor’s experience.

Dialogues which yield closure

When meetings end, a button on the bottom of the screen allows patients in Telehealth to “Leave Room.” Even though they are still in the same physical space when the button is clicked, the virtual space is now closed, and it is clear the appointment is over.

Prevent errors

Throughout this course, I think I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s much easier and more effective to design for accessibility at the start, and much harder to add accessibility features to an existing website or technology.

The Telehealth app uses combinatorial aspects of video, audio, and input-output commands that have been set up in the code. It collects data of patients’ name and the date and time of the appointment. It also connects to the calendar feature.

It is unclear to me if this app is as accessible as it could be. However, many of Shneiderman’s Golden Rules seem to account for much of its accessibility.

 

References

“Getting started with telehealth.” (2020). SimplePractice Support. https://support.simplepractice.com/hc/en-us/articles/360001196372-Getting-started-with-Telehealth

Shneiderman, B. (2016) “The eight golden rules of interface design.” University of Marlyland. https://www.cs.umd.edu/users/ben/goldenrules.html

Draft: New Designs of AAC and TTY from Older Design Softwares

Jalyn Marks

“Why should humanists, social scientists, media scholars, and cultural critics care about software? Because outside of certain cultural areas such as crafts and fine art, software has replaced a diverse array of physical, mechanical, and electronic technologies used before the twenty-first century to create, store, distribute and access cultural artifacts” (Manovich, 2013).

Computing, while initially designed for specialized fields like the military, government, and scientific research communities, was redesigned for non-technical and non-specialist users. Computer scientists like Alan Kay, Tim Mott, and Doug Engelbart drew upon other fields, like cognitive psychology, humanities, and business, which influenced their designs to be more user-friendly, intuitive to learning, and easier to use. The more people who have access to using computers, the more creative and productive society will be as a whole.

“Software has become our interface to the world, to others, to our memory and our imagination—a universal language through which the world speaks, and a universal engine on which the world runs” (Manovich, 2013). An example of a an older supporting system technology that has been adapted into new design is the use of point and click to Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) head pointers.

A mean uses an AAC head pointer with a laser to show his partner, a woman, what letters he is using to spell out what he wants to say. They are both smiling.

A mean uses an AAC head pointer with a laser to show his partner, a woman, what letters he is using to spell out what he wants to say. They are both smiling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doug Engelbart invited the mouse and the point-and-click system (Moggridge, 2007).

 

TTY is like a desktop. “The idea of a desktop came to [Thomas Mott] as part of an ‘office schematic’ that would allow people to manipulate entire documents, grabbing them with a mouse and moving them around a representation of an office on the screen” (Moggridge, 2007).

 

Other notes from readings (will update post later):

Media software, what I use every day, shared traits, modularity principle: software to application software to media software, “software enables global information society” like knowledge workers, symbol analysts, creative industries, and service industries,

“hypertext” to mean a body of
written or pictorial material interconnected in such a complex
way that it could not be conveniently presented or represented
on paper.21 Theodore H. Nelson described hypertext as more than links and text; instead, hypertext is a symbol within a greater work, referencing anything, not just a link, not just another picture. It can be anything (Manovich, 2013).

Industry supported them more than academia. Nelson said, “a new, readable medium” (Manovich, 2013). Users can choose between “many different views of the same information”.

“We can add new properties or even invent new types of media by simply changing existing or writing new software. Or by adding plug-ins and extensions, as programmers have been doing it with Photoshop and Firefox, respectively. Or by putting existing software together” (Manovich, 2013).

According to Kay, the key step for him and his group was to start thinking about computers as a medium for learning, experimentation, and artistic expression which can be used not just by adults but also by “children of all ages. Cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner added on to Piaget’s theory of logic. “Mentalities do not replace each other but are added.”

David Canfield Smith referenced Pygmalion in the title of his thesis about a creative programming environment. The book by George Bernard Shaw

Larry Tesler’s license plate said “NO MODES” because he wanted to design user-friendly software, understanding that modes make things more complex.

 

 

Into the Black Box of Computational Thinking

Jalyn Marks

Yet again in this course, I’ve come across another black box that even I, the English major, from the land of “Are You Going to be a Teacher?” and the land of soft skills galore has been open to explore. The accepting tone of Wing’s “Computational Thinking” article (2006) greets the reader with a warm welcome: “Computational thinking is a fundamental skill for everyone, not just computer scientists.” Wing describes the relationship between computers and humans similarly to W. Brian Arthur in The Nature of Technology: “…technologies are shaped by social needs; they come often from experience gained outside the standard domain they apply to” (2009). Like Arthur, Wing states that the ways humans think about and solve problems (read: soft skills!) is mirrored in computational thinking. “[Computational thinking] is not trying to get humans to think like computers” (Wing 2006). Instead, it uses things like planning, learning, and scheduling to meet various social needs.

Evans describes computational thinking not only as something everyone should have access to, but as something that can serve as a “the ultimate mental amplifier” when problem solving (2013). According to him, computer science is interdisciplinary, attributing to its multi-use, multi-user flexibility. When using the Linked-In Learning course on programming, I found–much to my surprise–that coding was fairly intuitive to me, in more ways than one. Most closely, coding is like like poetry; the semantics of a sestina about nostalgia compared to a villanelle about nostalgia might be similar, but the the syntax will always be different. Different poem structures elicit different poetical affects.

As fun as it would be to go into affect theory now, I’m going to shift this essay to my current academic pursuit: Disability Studies. How is computational thinking relevant to the disability world?

There are several starting points I could use (all ideas derived from Evans 2013):

  • Coding executes problems in a faster, shorter way than typing everything out.
  • Universality is the pinnacle value included in universal design (UD).
  • Abstract ideas are concretized in coding.
  • Coding is a textual language and not a natural language. For those who do not use, unreliably use, or minimally use natural language, is textual language more or less accessible? Without much research, my intuition is telling me that yes, textual language is probably more accessible (given my limited interactions with the “Spelliverse” and I-ASC community).
  • Clear rules are helpful to people who like them and challenging for people who don’t. (E.g. Stereotypic that autistics like rules, stereotype that people with developmental disabilities and some behavioral disabilities have trouble following rules)
  • “Anyone who is able to master the intellectual challenge of learning a language… can become a good programmer” (Evans 2013).

Lastly, an original poem/some code:

title = “Python”

num = 26
age = num
age = years_it_took_me_to_learn_Python

if num % 6 == 0:
print(num, “is divisible by the number of lines per stanza in a sestina”)
else:
print(num, “could be lines of a free verse”)

6 != 26

>>> I = 26
>>> Y = 6

NameError: name ‘Y’ is not defined

>>> I == 26
True

>>> 6 * (26==6)
0

print(“Next time, I’ll rhyme.”)

 

References

Arthur, W. B. (2011). The nature of technology: what it holds and how it evolves. Free Press.

Evans, D. (2013). Introduction to computing: explorations in language, logic, and machines. Creative Commons.

Wing, J.M. (2006). Computational thinking. Communications of the ACM, 49(3), 33-45.

Information Over Intelligence

Jalyn Marks

In text messages (and many other modes of communication), senders and receivers know whether or not the message has been viewed. That’s the direct feedback from the interface. However, there are different connotations and denotations of the actual content sent, depending on context, existing relationships between the communicators, etc.

James Gleick quotes Sir Thomas Elyot (16th century) to begin distinguishing information from intelligence, “Nowe used for an elegant word were there is mutuall treaties or appoyntementes, eyther by letters or message” (2011). I really like this quote because it communication is not solely reliant on cognitive or other biological functions; instead, communication is dependent upon access and education. We can ask: do the parties communicating with one another have the cultural, political, and economic backgrounds necessary to send and receive their messages?

Reference

Gleick, J. (2011). The information: A history, a theory, a flood.

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).

References

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. https://www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/aac/

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.

Cognitive Artifacts and Access

Jalyn Marks

Cognitive artifacts reference “the information processing role played by physical artifacts upon the cognition of the individual” (Norman 18). More simply, cognitive artifacts “enhance cognition” (Norman 20).

Norman writes on the ways in which cognitive artifacts influence the behavior and approaches taken to accomplish tasks:

    1. “Distribute the actions across time (precomputation);”
    2. “Distribute the actions across people (distributed cognition);” and,
    3. “Change the actions required of the individuals doing an activity” (22).

A few examples of every day cognitive artifacts that I use are the notes that I write myself on sticky notes–stuck to my computer and reminding me of things to look up later and tasks to complete, my calendar, which helps me plan out my time for school, work, and socially, and my mobile banking app, which aids me in tracking my finances. I have grown up accustomed to referencing these three items so frequently that I am dependent upon them in order to function on a day-to-day basis.

This idea of functioning, decision-making, and working within a society brings me to the topic of free will. “Individuals are active agents in their own development but do not act in settings entirely of their own choosing” (Cole 104). Using my examples above, I was born into a culture that expects me to turn assignments in on time or risk a bad grade or losing my job, which could lead to me being unable to pay my bills, which could lead to me being unable to meet my basic needs, like having food to eat or a place to sleep at night. I have the freedom of choice when it comes to the cognitive artifacts that I use and how frequently I use them, but my culture expects me to figure what works best for me on my own.

There’s no standardization, one-size-fits-all cognitive artifact that meets everyone’s needs. Some cognitive artifacts, like writing in a notebook or learning to read time are taught in school and are common knowledge, but others, like which banking app to download or what dietary food chart to reference, help perpetuate systemic inequities. The cognitive artifacts that I use compared to my neighbor differ depending on various levels of support and access. The access granted to me by the setting I find myself in has a huge impact on my quality of life.

My setting, the culture I find myself in, “can be understood as the entire pool of artifacts accumulated by the social group in the course of its historical experience” (Cole 110). Now, this makes me think of people excluded from the social group, specifically people who communicate differently, either because they speak a different language or have a disability. Cole references American anthropologist Leslie White, who wrote about the shift of objects becoming not just a thing or tool that is used to an artifact; artifacts influence language and behavior, they carrier symbolic meaning and alter values (120). Having been introduced now to cognitive artifacts, I believe they can be utilized to expand the values of society in order to improve access for all.

 

Works Cited

Cole, Michael. Cultural Psychology: A Once and Future Discipline. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1996.

Norman, Donald A., ed. John M. Carroll. “Cognitive Artifacts.” Designing Interaction. Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Modularity and a Health Insurance App

Jalyn Marks

“According to some estimates, as many as 3 million students are covered through student health plans offered by colleges, universities, or other institutions of higher education. ” (Student Health Plans)

Each year, more and more graduate students have health insurance (Bauer-Wolf). Georgetown students have the option to purchase health insurance. The school partners with UnitedHealthcare, which has a dedicated website and app just for students: UnitedHealthcare StudentResources (UHSR). For a case study on modularity, or how systems have “interconnected subcomponents” (Irvine 1) whose architecture, systems, and standards (Langlois 22-23) work together to produce the desired effect of the design, I am going to use the UHSR iPhone app.

The UHSR app is an interesting case study because of the interplay between information contained  within the app, information housed by the users’ medical practitioners, information that the users generally accept to be true about the function of their bodies, and legal and social understandings of what it means to be healthy or sick in the United States. Including all of this nested information aims to encapsulate (Irvine 2) users’ health experiences and resources.

After logging in to the UHSR app, users are directed toward a Dashboard. The user’s name is displayed, along with their student IDs and email address. Options for where to go next include a “Need Care?” section, “Contact Us” section, a commonly used cog-icon to represent settings, and a”My Profile – view your profile” featured prominently in the middle of the page.

UHSR Dashboard

After logging in, students who use the UHSR app are navigated to this page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since I’m concerned with students accessing health services, I’m going to click on the “Need Care?” section, linked to an icon of a plus sign with a circle around it.

UHSR Need Care Section

In this section, users can select: Not Sure Where to Go?, Healthcare Provider, Mental Health Provider, Telehealth Medical, Telehealth Behavioral, and Student Assistance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Language included on this page, like “telehealth” and “behavioral” assumes users share a definition for these terms. The language does attempt to be colloquial, including the interrogative question, “Not sure where to go?” which is fairly engaging. Each option includes an icon, a title and subtitle, and an arrow, which relies on the assumption that users are familiar with smartphones and know to click the arrow in order to progress to the next desired page.

If I wanted to find a doctor–any kind except one who specialized in mental health services–I’d click on the Find Provider section. This section implements a search feature, which includes some drop-down menus, autofill-technology, and GPS, where users can find doctors based on their specialty (assuming that users know what kind of specialist they need to find) and location.

UHSR Find Provider Section

UHSR users can look for doctors using metadata.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If a UHSR user needs to access a doctor immediately, there is a telehealth option. Tools nested into this design include accessing the phone’s calling feature or dial pad.

UHSR Telehealth Medical Page

UHSR users can call telehealth doctors 24/7.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Under Settings, UHSR users can select various options related to the legal information provided by UnitedHealthcare, including accessibility, privacy policy, terms of use, and the end user license agreement. None of these things are directly related to accessing health services, but are important context used to define the overall insurance system.

UHSR Settings Menu

Users of the UHSR app can access various legal documents under the Settings Menu.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The nested structure here is a connection to the phone’s web app, like Chrome or Safari. Once you click on the arrow, the UHSR user is navigated to a weblink.

UHSR Access Statement

The UHSR app’s access statement is a link to an external webpage, outside of the app.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some additional thoughts on modularization and accessibility:

  • I am not a blind user, so I do not know how this app would engage with a screen reader. As a health insurance company, I would prioritize make sure my app could interface smoothly with accessible technology (AT) like screen readers (Screen Readers).
  • Since “modularity also informs recent theory on the philosophy of mind” (Irvine 3), apps–especially health-related ones–should be designed to meet the needs of non-neurotypical users, like autistic users, whose theory of mind might be different (Kapp and Ne’eman).

Works Cited

Bauer-Wolf, Jeremy. Obamacare Has Led to Fewer Uninsured Students, Study Finds, Inside Higher Ed, 30 Mar. 2018, InsideHigherEd.com.

Kapp, Steven and Ari Ne’eman. “ASD in DSM-5: What the Research Shows and Recommendations for Change.” Autistic Self Advocacy Network, 2012.

Irvine, Martin. “Introduction to Modularity and Abstraction Layers.” Unpublished.

Langlois, Richard N. “Modularity in Technology and Organization.” Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, vol. 49. no. 1, 2002: pp. 19-26.

Screen Readers, American Foundation for the Blind, 2020, AFB.org.

Student Health Plans, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, CMS.gov.

Domain Implementation, Influence, and Inclusion

Jalyn Marks

Within design, domains can be implemented within each other, and can also influence each other. “Implementation means that something from one domain is used to create or build something in the other. Influence means that something in one domain affects the behavior of something in the other” (Denning and Martell 15, underlines added). It is my understanding that the implementation of a domain within another is mostly causal and intentional; the influence of a domain upon another seems to have more space to be unintentional. I think this is important to consider because I am thinking about what exactly do people have control over when designing. Therefore, to begin answering my own question, I think it makes more sense to focus on domain implementation before considering influence.

When a computing person or designer is working within a domain, they will implement their past experiences into their problem solving and execution. The designer can be selective in their process–some elements from one domain could be applicable while others are not. Other elements of other domains might also be implemented without the designer being as aware of their influence. On purpose or not, domains, defined as “the communities in which computing people and their customers gather” (Denning and Martell 14), beg the question: who is included within those communities. Then, we can ask: who is not included? Who is not counted as a “customer”? Or, who is not buying (into) a specific domain?

Backing up a bit, domains aren’t just created out of the blue, they emerge “piece by piece from its individual parts” (Arthur 71). Arther argues throughout The Nature of Technology that technology and systems evolve. This is relevant because designers work within the communities and cultural constructions of their times. If we’re thinking about domains, designs, and how they change, we must also consider where their ideas are coming from. What is the domain implementation and influence grounded upon?

“The starting point in systems thinking is to understand technologies and societies not as groupings of isolated, independent parts, but as a complex system of relationships (inter-relations, interdependencies) among and between components that form a continuous structure, not aggregations of random parts” (Irvine 1). Relationships make up communities (and, by extension, domains, technologies, and systems), but as Irvine wrote, these relationships can be complex. Designers might say that complexity can be unavoidable, and therefore no other domain can be implemented for a specific, complex project. “When complexity is unavoidable, when it mirrors the complexity of the world or of the tasks that are being done, then it is excusable, understandable, and learnable” (Norman 10). I think when this happens, the relationships and communities within the domains should be further examined. For example, one might say that people with disabilities, especially cognitive, behavioral, and communication-based, form complex relationships within society, and therefore it is excusable to not design for those outliers. However, I think considering a specific group of people, like people with disabilities, to be complex is a reflection of societal values–rather, the lack of value placed on understanding and including people with disabilities. Historically, communities have not included or counted people with disabilities (or other groups), and therefore implementing or being influenced by existing domains will prove challenging to include this group.

“Good design can provide a desirable, pleasurable sense of empowerment” (Norman 10). Exclusive design, then, which might sound elite and attractive to some, disempowers groups who cannot work within the design commonly implemented by a particular domain. I think all domains–all “communities in which computing people and their customers gather”–is responsible to consider who is being excluded from their community. This will not only benefit outside groups, but will help technology progress. “A change in domain is the main way in which technology progresses” (Arthur 74). I think that focussed efforts around the implementation and influence of domains on each other to broaden their communities will help technology progress for the betterment of everyone.

Works Cited

Arthur, W. Brian. The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves. Free Press, 2019.

Denning, Peter J., and Craig H. Martell. Great Principles of Computing. Cambridge, The MIT Press, 2015.

Irvine, Martin. “Introduction to Design Thinking: Systems and Architectures.” Unpublished: 2019.

Norman, Donald A. Living with Complexity. Cambridge, The MIT Press, 2011.