Special Issue "Socio-technical Approaches for Assistive Technologies and People with Disabilities"

A special issue of Societies (ISSN 2075-4698).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 August 2019).

Special Issue Editors

Dr. Linda Nierling
Website
Guest Editor
Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS), Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), 76131 Karlsruhe, Germany
Interests: concepts and methods of technology assessment; digital technologies in social fields: work, ageing, and assistive technologies
Special Issues and Collections in MDPI journals
Dr. Maria Maia
Website
Guest Editor
Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS), Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), 76131 Karlsruhe, Germany
Interests: citizen and stakeholders’ involvement; responsible research and innovation (RRI); emerging technologies in healthcare
Special Issues and Collections in MDPI journals

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

This Special Issue of Societies invites contributions focussing on socio-technical approaches to Assistive Technologies (ATs) in relation to people with disabilities. The 2006 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) emphasizes that ATs are enablers for people with disabilities especially in areas of independent living, education and employment. The importance of ATs is currently highlighted by many actors (see Nierling et al. 2018). However the socio-technical context in which they are dealt with is often problematic and limits the role of ATs for people with disabilities. Consequently – from our perspective – an integrated approach towards the social embedding of ATs would be supportive in order to better understand, how they should be developed, made available and introduced to people with disabilities.

In this Special Issue we welcome contributions reflecting on the inclusion, participation and engagement of people with disabilities in society, by specifically focussing on the socio-technical context of ATs. Contributions should conceptually or empirically address the inter linkage between the social context and technical solutions. We invite contributions which could (not exclusively) deal with the following topics:

  • Setting ATs in context to discussions on equity, inclusion, solidarity or other relevant subjects
  • Evidence for the role of ATs in employment or educational systems (national or cross-national)
  • Experiences with the UN CRPD with special focus on ATs on national, European or international level
  • Assessment of specific technical devices, solutions or innovations from a social perspective
  • Approaches to innovation, development and design processes of ATs including when necessary a reflection on standards and regulation or connection to the responsible research and innovation (RRI) approach

References:

Nierling, L.; Maia, M.J.F.; Hennen, L.; Wolbring, G.; Bratan, T.; Kukk, P.; Cas, J.; Capari, L.; Krieger-Lamina, J.; Mordini, E. (2018): Assistive technologies for people with disabilities. Part III: Perspectives on assistive technologies. Brussel: European Union, DOI: 10.2861/11162 (available at: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/stoa/cms/cache/offonce/home/studies?page=2)

Dr. Linda Nierling
MSc. Maria Maia
Guest Editors

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Published Papers (13 papers)

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Open AccessArticle
Implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: A Comparison of Four European Countries with Regards to Assistive Technologies
Societies 2020, 10(4), 74; https://doi.org/10.3390/soc10040074 - 25 Sep 2020
Abstract
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is an international treaty that aims to promote, protect and ensure the rights of persons with disabilities so that they can fully participate in society and enjoy the same freedoms and [...] Read more.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is an international treaty that aims to promote, protect and ensure the rights of persons with disabilities so that they can fully participate in society and enjoy the same freedoms and opportunities as others. It provides an important framework for the inclusion of persons with disabilities with the help of Assistive Technologies (AT). This paper assesses and compares the implementation of the CRPD with regards to the availability of AT in four countries (Germany, Hungary, Portugal and Sweden), which to some extent represent different European regions. The paper is based on a review of relevant academic literature, the DOTCOM database and regulatory documents as well as on five validation interviews with national experts. In the countries studied, anti-discriminatory and other legislation is included at the highest level of the legal framework and contains detailed rules on definitions, remedies and legal procedures. There are specific prohibitions in several fields, such as employment, housing, and healthcare. Nonetheless, there are still cases of non-compliance with the CRPD and of laws and regulations which discriminate against persons with a disability. Additionally, there are great variations between countries. As very positive examples of favourable regulatory frameworks for furthering inclusion with the help of ATs do exist, there may be benefit in raising awareness of such examples to support other countries in developing their own measures. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Assistive Technologies: Social Barriers and Socio-Technical Pathways
Societies 2020, 10(2), 41; https://doi.org/10.3390/soc10020041 - 31 May 2020
Abstract
Against the background of recent international regulation, the role of assistive technologies in the fields of independent living, education, and employment is analyzed in this article to propose a future strategy for a socio-technical perspective on their further development processes. Based on qualitative [...] Read more.
Against the background of recent international regulation, the role of assistive technologies in the fields of independent living, education, and employment is analyzed in this article to propose a future strategy for a socio-technical perspective on their further development processes. Based on qualitative expert interviews at the European level, the role and scope of ATs in these fields are described for three types of disabilities: visual impairment, hearing impairment, and autism spectrum disorder. The findings show that digitalization processes entail major opportunities and challenges for ATs in all three fields and that further measures are needed to bring technical opportunities to their full potential in adverse social contexts. Regarding future technology development, the authors propose a development strategy focusing strongly on the social context of the devices. Only in this manner, relevant “unintended consequences”, as well as social or ethical concerns, can be identified and addressed. Full article
Open AccessArticle
HabITec: A Sociotechnical Space for Promoting the Application of Technology to Rehabilitation
Societies 2019, 9(4), 74; https://doi.org/10.3390/soc9040074 - 05 Nov 2019
Cited by 3
Abstract
Society is currently facing unprecedented technological advances that simultaneously create opportunities and risks. Technology has the potential to revolutionize rehabilitation and redefine the way we think about disability. As more advanced technology becomes available, impairments and the environmental barriers that engender disability can [...] Read more.
Society is currently facing unprecedented technological advances that simultaneously create opportunities and risks. Technology has the potential to revolutionize rehabilitation and redefine the way we think about disability. As more advanced technology becomes available, impairments and the environmental barriers that engender disability can be significantly mitigated. The opportunity to apply technology to rehabilitation following serious injuries or illnesses is becoming more evident. However, the translation of these innovations into practice remains limited and often inequitable. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that not all relevant parties are involved in the decision-making process. Our solution was to create a sociotechnical system, known as HabITec, where people with disabilities, practitioners, funders, researchers, designers and developers can work together and co-create new solutions. Sociotechnical thinking is collaborative, interdisciplinary, adaptive, problem-solving and focused on a shared set of goals. By applying a sociotechnical approach to the healthcare sector, we aimed to minimize the lag in translating new technologies into rehabilitation practice. This collaborative co-design process supports innovation and ensures that technological solutions are practical and meaningful, ethical, sustainable and contextualized. In this conceptual paper, we presented the HabITec model along with the empirical evidence and theories on which it has been built. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Accessibility of Assistive Technologies as a Factor in the Successful Realization of the Labor Potential of Persons with Disabilities: Russia’s Experience
Societies 2019, 9(4), 70; https://doi.org/10.3390/soc9040070 - 15 Oct 2019
Cited by 1
Abstract
In this article, the accessibility of assistive technologies is considered as a factor in the realization of the labor potential of persons with disabilities and is analyzed in the context of the accessibility of the urban environment, the enterprise environment, and directly at [...] Read more.
In this article, the accessibility of assistive technologies is considered as a factor in the realization of the labor potential of persons with disabilities and is analyzed in the context of the accessibility of the urban environment, the enterprise environment, and directly at the workplace. The analysis was based on data from two studies, which were devoted to persons with disabilities in Moscow’s labor market, but the identified problems were not specific to the capital region. In Russian provinces, these issues are even more acute due to the scarcity of regional budgets and the populations’ lower standards of living. The results showed that there were contradictions and problems in each of the considered aspects of this problem. In terms of quantity, the availability of assistive technologies to persons with disabilities is growing, but modern assistive technologies are often not accessible to disabled people because of the high cost and specifics of the public procurement system. Among other barriers to the use of modern assistive technologies by persons with disabilities are ignorance and conservatism of employees of the medical and social expertise systems. The urban environment and urban transport have become more adapted to the needs of disabled people, but existing improvements are far from being sufficient, and many of them are imitative. The State declares the need to include persons with disabilities in the labor sphere, but at the same time insufficiently stimulates employers to create adapted workplaces and does not support enterprises specializing in providing employment for people with disabilities. All of these factors confirm the need for an integrated approach to study the implementation processes of ATs. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Neuro-Advancements and the Role of Nurses as Stated in Academic Literature and Canadian Newspapers
Societies 2019, 9(3), 61; https://doi.org/10.3390/soc9030061 - 26 Aug 2019
Abstract
Neurosciences and neurotechnologies (from now on called neuro-advancements) constantly evolve and influence all facets of society. Neuroethics and neuro-governance discourses focus on the impact of neuro-advancements on individuals and society, and stakeholder involvement is identified as an important aspect of being able to [...] Read more.
Neurosciences and neurotechnologies (from now on called neuro-advancements) constantly evolve and influence all facets of society. Neuroethics and neuro-governance discourses focus on the impact of neuro-advancements on individuals and society, and stakeholder involvement is identified as an important aspect of being able to deal with such an impact. Nurses engage with neuro-advancements within their occupation, including neuro-linked assistive technologies, such as brain-computer interfaces, cochlear implants, and virtual reality. The role of nurses is multifaceted and includes being providers of clinical and other health services, educators, advocates for their field and their clients, including disabled people, researchers, and influencers of policy discourses. Nurses have a stake in how neuro-advancements are governed, therefore, being influencers of neuroethics and neuro-governance discourses should be one of these roles. Lifelong learning and professional development could be one mechanism to increase the knowledge of nurses about ethical, social, and legal issues linked to neuro-advancements, which in turn, would allow nurses to provide meaningful input towards neuro-advancement discussions. Disabled people are often the recipients of neuro-advancements and are clients of nurses, therefore, they have a stake in the way nurses interact with neuro-advancements and influence the sociotechnical context of neuro-advancements, which include neuro-linked assistive devices. We performed a scoping review to investigate the role of narrative around nurses in relation to neuro-advancements within academic literature and newspapers. We found minimal engagement with the role of nurses outside of clinical services. No article raised the issue of nurses having to be involved in neuro-ethics and neuro-governance discussions or how lifelong learning could be used to gain that competency. Few articles used the term assistive technology or assistive device and no article covered the engagement of nurses with disabled people within a socio-technical context. We submit that the role narrative falls short of what is expected from nurses and shows shortcomings at the intersection of nurses, socio-technical approaches to neuro-assistive technologies and other neuro-advancements and people with disabilities. Neuro-governance and neuroethic discourses could be a useful way for nurses and disabled people to co-shape the socio-technical context of neuro-advancements, including neuro-assistive technologies. Lifelong learning initiatives should be put in place to provide the knowledge necessary for nurses to take part in the neuroethics and neuro-governance discussion. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Stakeholders’ Views on Responsible Assessments of Assistive Technologies through an Ethical HTA Matrix
Societies 2019, 9(3), 51; https://doi.org/10.3390/soc9030051 - 28 Jun 2019
Abstract
Assessments of novel assistive technologies for use in home-based services has been documented to be performed in a variety of ways and often with a rather narrow focus on safety and effect or effectiveness. In order better to understand the place for wider [...] Read more.
Assessments of novel assistive technologies for use in home-based services has been documented to be performed in a variety of ways and often with a rather narrow focus on safety and effect or effectiveness. In order better to understand the place for wider forms of assessments of assistive technologies, the current study presents a combination of the Ethical Matrix and the Socratic approach for assessment of health technologies—the Ethical HTA Matrix. This matrix was filled with content based on a case of a GPS localization system, which was validated by stakeholders. In a next step, central decision-makers in assistive technologies and stakeholders were interviewed concerning their views on this methodology. Mainly, the matrix was seen as very comprehensive, but too detailed with an abundance of information. Nevertheless, some informants suggested concrete uses of the matrix in their organizations. Some understood the matrix more as an epistemic tool aiming at providing an overview of the state of knowledge, while others identified a normative potential in the matrix that could be implemented in health innovation processes for the home-based services, in particular when discussing novel solutions and working methods with health professionals and care workers. Full article
Open AccessArticle
The Duplicity of Choice and Empowerment: Disability Rights Diluted in Australia’s Policies on Assistive Technology
Societies 2019, 9(2), 39; https://doi.org/10.3390/soc9020039 - 22 May 2019
Abstract
The combination of choice as a contested concept and its increasing adoption as a policy principle necessitates a critical analysis of its interpretation within Australia’s reforms to disability services. While choice may appear to be an abstract and flexible principle in policy, its [...] Read more.
The combination of choice as a contested concept and its increasing adoption as a policy principle necessitates a critical analysis of its interpretation within Australia’s reforms to disability services. While choice may appear to be an abstract and flexible principle in policy, its operationalization in practice tends to come with conditions. This paper investigates the interpretation of choice in the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), via an interpretive policy analysis of assistive technology (AT) provision. Analysis of policy artefacts reveals a diminishing influence of disability rights in favor of an economic discourse, and contradictory assumptions about choice in the implementation of legislation. The language of choice and empowerment masks the relegation of the presumption of capacity to instead perpetuate professional power in determining access to resources by people with disability. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Public Participation in the Development Process of a Mobility Assistance System for Visually Impaired Pedestrians
Societies 2019, 9(2), 32; https://doi.org/10.3390/soc9020032 - 27 Apr 2019
Cited by 1
Abstract
Blind and visually impaired people have to cope with the safe movement through public space and the (lack of) knowledge of spatial issues and walkable routes. These challenges often lead to a fear of accidents and collisions, frequently also of disorientation. This, in [...] Read more.
Blind and visually impaired people have to cope with the safe movement through public space and the (lack of) knowledge of spatial issues and walkable routes. These challenges often lead to a fear of accidents and collisions, frequently also of disorientation. This, in turn, can result in a reduced radius of action, restricted mobility, and later on, in social isolation. Against this background, the project TERRAIN aims at developing a technical guidance system for orientation and navigation in urban space. For the development of this assistance system, the project pursues an approach in which reflexive, responsive, and deliberative dimensions have been integrated to address the ethical, legal and social implications (ELSI) in a co-design process. This paper focuses on the participation of citizens independent of vision impairments in the project which provided a variety of relevant indications of impacts and potential technical adaptations from an ‘outer’ point of view. In addition, conclusions can be drawn about the existing desirability and acceptance of the technical solution among the potential users as well as their social environment of potential users. In addition, it turned out that the citizen participation process raised different expectations among the project partners. Therefore, this article evaluates the participation results from the perspective of the technology developers and the technology assessors. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Influence of Digitalization on the Tasks of Employees with Disabilities in Germany (1979–2006)
Societies 2019, 9(1), 18; https://doi.org/10.3390/soc9010018 - 11 Mar 2019
Cited by 1
Abstract
The deployment of technology in the workplace is increasingly replacing routine tasks and creating more non-routine tasks. In this article, we investigate the influence of computer technology on tasks carried out by employees with disabilities compared to employees without disabilities. We assume significant [...] Read more.
The deployment of technology in the workplace is increasingly replacing routine tasks and creating more non-routine tasks. In this article, we investigate the influence of computer technology on tasks carried out by employees with disabilities compared to employees without disabilities. We assume significant differences between both groups and stronger substitutive and complementary effects of computer technology in the case of a higher degree of disability. We use four waves of the German BIBB-IAB (BIBB: Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training- IAB: Institute of Employment Research) and BIBB-BauA (BIBB: Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training- BauA: German Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Employment surveys (1976–2006) to investigate the development of tasks and the influence of computer technology carried out by employees with disabilities compared to employees without disabilities. The results show a development of tasks carried out by employees with disabilities that is very similar to that of employees without disabilities. In line with the assumptions of the task-based approach, we find that computer technology in the workplace has a complementary effect on routine tasks and a substitutive effect on non-routine tasks carried out by employees with disabilities. Against our theoretical assumptions, we find no systematic differences in the effects of computer technology on the tasks of employees with and without a disability. Moreover, we do not find systematic differences with regard to the degree of disability. Full article

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Open AccessEssay
Obstacles to Prosthetic Care—Legal and Ethical Aspects of Access to Upper and Lower Limb Prosthetics in Germany and the Improvement of Prosthetic Care from a Social Perspective
Societies 2020, 10(1), 10; https://doi.org/10.3390/soc10010010 - 16 Jan 2020
Abstract
Prosthetic technology for people with missing limbs has made great progress in recent decades. However, acceptance rates and user satisfaction are not only dependent on technical aspects, but also to a great extent on social and psychological factors. We propose that these factors [...] Read more.
Prosthetic technology for people with missing limbs has made great progress in recent decades. However, acceptance rates and user satisfaction are not only dependent on technical aspects, but also to a great extent on social and psychological factors. We propose that these factors should receive greater attention in order to improve prosthetic care and give recommendations how to incorporate the findings from social science in research and development (R&D) and in care practice. Limited access due to high costs of new prosthetic technology combined with rising costs in health care systems in general is a further issue we address. Our legal and ethical analysis of the reimbursement process in Germany shows that this issue requires further empirical investigation, a stakeholder dialogue and maybe even policy changes. Social science knowledge and participatory methods are of high relevance to answer questions about the benefit of prosthetics for users, based on individual needs and preferences, which should be at the core of debates on ethical resource allocation. Full article
Open AccessConcept Paper
The Convergence and Mainstreaming of Integrated Home Technologies for People with Disability
Societies 2019, 9(4), 69; https://doi.org/10.3390/soc9040069 - 14 Oct 2019
Cited by 2
Abstract
If human rights begin in small places close to home, technologies that enable people with disability to access and control their home environments are an important human rights instrument. Smart homes exemplify recent advances in design, building construction, and integration of technologies within [...] Read more.
If human rights begin in small places close to home, technologies that enable people with disability to access and control their home environments are an important human rights instrument. Smart homes exemplify recent advances in design, building construction, and integration of technologies within the built environment. They draw on multiple social and technical disciplines that share a broad vision but lack a common language, creating ambiguity and limiting the usefulness of the evidence base in determining optimal ways to integrate technologies and housing design to meet diverse needs. The convergence of mainstream and assistive technologies offers the potential of accessible and affordable strategies for inclusion, but also risks further exclusion of marginalized sections of the population. Coordination of efforts might accelerate translation of knowledge and diffusion of innovations into the practices of planning, designing, building, and sustaining housing that promotes independent living. This conceptual paper reviews the theoretical frameworks and terminology from fields of research involved in the design and use of technologies in the home environment to enable people with disability and older people. It considers approaches to design and interventions that could inform policies and practices as well as further research and development activities. Full article
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Open AccessLetter
Innovation in Assistive Technology: Voice of the User
Societies 2019, 9(2), 48; https://doi.org/10.3390/soc9020048 - 24 Jun 2019
Cited by 1
Abstract
This article is an open letter to assistive technology stakeholders from an assistive technology user perspective. Contemporary systems thinking in assistive technology identifies the interlinking themes of people, products, personnel, policy and provision. We add to the current discourse on these five themes [...] Read more.
This article is an open letter to assistive technology stakeholders from an assistive technology user perspective. Contemporary systems thinking in assistive technology identifies the interlinking themes of people, products, personnel, policy and provision. We add to the current discourse on these five themes through the voice of an expert assistive technology user, who states that “As a disabled person and as a long-time expert assistive technology user, this is everything that I wish you knew and everything I wish you would do.” Our objective is to provide a user-centered commentary upon current trends and innovations in assistive technology, illuminating real impacts and outcomes from a social perspective and adding a rarely-heard voice to the literature. Full article
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Open AccessConcept Paper
Spotlight on Siblings: Considering Social Context in Home Modification Practice
Societies 2019, 9(2), 30; https://doi.org/10.3390/soc9020030 - 24 Apr 2019
Abstract
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) recognizes the role of Assistive Technologies (AT) in enabling independent living and inclusion of people with disabilities. Research into the provision of AT and disability services in general has highlighted the [...] Read more.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) recognizes the role of Assistive Technologies (AT) in enabling independent living and inclusion of people with disabilities. Research into the provision of AT and disability services in general has highlighted the importance of social context and its influence on individual outcomes. However, there is little recognition of sibling roles, relationships and rights in the guidance available for practitioners. This paper explores the socio-technical context of home modification practice and the importance of involving siblings. The international context and concepts behind AT provision, including home modifications, and issues emerging from practice in Australia’s new National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) are discussed. Based on extensive practical experience and peer review, the “5 S’s for Siblings” is presented as a practice approach for involving siblings in the home modification process. Policy and practice implications are presented, including communication strategies for working in partnership with individuals and their families, and alignment with national standards and human rights principles. Involving siblings in the home modification process recognizes the important role they play in the lives of people with disabilities, both now and in the future. Full article
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