Does he take Sugar? Moving Beyond the Rhetoric of Compassion

Rogers, Yvonne and Marsden, Gary (2013) Does he take Sugar? Moving Beyond the Rhetoric of Compassion, Interactions, 20, 48-57, ACM SIGCHI.

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For 20 years, up until the late 1990s, the U.K.'s Radio 4 ran a weekly series called "Does He Take Sugar?" that presented an in-depth treatment of disability. The title of the program refers to when someone asks the carer about sugar instead of directly asking the person who is being offered a hot drink. It captures the sentiment of talking about someone who is disabled in the third person, while in their presence, regardless of whether that person can speak for him- or herself. The program brought attention to this kind of "overlooking" and gave disabled people a voice (it also had a disabled presenter). It did wonders for helping "abled" people realize how to listen, talk to, and engage with disabled people just like anyone else. Likewise, HCI has come from a place where our attempts to help others who are "worse off than us" have often ended up being framed in a similar third-person vein. The tendency has been to develop technological solutions for them based on our understanding of what they need, by providing for a lack of something. This could be technical (e.g., access to the Internet, computers, mobile airtime), a declining ability that comes with age (e.g., sight, looking after oneself, memory), or a physical or mental disability (e.g., autism, depression). While many projects have sensitively and successfully demonstrated how novel technologies can support and enhance people's lives (e.g., [1]), some are fronted with a third-person perspective, asking questions such as, "What technology do they need?" And, mostly, we have designed solutions to compensate and overcome rather than to innovate. Although the wider field of HCI has moved forward in its thinking, with a focus now on ethnographic methods and co-design, here we explicate our growing unease with the rhetoric of compassion that underlies much of our wanting to help people. So although HCI may be more attuned to working with people, there still remains a remnant of "sugar thinking" that we will explore in two areas of research—assisted living and information and communication technologies for development (ICT4D)—to illustrate our concerns. As an alternative to focusing on need, we outline an approach that promotes empowerment through technology, enabling other people to become better equipped to the point where they can innovate for themselves. To achieve this, we propose framing HCI research that embraces a rhetoric of engagement. By this we mean talking about, demonstrating, and eventually handing over to people our toolkits, know-how, and technologies so they can decide what to do with them in their own contexts. The people we engage with can be those living in poverty, without access to the Internet, the elderly, the disabled, and so on—but also those whose professional role is to teach, care for, and work with them. In so doing, we see our role as HCI researchers to remain as researchers, and to put our efforts into what we are best at and feel comfortable with—that is, being inventors, imagineers, and purveyors of new interaction design tools, interfaces, and technologies. We leave the appropriation and adapting of those technologies to the people whose lives they might enhance. We empower them to engage with us, not just in design, but in co-creation and clear articulation of their technology desires.

Item Type: Journal article (paginated)
Subjects: Human-centered computing
Date Deposited: 25 Sep 2013
Last Modified: 10 Oct 2019 15:33

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