School of Human Studies, Ambedkar University, Delhi

Understanding Disability and Access in the Global South:
Some post-Humanist Questions



Good evening everyone. and a very warm welcome to the webinar. Before we begin the actual event. I have a few announcements to make. So that we can create a smooth and pleasant experience for everyone.

You might have noticed that all of your microphones have been muted. They will be muted through the session. Any questions to the speaker, please feel free to post them in the chat, they will be taken in the q&a session.All participants except those who communicate by sign language I requested to keep their videos off.

We have sign language interpreters to aid smooth participation. The active sign language interpreter has been spotlighted now, and we have two interpreters so every half an hour, there will be a switch of interpreters.

There is also automated live captioning for this event. And in order to enable it, you should first click on the red live indicator. screen reader users can click on the button that says order AI live streaming.

And in the drop down, click on View stream on otter AI transcripts.The live transcript will actually open in a new browser window. So, it will be helpful if you can resize both of your windows that is the zoom window and the browser window so that you can have a pleasant viewing experience.

You can contact any of us for logistical queries. You can post them in chat as well. I hope you have a pleasant webinar ahead. I can now hand over the mike to Professor Amit.

Prof.Amit Prakash

Thank you. Thank you for the instructions. My name is Amit Prakash. I’m a faculty member at IIIT Bangalore. And I am associated with the newly setup center for accessibility in the global south (CAGS) at the Institute.

Welcome to this webinar. This is the first webinar that is being conducted by the center. The center is a research and outreach unit at triple it Bangalore. It has been established in partnership with researchers and practitioners at Microsoft Research India and vision empower. It aims to be a center of excellence and scholarship, bringing together, Academia, industry, government, disabled people’s organizations and changemakers in the area of accessibility to study and understand the various concerns related to persons with disabilities in the global south and help in creating and disseminating effective solutions.

The R3D research, Rethink, and Respond to Disability webinar series has its objective as read negotiating extending and opening up the academic space to alternative knowledge, ways of conducting research and modes of expression beyond the traditional structures and forms.

Through these webinars we seek to enable diverse stakeholders will come together for discussions and debates on factors influencing the research on disability and technology. So thank you very much for joining us today on this very first webinar. Before we start the talk by Professor Ghai, may I request our director Professor Sadgopan to address all of us, but said open please.

Professor Sadgopan:

Thank you, Amit. I am indeed delighted to be formally launching the center today. This has come after a year of painstaking effort by our colleague Professor Amit Prakash especial thanks to Manohar Swaminathan from Microsoft Research for agreeing to be the CO director of the Center.

We are indeed delighted to have an eminent researcher Dr Anita Ghai, giving the talk today. At IIITB we have been witness to a number of seemingly unrelated but looking back, providentially well connected developments.

  1. 20 years back, we had a teaching assistant in our labs to assist Professor denisha in programming assignments. Her hard work and determination helped her to find a job. Today she’s a senior person in dell.

10 years back we hired a physically challenged person as a staff member. She’s a quiet worker. 5 years back we had an unusual student who walked into my office seeking admission. She was physically challenged from birth. I wanted to help her, but I was not sure, as to how my colleagues can teach her.She formally applied after a year working as a graduate employee, got admission on her own merit, topped the batch when she graduated. She is funded by Microsoft. And today she’s an entrepreneur.This year, one of our current batch of students, became the national champion in blind tennis. There were many such developments that convinced us, there is a need, and we have something to contribute with Dr. Swamy Manohar endorsing it. The center is on. And that’s why we are here. Thank you, Amit. Thank you Dr Swamy Manohar too.

Professor Amit Prakash:

Over to you, Amit.Thank you, thank you Professor Sadagopan. well I just pass on the floor to dr Swamy Manohar, who is the CO convener of the center. Dr. Manohar is a principal researcher at Microsoft Research India, and his primary research interest is in virtual and augmented reality technologies. He is currently focused on applying these technologies for empowering visually impaired persons. Dr Swamy Manohar has kindly agreed to moderate and share the session. Over to you Dr Manohar.


Thanks very much. I mean, it’s indeed a pleasure and honor to be here. And I’m so happy to be part of the first lecture in our series, and especially delighted to host, Professor Anita Ghai as the first speaker. Nothing about us without us is the rallying slogan of all marginalized communities in general, and people with disabilities in particular. This slogan I believe informs all of our efforts as we start to bring shape to this new center. And that’s why it’s, I think eminently appropriate to have Professor Ghai launch this series of lectures today.

Professor Ghai, I’ll refer to her as Anita, is such a delight to meet and I’m again honored to be collaborating with her. Anita is a globally recognized scholar in disability studies in the global south. Her books on the subject are deep and scholarly while being very very accessible to people like me trying to understand this new area of disability studies, especially with relevance to the global south. What I really loved about writing is a courage and honesty in talking about personal disabilities but always with academic rigor and objectivity, powerful mix. I look forward to her talk today. Formal introduction. Professor writer guy joined us professor in the School of human studies Ambedkar University Delhi in 2015. Before this, anita has been Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology and justice in Jesus and Mary College, University of Delhi. her interest is in disability studies and issues of sexuality, care, psychology and gender.

As a former fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum library team was born, Anita has researched on issues of care of disabled women recipients, and providers of care with learnings towards… leanings towards feminist and disability theory. And it has been the former president of the Indian Association of Women studies. She has authored three or four books I’ve read two of them: rethinking disability in India, disembodied form: issues of disabled women, co-authored the mentally handicapped prediction of the work performance and also edited disability in South Asia, knowledge and experience. She’s also an editor of disability in society Scandinavian Journal of disability research, and the Indian Journal of disability studies, over to you Anita, and it’s such a delight to have you here. Please go ahead.

Prof.Anita Ghai:

Thank you so much and I feel very very honored to be a part of such a center where both research as well as academia and and disabled people would be would be the stakeholders and together they would kind of move on. I’m really thankful to Dr. sadagopan and Amitji and everyone.

And let me, let me just simply start by saying that people who really like technology, I am kind of a cyborg, you know, because I, I have a motorized wheelchair, which actually makes me, you know, very mobile. And of course, a lot of people who kind of envy me that this this this mobility.

Sometimes it’s very problematic for many people. So, let me begin with the, my talk, which is on disability studies and technology as well as I end up with, going into post humanism, and some questions that are raised by Rosi Braidotti specifically. So, let me start. questions of race, gender caste and class is one of the most stimulating topics among scholars who have interest in marginality. in my understanding the comprehension meaning of disability in India has been understood as embedded in multiple cultural discourses that are subtly nuanced. in today’s presentation I would like to focus on the significance of understanding disability as knowledge production with the recognition that situated knowledge emerges from disability experience to the genesis of disability studies reflects not only the pain and anguish of disabled lives, but also the resistance to oppression inherent in living with a label, which evokes and attaches a negative value to lack deficient, as well as difference, the normative culture, both in India and the world over carries existential and aesthetic anxieties about difference of any kind, be it caste, class, gender, or disability. This leads to a creation of living reality of acute marginalization discrimination and stigmatization. Consequently, my research and practice have led to the evolution and legitimation of disability studies as a discipline. Before I underscored the potential of disability studies, let me foreground some of the challenges that I have led to the development of disability studies as a disabled woman with a visible impairment, and and a cyborg my own location in the field is complicated as my subject position is relevant to anyone researching disability. So the questions that emerge, are as follows. For example, what is my stance, as an activist, or academician with what authority can I speak about disability and disability studies, what is the politics of my epistemic privilege. And why am I speaking with disabled people, or about them. What language were used to describe disability? Who has the power to name and label. How does understanding of disability studies exclude others from speaking out. How should I negotiate with the issues of diagnosis and certification? perhaps the simplest way to think of emergence of the fields, is to identify disability studies as the academic side of disability rights movement and the you can when UN Convention, the political theorist Michael Walzer has concisely characterized social criticism, as the educated cousin of the common complaint, to make his argument that effective social theory must never move far from the very real problems faced by people. So disability studies is an interdisciplinary field of study concerned with the representation of the concepts of culture and personal experiences of disability in all its variations. disability studies in the West and some universities in India, including mine are already tackling the multiplicity of the goals of disability studies, one way in which this is being done is to mark out the differences from other fields as the term disability studies cannot be a substitute for special education or rehab sciences. My understanding is that disability studies is compatible with community support and inclusive education, but the main concern is not think of community support and inclusive education as proxies for DS, or the other way round, DS as a proxy for the other two. Though there is some movement from the religious, charitable, medical, and the social framed in cultural context and understanding of disability as legitimate knowledge is still missing. people oriented movements have highlighted oppressive structures and foregrounded the rights of marginalized communities. However, these voices do not include the knowledge base of disability. Both academics as well as activists work on the assumption that there are far more serious issues, such that of survival, that need attention as if disabled people should wait their turn, until the issue of poverty and employment are fully sorted out. It may be noted that all marginalized identities, such as gender or caste suffered this problem of not being recognized in mainstream issues, but that disability is more marginalized, even within the marginalized. It is important to realize that the study of disability should question, not only the issues of medical cure or rehab, but also conceptualize disability as a social category on par with gender, class caste race and sexual orientation.

Disability Studies has not been privileged within academia, perhaps because understanding of disabilities are intimately connected to the study of ignorance, how and why various forms of knowing related to disability, have not come to be, or disappeared, or have been delayed or long neglected, for better or worse at various points in history. Absence of disability from the mainstream academia, creates and maintains the status quo, whether disability is incorporated within the existing social patterns as a problem, disability does remains an out and out state, both politically and economically. It is the source of its own oppression. Such an understanding suggests that more is at stake than a problematizing discourse of specific categories, by not exploring this relationship, higher education at large has delimited inquiry and pursuit of knowledge of disability, possibly the reason is that schools, colleges and universities across communities, remain sites where not only knowledge but also a middle class orientation with its patriarchal neoliberal and normative values are produced and reproduced. An academic understanding of disability as a social, cultural, and political phenomenon is central to come to the notion as an of disability as an inherent unchallengeable trait, located in the individual such an approach. Yeah.

Professor Amit: Sorry, can you slightly slow down.

Professor Ghai: Okay. Sorry. Thank you. Sorry, sorry for this. such an approach rejects the view that disability is solely a medical problem or a personal tragedy. Disability Studies, thus places, the responsibility for reexamining and repositioning the place of disability within society, not on the individual, but on academia, as well as society itself. Disability Studies may be many things to many people. But if its full potential is to be realized. Then it must avoid being seen as simply old wine in a new bottle, perhaps, the purpose of making disability studies and academic discipline is to create a body of knowledge, which can provide orientations towards rethinking and reflecting upon aspects of our comprehension of disability and social marginalization. disability studies exists at the uneven boundaries of the social. The concurrently rebellious and the celebratory in its insistence that disability is neither tragedy, nor inspiration, but a satisfying and enjoyable way of being in the world, even if only the ablest world would not get in the way. Just like the unforeseen disability, possibilities of a new day, reflecting on the field of disability studies is also loaded with the unknown. For instance, knowledge of disability has to be engaged in the unlearning of the traditional thinking privilege. So that disability helps us rethink the concept of marginality itself. It offers us a position to learn to one another, but it also helps one to learn to speak in such a way that renegotiates our relationships between the margin, and the center. Disability Studies, help us rewrite the relationship between the edge, and the epicenter in academia, as well as activism.

There are no easy answers to this never ending questions of identity and interconnections. There is no easy way of drawing boundaries, who should be in, and who should be out no easy inventory of heterogeneity of innumerable disability communities, both as an academician and advocate, I believe that disability studies make these questions, relevant to everyone, whether they identify as disabled or not, at any given time. It seems to me that identity is not an idle insertion into political discourse. Rather, it has critical implications for how discipline of disability studies can expand and thrive within academia, As an insider. I find that ideas are wide ranging and the most radical reimagining of possibilities. They produce few answers, but rather embrace the practice of constantly troubling the questions they make even the radical seem quite conservative, for instance, take any theory: humanism, psychoanalysis, Marxism, critical theory, feminists theory, LGBT queer theory. You bring disability studies in myths and post questions such as what are the conceptions of the normal. What is autonomy. When exactly is life, not worth living. Why does rationality, have to be the sole determinant of our humanity. How do we define limits of humanity. Does disability studies embody unsettling ideas that refuse to disappear. The promise of disability studies is that it can read you attention of the disembodied and embodied beings that very often, utilize their bodies as a means of organizing insights, regarding the circumstances surrounding them.

One undercurrent that the potential of enriching lives of persons with disabilities is assistive technology. I would call it AT. If it’s okay to connect with people and provide a means of access to education, commerce, employment, and entertainment. assistive technology in the global north functions on the principle that independence and access is equal to the that is equal to the mainstream society is the desired end goal of people with disability communication technologies and new media promised to revolutionize our lives by breaking down barriers. This is by Goggin, quote, and expanding access for people for disabled people.

To me, technology is often branded as redeeming and presumably, allowing each person to outcome to overcome the social educational and physical barriers, like a perfect understanding, technology, assures us read person with disability to unshackle us from the confines of embodiment and provide us with the revolutionary antidote for impairment, the fantasy is that disability would simply fade away or become a largely incept insignificant difference, a powerful application reflected in these is that assistive technology, in particular, complement the playing field. However, I believe the relationship between technology and access is contradictory. Let me underscore the fact that technology can also isolate people creating unique forms of social exclusion, a case of education in COVID is an example. A farmer sells a cow to buy a smartphone to get his son, educated. These exclusions are more powerful for persons with disabilities as the discursive practices around assistive technology in school and college settings where technology is matched to student impairments is problematic segregation, however, can be subtler technology for instance privileges particular ways of being, which are grounded in the normative social, cultural and economic practices, further in design, manufacture marketing and implementation of technology. In other words, technology is designed in ways that reflect that reflect taken for granted ideas about what constitutes normal this assertion is being questioned by scholars in the global south as the context is critically divergent as persons with disability, primarily rely on their familial, and community. Community ties for their everyday life, and not as government programs, or public resources, even if legally mandated these ideas about how we should operate, are embedded within technology, and that reflective of an ability expectation worldview, one that would run that would view. For example, a cochlear implant as a desirable and necessary technological advancement over deafness, which would be perceived from this vantage point as pathological and disabling rather than as a linguistic minority identity reflective of a Deaf culture. Technology is very much a part of larger social context, such normative assumptions about how bodies are supposed to operate are deeply entrenched in all aspects of technology. Moreover, these ideologies of ability and normalcy are implicated in our thinking and practices that we often fail to notice that patterns, authorities, contradictions and influence.

One of the fellow disabled scholars, Tobin Siebers who is no more.

Thus, the global south, will have to rethink of the design of assistive technology solutions for these from the bottom up, taking up the social context and the existing networks of support around persons with disabilities for us, affordability is important, but we have to think about the identity issues as well in global south, a compulsion for technological answers to inaccessibility may represent a shift from the responsibility of society to remove barriers to full participation in society, or to require individuals with, and to submit to a technological fix, in a way, assistive technology could be thought of as promoting a form of what McRuer calls compulsory able bodiedness where individuals are coerced to rely on technology to comply with the able bodied norms, rather than challenging the boundaries of what is considered as normal. This kind of thinking, also, is important that there is technology that is designed for disabled disabled people, and technology designed for presumed non-disabled people, and more. Notably, that the latter need not be accessible because of the former. My suggestion is that design of new technology for people with disabilities should neither be driven incrementally simply by the incorporation of accessibility features into mainstream technology, nor through a function driven approach that ignores the experience of technological use. I come across inaccessible websites media and electronic forums. technology can also result in unexpected and offer understated forms of exclusion. the fact that technology can isolate people happens when a student is encouraged or required to take an online course, rather than a course on campus that students risk being further isolated from social opportunities available to students who take courses in. campus isolation can be accurate in ways that accessibility is approached as a retrofit or add on to accessibility, rather than being a meaningful working of the infrastructure. The implication is that costly accessible options are always one step behind, whatever technology is being nurtured for mainstream market. I often think of pirated jaws software, being used as software is very expensive… devices designed to pose solution to problems, falling into what Hendricks calls, narrow functioning traps, that says to empower users through what their technology can enable them to accomplish from a disability studies standpoint, I argue, how the wave it raise people engaged with their devices are ignored, when certain technologies are coded to allow disabled people to participate in society.

For instance, specific devices using associated with disability can lead to feelings of stigmatization by the users, for example, the hearing aids. This assistive technology represents thanks to associate with the medicalize technological design that could could have been more socially minded and inclusive, as all technology assists everybody in some fashion or the other, will bring a fellow disabled and his colleagues, give a concrete example brain machine interfaces BMI, or brain computer interfaces BCI is seen as useful for many disabled people, including many having ASD visual impairment or hearing impairments. However, the academic literature overwhelming covers disabled people as a user, within a medical framework. There’s the bias evident in the imagery of disabled people is particularly revealing in the BMI, and BCI example, because both are also created for the non disabled users. Also, yet technologies developed to maintain the status quo of normal efficiency are not usually attentive to alternative experiences outside the outside of full mastery. I would underscore the fact that purchase costs, not only include the price of devices such as hi fi motorized wheelchairs, but also costs for services and training needs associated with the technology and aspect, often disregarded close to home.

disabled people have been highly critical of prenatal screening and selective abortion, seeing them as a new strategy of eugenics new reproductive techniques reinforce the notion that there is an ideal that humanity must aspire for. Such opposition looks at disability as deficit. However, this approaches, like a slippery slope to other forms of selection, and thus eventually to a world of new designer baby eugenics in this view, disability offers a way of resisting homogenization, what is required this political work, which can reflect on the social values and structural inequities that promote choices.

I have come across Joyajeet Pal and Manohar Swaminathan’s research and work on a new technology for assistive technology. The latter started working on technologies for people with vision impairments. About four years ago. Moving to the area with the background in virtual and augmented reality technologies and predictably the early projects were focused on the disabled in the global not. For example, the indoor navigation for persons with visual impairments, was evident. Another ongoing project is to make mainstream video games, accessible to persons with visual impairment using immersive spatial audio, but bringing Joyajeet’s background on disability studies, they evolved a new approach, known as the ludic design for accessibility, they propose the notion of Ludic design as a framework to rethink accessibility, specifically, building on past work on Play and enjoyment in the process of interaction with the world around oneself. The key premise is that play and playfulness are central to what makes us human. And that by separating playfulness and exploration from the design experience. We failed the intended end users of our products. They have been appearing. The unique design methodology to introduce digital skills and computational thinking for children who are visually impaired, all the results of the work. As reported in the research plan. These projects involve a diverse set of researchers, including two that are blind, working with children, and many teachers who are also visually impaired. One of the early insights from their work for me is that play and playfulness appear to actually thrive when faced with factors which are normally viewed as deficiencies, and challenges in the global south.

Finally, I want to mention Rosi Braidotti’s book, The first human that inspired scholars to argue for a post human disability studies, Goodly again our close friend have argued and a very well known disability scholar have argued that disability studies is perfectly at ease with the post human in criticizing the ideal of the humanity. That was implicitly assumed to be masculine white organized speaking a standard language. I did a sexually inscribed inner reproductive unit, and the full citizen of a recognized polity. I do appreciate Rosi Braidotti aim, not only to destabilize humanist men, men and women, but also to look for options in response to the oppressive nature of humanism and to rethink our relationships with our environments, our world, human and non human inhabitants of our planet. Using Rosi Braidotti understanding, I will underscore three aspects that are critical to disable lives. First is life beyond the self. Second is life beyond the species. And finally, life beyond death for greater t matter is not dialectically opposed to culture, not to technological meditation, but continuous with them. So contemporary science and biotechnologies affect the verifiable and structure of the living and have altered dramatically, our understanding of what counts. The basic theme of reference for human today. The identity suggests that thinking is about the invention of new concepts and new productive ethical relations. In this respect, theory is a form of methodical separation from dominant values, disability therefore encapsulates the creative possibilities of the post human condition as a political and critical edge is brought to the post humanists theory, by disabled people will continue to fight to be recognized as humans in the humanist sense, and register of humanism, but equally and simultaneously are already enacting form of activism, art and rationality, that pushes everyone to think imaginatively and critically about the new epok, that we might term, the post human disability. This allows the human it desires and rejects it and in this dynamic necessarily contradictory play with the human disability allows thinking again about technological relationships and politics, this technological mediation, cannot be given up.

 The question is not, should we be enhanced by technology. The question should not be something along the lines of what ontological ethical and political questions are raised by our technological enhancement. When we think of enhancement, we are pushed into the words of cyborgs, in one sense, we are everybody’s everyday is robots, by our smartphones apps and other insistent use of social media, driving our bodies and our cells. On the other side, we have problematic aspects of human enhancement as well being, reminds us, just as we should have the choice to get rid of disability, we should also have the right to choose not to be fixed, and choose to live with bodies that are not quote unquote normal, the right not to be coerced by the society to adopt a normal body is also a central demand of transhumanism.

as a woman from global south, I do share what brings concerns about the movement that appears to go to visit a disability. In other words, assistive technology, for me, is more than a split between the haves and the have nots. I’m more than aware of the technological hierarchies, that are troubling vicious discordant and immobilizing simply removing, add on categories to the growing techno worlds will not capture the deeper meaning of access that can enrich the quality of disabled lives.

To conclude, I’m very fond of bell hooks, who reminds us that achievement of colonialism does not require the assumption of power in someone else’s country, rather colonialism can be accomplished by dominant and normative hegemonies through social and political apartheid, the understanding of ignorance should remind us that apartheid is always subject to constant revision. Perhaps the greatest challenge is to comprehend that we have consciously or unconsciously oppress the academia, by choosing to stay with a singular discipline. It is only when we create intersections.  that we attack gaps. Which place limits on human beings, both disabled and non disabled, unless we can confront the failure of the privileged and the powerful groups and accessible, academic world will not be possible. We need to find answers to more fundamental questions such as the meaning of humanity. At the same time safeguarding against cynicism. While hope might be an accomplished liar. I believe that hope is all that we have. Thank you.


My attempt in this presentation is to create the possibility for an understanding of disability as an epistemology of disability studies coupled with assistive technologies. Drawing upon my experience in the academia and activism, I will first talk about disability and knowledge Then, I will weave in technology, which can benefit a wide range of people, including those with disabilities. Disabled people using the latest assistive technologies, with their eyes fixed on medical progress, are a natural constituency for trans humanism. Disabled people in the Global North, with their wheelchairs, prosthetic limbs, innovative computing interfaces and transferable computing, are among the most technologically dependent humans ever known, and are assertive in their insistence on their rights to be technologically assisted to fully participate in society.

However, what pains me is that while similar requirements exist in the Global South, the need for low cost technological resources is generally not recognized. This creates an inequality between Global North and Global South. With the global shift to “digital”, this assistive technological gap has further amplified, especially in case of education in the COVID times. As a result, Global South does not find assistive technology as a powerful enabler for disabled people to overcome their limitations.

While technology advancements continue to be advantageous, the innovations hardly factor in affordability as a critical factor. I will connect humanism (which has been valuable), to move towards a post humanism condition. Using Rosi Braidotti’s understanding, I will underscore three aspects that are critical to disabled lives. First is life beyond the self, second is the life beyond the species and, finally, life beyond death. It is in these thoughts, I intend to not only raise our policies about disability, but also our relationships with the society.


Anita Ghai joined as a Professor in the School of Human Studies, Ambedkar University, Delhi, in 2015. Before this, Anita has been an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology in Jesus and Mary College, University of Delhi. Her interest is in disability studies and issues of sexuality, care, psychology and gender. As a former fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum Library, Teen Murti Bhavan, Anita has researched on issues of care of disabled women recipients and providers of care with leanings towards feminist and disability theory. Anita has been the former President of the Indian Association for Women’s Studies. She has authored Re-thinking Disability in India (Routledge, New Delhi) (2015), (Dis) Embodied Form: Issues of Disabled Women (2003), co-authored The Mentally Handicapped: Prediction of the Work Performance with Anima Sen and edited Disability in South Asia: Knowledge and Experience (2018). She is also an editor of Disability and Society, Scandinavian Journal of Disability Research and the Indian Journal of Disability Studies