“If people really start to think about glasses as being an ‘assistive technology’ or a prosthetic then we can think about how certain objects or technologies associated with disability are stigmatized while others are not.”
Before coming to Concordia, Macklem worked in non-profit community radio, often collaborating on projects alongside volunteers with disabilities. While it was enriching, she says, it also made her begin to realize the systemic accessibility issues people often face.
After beginning her graduate studies at Concordia, Macklem’s thesis advisor, Owen Chapman, an associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies, suggested she join the Critical Disability Studies Working Group (CDSWG).
“It gave me new insight into using design and technology as a lens for thinking about why people with atypical bodies and minds are discriminated against,” she says.
Macklem also signed on as a research assistant with the international Ageing and Communication and Technologies (ACT) research project, directed by Kim Sawchuk, a professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Concordia.
As part of her research-creation thesis project — supported by the CDSWG and a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) — Macklem is producing a podcast called Adaptive. It will examine how human ability interacts with technology.
“I plan to cover subjects like DIY technology and how it’s being used by disability communities, the construction of reading as a sighted or print-based activity and how that affects blind readers who use Talking Books,” she says. “Plus I have a few more ideas in the works.”
Fellow CDSWG member and graduate student Aimee Louw is serving as Adaptive’s editorial advisor. “She has been essential to the project since she is involved with accessibility rights and the media in Montreal,” Macklem says.
Louw is also one of the three people featured in the six-minute radio documentary Macklem put together for Spark. The segment also includes interviews with engineer and designer Graham Pullin from the University of Dundee in Scotland and artist and designer Sara Hendren from Olin College of Engineering in Boston.
For Macklem, Spark was a perfect fit for her subject matter. “They cover technology in an inventive and engaging way,” she says.
Macklem’s segment on eyeglasses will be aired on CBC Radio One’s Spark this Sunday afternoon, January 31, at 1 p.m. and again at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, February 3. The show will also be available for download on the CBC website.
Listen to more of Michelle Macklem’s radio productions on her website.