Laura Kalbag

Accessible unethical technology

I’ve written a little section on accessibility for the Ethical Design Handbook. I’m really grateful that Trine Falbe asked me, as well as including a section by Aral talking about Small Technology and our Ethical Design Manifesto from the days.

Writing about accessibility as part of a book on ethical design inspired my talk about “Accessible unethical technology” at Accessibility Scotland last year.

To end my section on accessibility, I tried to explain how I fit accessibility into my idea of ethical design, or rather how I think something can be accessible but not ethical. The following is what I wrote. It didn’t make the final edit of the book, but I feel it’s a vital addendum to all my work on accessibility:

Unethical technology discriminates against disabled people

In a book about ethical design, it is important to consider the ethical considerations of accessibility. Choosing to make our technology accessible is in itself an ethical decision. You are deliberately working against ableist discrimination and exclusion. But making our technology inclusive and accessible is not enough if the driving forces behind that technology is unethical.

Earlier in the book, we heard about the unethical collection of people’s data, how it is monetised and used to exploit our needs, habits and desires. Data brokers have built detailed profiles of us based upon this data, which they then share and sell to insurance companies, credit companies, and even governments.

Many disabled people already face social, medical, and governmental discrimination, even before detailed profiles of their information are used against them. It is clear how the exploitation of data about us can lead to further, more damaging and immediate harms, on top of the discrimination that already exists. Disabled people also frequently rely on technology for critical access to information and services, as well as community and support. Our reliance on technology also lessens our freedom to choose to not use it.

We not only have a responsibility to design more inclusive and accessible technology, but to consider the impact our design has outside of its immediate interface. But you’ve bought a book about Ethical Design, so you know that already! And just think, when we design ethical products with accessibility and inclusivity in mind, we can ensure our those products are available to everyone. I can’t wait to see what you make.

You can see my slides and read my talk about “Accessible unethical technology” at Accessibility Scotland last year on Notist and watch the video of the talk with captions and transcript on the Accessibility Scotland website.

You can find out more about the Ethical Design Handbook on the website, and also buy it from Smashing Magazine books.

The Ethical Design Handbook book cover