Confronting Ableism in a Post-COVID World: Designing for World-Familiarity Through Acts of Defamiliarization.

J.B. van Grunsven, W.A. Ijsselsteijn

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceedings/Edited volumeChapterScientificpeer-review

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The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a pervasive digitalization of our social and practical lives. For many, this has signified a substantial loss, with the pandemic underscoring that in-person interactions play a key if not constitutive role in well-being. At the same time, many disabled people and disability rights activists have celebrated the increased accessibility to practical and social spaces enabled by the pandemic-induced embracing of online communication platforms and other digital technologies. With that, the pandemic offers the opportunity to rethink post-pandemic values; prompting us to ask what the pandemic may have taught us about the significance of accessibility and what it means for accessibility to be promoted through technological interventions.

Our paper starts from the premise that promoting accessibility and resisting ableism in technology development are morally imperative. On this basis, we outline two distinct conceptions of accessibility, paired with two conceptions of how access thus understood can be promoted through technology. The first conception of accessibility builds off the notion of affordances, taken from the field of ecological psychology. Using the pandemic as a powerful illustrative case, we show that an affordance-based notion of access underscores the link between a person’s sense of well-being and their habitual sensorimotor embeddedness in a world that they experience as a space of familiarity. In Sect. 10.4, we will present Warm Technology as a paradigmatic example of a design-approach aimed at designing for world-familiarity – thus supporting accessibility in one sense of the word. The second conception of accessibility comes from the field of Crip Technoscience and underscores technology’s potential to create access not by promoting world-familiarity but precisely by creating friction and disruption within habitual familiar practices and ways of perceiving the world – particularly when those practices and perceptions reflect an ableist value-system. Though these two perspectives may appear to be in conflict with one another, our goal is to defend the importance of both. Promoting accessibility, we suggest, involves a readiness to oscillate between two normative imperatives: (1) recognizing how human well-being depends on world-familiarity, which, in turn, can be promoted or thwarted through design and (2) recognizing how world-familiarity can harbor pernicious biases that can be called into question through material gestures of defamiliarization. By presenting these two perspectives as mutually required in efforts to design for accessibility, and, furthermore, by framing the pandemic as an event that has placed us, en masse, in a defamiliarized position capable of attuning us to the normative significance of world-familiarity, we hope to better enable technologists and laypersons alike to reflectively evaluate if and how a technological innovation may (or may not) be access-promoting, such that it can contribute to a more just post-COVID world.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationValues for a Post-Pandemic Future
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Publication series

NamePhilosophy of Engineering and Technology
ISSN (Print)1879-7202
ISSN (Electronic)1879-7210


  • COVID-19 pandemic
  • disability
  • Human computer interaction (HCI)
  • Embodied Cognition
  • Affordance-based design
  • Crip Technoscience


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