Equity of Access and Adaptive Technology

Frances Grodzinsky

ETHICOMP Journal Vol 1 Issue 1


While information technology affords new occasions for old ethical scenarios(e.g. issues of privacy, property, responsibility and censorship), we do not believe that it requires us to reconstruct notions of modern moral philosophy, but rather to recover, in a new way, notions that existed long before modern moral philosophy.

Specifically, we are thinking of the recent movements in philosophy and theology emphasizing the recovery of the virtues for adequately conceptualizing the moral life. We believe that the new problems occasioned by the prominence of computers in our culture (particularly that of acting well in anonymous contexts) provides further evidence for the belief that ethical theories emphasizing a strong notion of human agency(i.e. theories arguing for centrality of various virtues) are superior to rule-based ethical theories in having an impact on students of computer ethics. Moral theories emphasizing a notion of the self and the virtues have been eclipsed in the last three centuries by what has come to be known as consequentialism and deontological moral theories or “modern moral philosophy”. We think that some of the moral problems brought to the fore by information technology, e.g., the near impossibility of exercising external constraints on behavior in Cyberspace, give evidence of the limitations of modern moral philosophical theories.One of the ever-present problems with rule-based ethics is the tendency for people to obey them out of a fear of negative consequences. Instructing persons to “obey the law” simply because it is the law without further justification does not motivate persons to act for the right reason, for rules alone do not adequately address our deep moral sensibilities. If anything should be clear to information technology users, it is that rules qua rules (i.e. without convincing computer users that these laws are “just”) are impossible to enforce in the global world of information technology. No one has yet found a way to create a set of enforceable “laws” for this uncharted territory. If rules or “laws” are to be brought to the Internet, computer users will have to be convinced that these laws are not simply an external imposition, but an aid to both the good of the individual and the common good.

In other words, there needs to be renewed emphasis on what Aquinas calls “internal” rather than “external” principles of action. Whereas “law” is an external principle of action, “virtue” is an internal principle of action. As Thomas Hibbs puts it, the virtues “shape the general structure of one’s actions and give determinacy to the innate impulse toward the good. The virtues themselves are action-guiding principles; they determine the orientation of the self.”

Below is a short abstract on adaptive technology. I could serve on a panel if you have one on equity of access–or give a paper based on this abstract. I could also chair a session for you.

Adaptive Technology:

Information Technology has provided opportunities for people with disabilities to participate in the workplace in jobs that were previously inaccessible to the. Thanks to adaptive technology, the computer has become a tool that promotes equity not only in the workplace, but at the university as well. It should be the responsiblity of universities to provide students with disabilities access to technological tools with wihich to do their work. The number of students with disabilities who are studying or want to study at universities in the United States is increasing. These students are searching for the most “independent” and “normal” college experience possible. In order to make this a reality, students with visual, orthopedic, and learning disabilities must have access to computers which meet their needs i.e., computers that use the latest adaptive technology. Although this technology exists, it is rare to find it in use on many university campuses. Students with disabilities who have experienced adaptive technology on an individual basis, through their contact with state departments of rehabilitative services, know just how much adaptive technology can facilitate the educational process. This technology, which permits equity of access, has helped to reassure people with disabilities that they can attempt a university education with minimal accommodation. In fact, it has attracted many of them to the major of computer science. An Adaptive Technology Laboratory, staffed with support personnel, both special education and technical, provides students with disabilities the tools with which to perform their work. It enriches their learning experience and substantially improves the support given these students in compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 [5]. More importantly, it enables them to develop the necessary independence that leads to increased productivity, self-esteem and ultimately access to careers in computer science. This paper will argue for the inclusion of adaptive technology in universities and in the workplace. It will discuss the challenge of developing an adaptive technology laboratory. It will present the various adaptive tools that exist in the areas of : ergonomics, visually impaired, learning disabilities, and alternative input/output.