Recent increases in access to smartphones has dramatically altered the accessibility landscape for people with visual impairments in parts of the Global South, where accessible technologies have historically been scarce. Examining ongoing transitions from button-based feature phones to devices with touchscreen interfaces in Bangalore, India, we explore the concept of an accessibility infrastructure that includes a broader set of factors that enable or inhibit the functional use of accessible technologies. We argue that the functional use of these technologies is difficult, if not impossible to extract from the larger social context in which they operate. Through the lens of social infrastructure for technology adoption – such as networks of users and technical support ecologies, we discuss ways in which touchscreens have changed the public participation of people with disabilities in important ways. On the flip side, we look at ways in which the same infrastructures can be barriers to the devices being used to their full potential.
Joyojeet Pal is an assistant professor at the School of Information at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. His work focuses on social studies of accessibility in low- and middle-income countries, specifically in-depth qualitative examinations of access to technology and its impact on social inclusion. Some of his recent work has examined the use of social media in political action in India. He is the producer and researcher of the award-winning documentary “For the Love of a Man.”