Disability, assistive technology, secondary orality, walter ong, blindness, speech technology


When Thomas Edison applied for a patent for his phonograph, he listed the talking books for the blind as one of the benefits of his invention. Edison was correct in his claim about talking books or audio books. Audio books have immensely helped the blind to achieve their academic and professional goals. Blind and visually impaired people have also been using audio books for pleasure reading. But several studies have demonstrated the benefits of audio books for people who are not defined as disabled. Many nondisabled people listen to audio books and take advantage of speech based technology, such as text-to-speech programs, in their daily activities. Speech-based technology, however, has remained on the margins of the academic environments, where hegemony of the sense of vision is palpable. Dominance of the sense of sight can be seen in school curricula, class rooms, libraries, academic conferences, books and journals, and virtually everywhere else. This dissertation analyzes the reason behind such an apathy towards technology based on speech. Jacques Derrida's concept of 'metaphysics of presence' helps us understand the arbitrary privileging of one side of a binary at the expense of the other side. I demonstrate in this dissertation that both, the 'disabled' and technology used by them, are on the less privileged side of the binary formation they are part of. I use Derrida's method of 'deconstruction' to deconstruct the binaries of 'assistive' and 'main stream technology' on one hand, and that of the 'disabled' and 'nondisabled' on the other. Donna Haraway and Katherine Hayles present an alternative reading of body to conceive of a post-gendered posthuman identity, I borrow from their work on cyborgism and iii posthumanism to conceive of a technology driven post-disabled world. Cyberspace is a good and tested example of an identity without body and a space without disability. The opposition between mainstream and speech-based assistive technology can be deconstructed with the example of what Walter Ong calls 'secondary orality.' Both disabled and non-disabled use the speech-based technology in their daily activities. Sighted people are increasingly listening to audio books and podcasts. Secondary Orality is also manifest on their GPS devices. Thus, Secondary Orality is a common element in assistive and mainstream technologies, hitherto segregated by designers. The way Derrida uses the concept of 'incest' to deconstruct binary opposition between Nature and Culture, I employ 'secondary orality' as a deconstructing tool in the context of mainstream and assistive technology. Mainstream electronic devices, smart phones, mp3 players, computers, for instance, can now be controlled with speech and they also can read the screen aloud. With Siri assistant, the new application on iPhone that allows the device to be controlled with speech, we seem to be very close to "the age of talking computers" that William Crossman foretells. As a result of such a progress in speech technology, I argue, we don't need the concept of speech based assistive technology any more.


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Graduation Date





Grajeda, Anthony


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Arts and Humanities

Degree Program

Texts and Technology








Release Date

May 2012

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)


Arts and Humanities -- Dissertations, Academic, Dissertations, Academic -- Arts and Humanities