Disability citizenship and digital capital: the case of engagement with a social enterprise telco

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Information Communication and Society, 2019, 22 (4), pp. 538 - 553
Issue Date:
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© 2018, © 2018 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. This paper uses as its base a key initiative involving a not-for-profit organisation (NPO), government start-up funding and a social enterprise which evolved through three phases. The purpose of the initiative was the development of a smart phone technology platform for people with disability. The paper’s purpose is to answer questions about the ways in which the mobile technology, seen here as assistive technologies, supported the development of disability citizenship and active citizenship. Data were collected through in-depth interviews conducted at three points in the 13-week programme during which participants with disability received customised support for their phone and training in its use, at no cost. Fifteen participants volunteered to take part in the research project, along with their significant other and service provider. Key themes were identified in the preliminary analysis. Exploring these using Ragnedda’s ([2017]. The third digital divide: A Weberian approach to digital inequalities. Abingdon: Routledge) three levels of digital divide, and Wilson’s ([2006]. The information revolution and developing countries. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press) categories of access allowed a series of philosophical, ethical and human services management questions to emerge, challenging the optimism with which the digital economy is presented as a solution to issues of inequality. Although the mobile technologies were very successful as assistive technologies for some participants, the findings reinforced the potential for such technologies to further entrench aspects of social exclusion. They also identified ways in which the shift in the role of the NPO to social entrepreneurship, and its relationships with government and private enterprise, had the potential to undermine the exercise of disability citizenship by turning participants into consumers.
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