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Fulfilling the promise of the personal computer : the development of accessible computer technologies, 1970-1998


In this dissertation, I examine the historical development of accessible personal computer technologies for people with disabilities, within the United States. I discuss the creation of these technologies within large, mass-market computer companies and small, third-party developers, along with their promotion and dissemination by disability and technology advocacy groups. I argue that accessible personal computer technologies were a part of the struggle for civil rights for people with disabilities, which became enacted through technological accommodations that allowed for new abilities and new forms of social participation. I divide my analysis into five parts : First, the emergence of civil rights legislation for people with disabilities in the 1960s and 1970s, alongside the use of earlier computer technology by professionals with disabilities and computer researchers trying to benefit people through cutting-edge technologies designed for their use. Second, I examine the creation of early accessible technologies within the personal computer industry and their promotion by disability activist groups, who disseminated knowledge and expertise to potential consumers, while providing feedback on users' needs to developers. Third, as computer technology began to standardize in the mid-1980s, I study the role of corporate philanthropy in furthering the development of accessible technologies and in channeling resources to non -profit organizations and individuals with disabilities. Fourth, the revitalization of the disability rights movement, in the late-1980s, led to the passage of stronger civil rights legislation for people with disabilities; I examine these laws and their affects on disability and technology advocacy groups. Fifth, I conclude with an analysis of accessible personal computer software, in the 1990s, as computer technology stabilized and accessibility had become mainstream, while new challenges remained to ensuring personal computers could work with the needs of all users. The development of accessible personal computer technologies for people with disabilities involved a struggle to fulfill the promise the technology holds : to enact civil rights and allow for fuller participation in society, to augment human abilities and provide for new forms of social interaction, and to meet the needs of all users as a universal technology

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