Liberating technology

A lot of expressions exist around the relationship between man - technology, that can easily put your thoughts in the wrong direction. "The human factor" is a typical one - imagine that mankind could come up with the idea to, in a world she has divided into factors (economic, technological, social etc.), introduce herself as a factor!. Besides, always as a factor that is negative.

It is said that it is the human factor that makes us drive off the road. It is strange that someone never says that it is the human factor that every twenty-four hours

There exist mind-traps that are verbalised in new expressions, for example "inhuman technology" and "MMI, Man Machine Interaction". But technology is never human or inhuman. People have wishes and needs; technology has not. It gives possibilities. Instead of speaking of a meeting between man - technology, you should think about the meeting between human needs and wishes and technological possibilities. Instead of looking at it as humans who are making mistakes in their technological surroundings you can start to analyse how our technological surrounding is based upon erroneous or vague conceptions of human needs and wishes. Because technology affects more and more, this will be not only a growing but a different phenomenon.

When electric ovens first were manufactured it was understood that this was something for every housewife. Then came the book "electric cookery book". It was good then. We now live in an everyday-life that is highly technological but most people have problems with setting their watches when it is time for the summer-time-circus.

Besides better manuals we should now, a bit in to the IT-era, develop a wide and overarching knowledge about technology-use. The bottleneck in the technology-world is no longer construction or production, not even marketing - the bottleneck is the technology-use and attitudes towards technology.

Technological aids for functional-disabled people often awaken strong but opposite feelings to different persons. If you say that seriously disabled persons can handle a robot and thus eat by themselves, there are always a few in the auditorium that will be upset about this "inhuman" way to treat people, while others will be overjoyed and want to know where you can buy this robot, and what it costs etc. These opposite attitudes are something that belongs to the age in which we live and that we have to live with. This is why we have to discuss, or at least describe them, so we can understand each other better.

A couple of statements about the conflicts between people and technology are shown below. The relationship between mankind - technology can just as well be analysed from the angle of possibilities as the angle of danger.

It is confusing, it is one and the same wish, to defend the humanness, that is pushing the technology-heckles as well as us. For example, the Isaac-project was created just to contribute to an improvement of the interplay between people like the person behind the correspondent below considered threatened by Isaac.



Technology is cold, human kind is warm. Technology can contribute in making human warmth arise and reach from one person to another.
There is a risk differently abled people will be isolated if they, with the help of technology can handle their everyday-life completely on their own. Differently abled people can, thanks to technology, handle their everyday-life better and search the contact they want to have.
New technology is not, in the first place, made for the users but a way for local authorities and county councils to decrease the personnel in group-homes. New technology is made for the users. When they can handle some of the things they earlier had to ask the personnel to help them with, they will increase their wishes for experiences and support. It will not be cheaper for the local authority, but they will get other things for the money.
If you have a lot of talent-supporting technology in a group-living you will loose the homely atmosphere and instead you will create an institution. If you have a lot of talent-supporting technology in your apartment it can be like a home of your own, with the possibility to try things stealthily without public control and you have the right to do things wrong.
Modern technology is so advanced not even the personnel can handle it. How are then differently abled people supposed to do that? Modern technology is so advanced not even the personnel can handle it. Differently abled people might find it easier?
If you take to technological aids there is a risk people will end their training and thus not reach their optimise level. If you take to technological aids there is a possibility for people to reach far more further that they else should have done.
Technology is insensitive and unreliable while people have a sensitive ear and are flexible. Technology is a docile tool you can control, while people interfere and interpret.

  • Letters

    The computer is not a good substitute

    The computer Isaac is supposed to make the life for the differently abled much funnier, less monotonous, encourage their development and decrease depressions according to Bodil Jönsson in the newspaper: "Sydsvenskan" of the 21 of January. If she had devoted her time to questions concerning care, she had fought against this enormous dehumanisation we experience within the care today.

    That criminals are convicted to electronic surveillance as punishment is one thing, but what people in need of professional care are next in line? Children? They can push buttons when they are one-year-old.

    Mentally retarded and psychically ill people have been directed to a lonely living on their own, where neighbours more and more have to take the responsibility. This was what happened to elder people but now the development has changed and the group-living is on its way back. The home-computers for shopping which have embittered the life for those who need the home-care and the nursing staff, have now been scraped. A personal presence with physical contact, exchange of thoughts and feelings, social training with respect and care is on its way out.

    What happens if the computer is turned off, the supervisor has a coffee-break, the technology strikes, or if it will be stolen? If the mentally retarded will be exposed to threats and drugs? If he/she walk out into the street, get scared or becomes aggressive? Will you turn on the electricity then, give electric chocks? A lot of the mentally retarded have maybe had it better in a living on their own, but a lot of them have also become homeless and alcoholics. Besides are the keepers/nurses which now are replaced by computers affected by the same destiny to a high extent? The meaning of life is to be together with other people, to give help when you can and get help when you need.

    Those who want to live in a human society, who want to give human care to children, elder people and other weak persons, who want to decrease the unemployment, the drug -abuse, the criminality, the social welfare-expenses etc. etc. have to stop among others Bodil Jönsson.

Letter from a nurse at the beginning of the Isaac-project to the editor of Sydsvenska Dagbladet, a Swedish newspaper.

Very likely we have to learn living with those different ways of looking at technology.Therefore it is very important to see that our intentions, our "in order to", is mutual. That way it will be easier, in each specific case to let the result decide what is "right" (technology or no technology).

Apples and pears

Arne tells us a story:


Technology is as we already have said neither human nor inhuman. Technology is technical. It does not do anything by itself. Wishes have to be visualised and measures have to be taken down to the very tiniest level of detail if technology is supposed to answer to the needs.

Arne Svensk is illustrating a fixed scale.

That is why technology has a built in pedagogical effect - it makes you aware of the fact that you have to express things that otherwise had not been told. CERTEC's work with forexample the expert system Svarne (see below), which is designed for giving structure and knowledge about violence within the welfare, has convinced us that to give a certain area time and structure will give manifold back.

In the book Technology and Differently Abled People we have in a more systematic way developed examples and theories within the area and enlightened how technology can help to avoid "sliding scales":

We are here recycling an example from the book to show technology that will liberate through structure. Arne tells us a story:

A liberation for the differently abled

The goal for the Isaac-project is that Isaac will give the user a support to be someone. How far we get, who knows, we are trying to start out from the fact that a human being has wishes and we want to give her a chance to express these herself. No one can do it for her, no one can think for another person.

Maybe we should start to think of what is important for ourselves and then contemplate on if this might be important for the differently abled as well. A personnel-group within the welfare meant for example that the most important things for their safety, security was:

Technology that will make this possible also for differently abled people can be liberating. The same technology used in purpose to control can give the opposite effect.

"The lady who dreams" from the LL- publishing house's The Lady who dreams and other pictures. The text in the book says: "No one can see what it is that makes the woman happy. But we all can guess."


Anyone who can use Isaac - can't he be without it as well? This is a question that sometimes is presented. The answer is, reasonable, no, because people are generally supplying themselves with more and more technology they could be without. In the discussion about Isaac-using for the differently abled, people probably mix two difficulties. One is that it is not that easy to use Isaac. You have to learn how to handle it, learn to master the difficulties of Isaac. It demands a lot of training, but it will work - provided that you want to learn it of course. And the Isaac-using can, little by little, be an automatic skill, something you do not have to think about, like riding a bicycle. Something you can learn once and for all, maybe after a long time, and that you can use at your job and in your spare-time, outside and inside.

The other difficulties, the ones thatIsaac-use is made to master, are problems about the unknown and/or unpredicted. If you, by routine-use of Isaac, can master situations that otherwise would be completely new or varying, it is of course a great success and worth the trouble practising the automatic skill.

It means a lot, how you, as a differently abled person, will be treated, not only in school and welfare, but in society as well. How, for example, willpeople look at differently abled people who are using Isaac?

You can in advance imagine how diametrically opposed the reactions from the world around will be. Will Isaac arouse aggression and desire to the surrounding or will the positives about Isaac dominate? Will the surrounding be curious on a pricker that the differently abled got , and that he himself never has seen before? Will you find something new and exciting that will make the mutual nonplussed feeling smaller, and thereby work against the prejudices?

You cannot know. We have therefore documented the worlds reactions on Isaac-users. We here refer to four occasions concerning the Isaac-user X. They are all positive. We have not yet seen even a sign that Isaac could influence the surrounding in a negative way.

1. Photography contact in Lund.

On the lawn, a girl is posing with her back towards a tree in front of a young female photographer. The model got instructions that she should look sad. X is approaching the girls at the lawn with enthusiasm:

The photographer was kind and tolerant, and as long as X does not demand too much attention there is room for both of them.

A very striking change takes place when she sees the picture of herself on the screen of Isaac. She becomes totally fascinated

X shows her how you can take a picture, how the butterfly (the picture) can fly to Niclas (at the Isaac-resource-centre).

A wonderful possibility where two people with different conditions have something mutual that interests them both.

2. It is ringing.

When X later is eating his lunch Isaac is ringing. X answers. No particular reaction from the surrounding - people are now so used to wireless- phones.

3. A later photography occasion

X is walking behind a little girl with a wonderful movement -pattern. She is bouncing in her red jacket , and her long black hair is fluttering under her hood. X does not really know if he is allowed to take a picture of her from behind, but then the girl is turning around.

They are starting to talk to each other, and she tells him her name. Someone (her mother?) calls on the girl to come quickly. X shows the picture in the Isaac-screen to the mother. She has read about Isaac in the papers, but she is still a bit cautious.

4. X is looking for job at the police

It is not unusual that differently abled people see the police-job as a dream-job. Maybe because it symbolises power? During all circumstances X walked into the police-station at Lund to look for a job.

He sees a lot of shutters for passport issues and one for information. There are lots of people there. At the information desk there are two policemen. Behind the mirror-window next to the entrance sits a man in the exchange, and in another room are two policemen preparing for a meeting.

Everyone seems to be very busy, and no one seems to care about X. When he has pointed atand taken pictures with Isaac towards the two policemen for quite a long time they finally look up and offer to help him. X says he wants to talk to the boss. No, the boss is sitting in a very important meeting and cannot be disturbed. X is not satisfied with this- there has to be someone that is boss when the boss is away? And he is right, there is an on duty boss down along the hall. To the right. After a while they have unravelled that to the right is not to the left and that there is a sign and...

X knocks on the door and walks in. There actually is a policeman with an emblem on his arm and everything.

Isaac is introduced, and the enthusiasm is a fact when the picture appears on the screen. His colleagues are called , and everyone wants to have their picture taken. What an exciting machine!

X shows the help-note (instruction) in Isaac's outer pocket:

Contact is established:

X was allowed to go. And he was extremely satisfied with the fact that the policemen had been so nice to him.


You cannot look at "liberating technology" just as technology. How it is introduced and how the development is encouraged and further developed is of crucial importance. This is what Göran Plato, manager at the day-care centre Tryckolera, tells us:


So much has happened to the differently abled persons at Tryckolera since the introduction of Isaac that we who are involved have difficulties in analysing the development. Inga Richard-Olsson (manager at the group-living) spent a couple of days at Tryckolera in June 1995. This is how she tells us what she saw:


This example is about starting to conquer a new picture language. One of the participants in the Isaac test-using tells us about a differently abled employee:

From another place:

Digital pictures

The possibility of the digital pictures is essentially different from those that an ordinary camera gives you. It has taken the Isaac test-users some time to discover this, but it has aroused wonder and a lot of thoughts. A selection of what they think is important:

That, via examples and a lot of pictures, you are able to give a concrete form to what it "says" in a pictogram.

To take a town-park series of pictures to be able to give a concrete form to town-park visits and then gradually remove pictures so there will be only one picture left in the end: the individual "pictogram" for town-park.

To start developing "a special pedagogy based on pictures".

To test what series of pictures can do for the autistic child who did not know if her mother still was her mother when she had changed her flowery blouse to another one. Can you help creating the idea "mother" versus the idea "ladies with flowery blouses" by filling the computer-screen with pictures of mother in a lot of different clothes or filling it with a lot of different ladies with flowery blouses of which mother is one?

To have a picture of your own washing-machine instead of a pictogram- what difference does it make?

There are activities for differently-abled which do not use the possibility of the picture at all, and Isaac can there get a major importance. But what about places where you already have a lot of pictures? This is what some of the participators from Eslöv wrote:

The key-words and the key-thoughts of the chapter

    The personnel of the welfare and the special school are needed in the development of talent-aids. You and your activity have to help. No one can do it for you. Because it is not the solution that is the problem. It is the problem that is the solution.

    Technology will not do anything by itself. Wishes have to be visualised and be taken care of down to the very smallest level if technology is to answer the needs.

    Therefore technology has an in-built pedagogical effect. It forces you to be aware of, and formulate things that never would be said.

    Technology can help the user to become someone.

    Digital pictures will open a completely new world for communication without words.

    "Stig has reached far, far further than I could imagine."

    Technology can make self-chosen fellowship possible.

    Technology can arouse curiosity, and curiosity contributes towards learning.

    What if it is possible to create an "SBP", a special pedagogy based on pictures?

Next chapter: Competence, development and activity strategies , or back to Table of Contents.