This cluster will explore any issues that pertain to the overall discussion of technologies that are able to assist human beings in some meaningful capacity. Technology has advanced exponentially in the previous decades and will likely continue to do so moving forward. As technology continues to develop, particularly technology that serves a role in assisting people, it is vital to examine these technologies with a critical lens to ensure that they are achieving their end goals of supporting the user. This cluster will utilize a fully multidisciplinary approach and perspective to explore key issues that are emerging in the field of assistive technologies. Through previous work done by a number of other scholars in the Digital Life Institute and beyond, the realm of Assistive Technologies can be vast and consists of a number of different forms. Drs. Duin and Pedersen discuss some of these issues of assistive technologies in their recent book titled Augmentation Technologies and Artificial Intelligence in Technical Communication: Designing Ethical Futures (2023). In this book and their previous work, augmentation technologies have been subdivided into four key types of enhancement that assistive technologies support. These include: cognitive enhancement, sensory enhancement, emotional enhancement and physical enhancement. These categories along with a multimodal category, will serve as a foundational and organizational structure of work that will be developed through this cluster.
Some key themes and questions that will be explored by this cluster cover areas of design, adoption, equity/inequities, ability/disability, privacy and others. How do we maintain focus on the user when designing, developing and implementing these assistive technologies? How do we ensure that the technology being designed will be effectively utilized and adopted by the user? Is the focus of the technology being developed on supporting the actual needs of the user, or is the technology more superfluous in nature? Are there elements of one’s identity that impact their interaction with technology either positively or negatively? Are the technologies being designed truly inclusive in all elements of one’s identity? What are some of the primary facets of the relationships that individuals form with technology? What is the level of trust that exists between the human user and technology, particularly as compared to a level of trust that exists with other living things? What are key issues of privacy and surveillance in using assistive technologies and how do they impact the overall user experience?