Assistive computer technology and empowerment : the vocational experiences of blind and visually impaired New Zealanders : a thesis presented in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Development Studies at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
The technology revolution which has occurred in New Zealand over the past 30 years has introduced an array of assistive mainstream and specialised computer technologies (ACT) such as the internet, voice and braille output systems. These technologies compensate for the information access limitations of the blind and visually impaired and promise eventual empowerment. In a few years New Zealanders with sight impairments have travelled from print illiteracy to print literacy, and the memories of the change, its impact, its success and pitfalls are still relatively recent. This thesis seizes the opportunity to explore their impact on empowerment using the vocational experiences of visually impaired and blind people as a case study. Underpinned by a philosophy of empowerment, the study targets individuals who are themselves visually impaired, are of working age and have come into contact with ACT, along with relevant individual specialists and organisations. In methodological terms it is mainly qualitative with a pragmatic and complementary mix of focus groups, personal and specialist (key informant) interviews and a survey. The study discovers that ACT has indeed spawned a range of benefits for participants in their personal and social contexts. It has improved users' information management abilities. Improvement in information management has led to spin-off benefits such as communication, which facilitates social involvement and participation. Participation and improved management of information have improved ACT users' response capability, or their ability to respond to changes in their external vocational environments. These three benefits when applied to the work context have led to increased access for users to another set of personal and social, tangible and intangible resources available through paid and voluntary work and self-employment. However some persistent social barriers and underlying structural factors impede the empowering potential of ACT.