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Drones and Daleks: COVID-19 and predatory policing

By Lynda Durack 26/05/2020 News No Comments »

Submitted by Leanne McRae, Curtin Univeristy

Quirky footage appeared in the digisphere last week of a single Dalek – antagonists from the long-running television Dr Who – monitoring the streets of a sleepy English village and directing its residents to stay in-doors. It was shared as a humorous aside to the COVID crisis. The single Dalek trundles down the street demanding that people stay inside and practice social distancing. The ironies of the heritage of Dr Who special effects being notoriously dodgy is conjured as the Dalek bumps down the street.

image of Dalek

Dalek. Google images

Daleks, known to Dr Who fans to be evil invaders bent on conquering the universe and enslaving populations, are an apt representation of the anxieties currently manifesting in the COVID situation. With protestors in the United States demanding a release from stay-home restrictions and footage of the Chinese arc welding people into apartment buildings – most likely leaving some to starve and/or die – the tensions between the need for restricted movement and the extension of the state in demanding our compliance to these rules for public health is currently bubbling up into tenuous and tense ambivalence.

Meanwhile, in Western Australia, the WA police announced the use of drones to monitor and police social distancing in public spaces. The drones will be equipped with flashing lights and sirens. Images also showed drones equipped with a loudspeaker presumably to enable police to yell at offenders and issue the up $1000 fine if found violating public distancing rules.

Image of white drone

Drone Unsplash/Jared Brashier

Hands-off or remote policing is not new with the era of big data enabling data-sets to be used in pre-crime. This is not the sexy supernatural pre-crime potentialities of the Minority Report where pre-cognitives kept in a petri-dish were able to conjure predictions of crime and therefore guilt. Pre-crime is simply predictive mapping of trends revealed by data gathering. For example, if a particular area sees a spike in home invasions, it is not unreasonable to predict that more home invasions are likely to occur in the immediate future and to redirect resources towards that crime prevention.

Yet, this type of policing-at-a-distance required by the COVID demonstrates how police to negotiate interrogation, arrest, and incarceration during an era of no-contact. Technologies designed to distance police from perpetrators have become increasingly prevalent in an age of the militarisation of law enforcement. Protective equipment, water cannons, weaponry, all serve to distance police from perpetrators not just in order to protect police from harm but also to distance them from the embodied realities of the criminals they interact with. Keeping criminals and their concerns discrete and disengaged is a crucial part of modern neoliberal policing.

The drone as a military and policing technology suffers from an identity crisis. While drones are increasingly used in leisure – in fishing and photography, for example – the attachment to surveillance and authoritarianism remains potent. When Amazon announced their intention to use drones to deliver packages, immediate concerns about security and privacy were raised by activists. It seems that the meaningful movement of the drone from military into consumer consciousness was anticipated too early by Amazon. Nevertheless, it seems they remain on the cusp of the seductive shifting of drone utility. Prime Air began in 2013 but was beset with difficulties in logistics and navigating newly established drone regulations in cities that often have strict boundaries on where drones can be flown. In 2018 Prime Air was promising to deliver packages within 30 minutes. This commercial activation of the drone remains as yet untapped.

Resistance groups have also leveraged drones in their activism as a way to keep police and law enforcement accountable for their actions. At Standing Rock in South Dakota where water protectors camped in protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline, while law enforcement asserted their heavy-handed authority with overflying helicopters, activists used drones to not only document the daily life of the camp and provide evidence of the peaceful protest underway, but also to log and hopefully restrain the heavy-handed violence of the police and private security on site.

Drones currently occupy anxious space as both a stealth military technology hovering high above and localised social surveillance system that conveys authoritarian intentions to control populations as they move through public space. The mobile proximities of drones offer contested space through which to consider authority, resistance, bodies and power. The current COVID crisis has offered an ideal circumstance for the activation of drones in public space as a normal and needed public health measure funnelled through public policing protocols. This is complex territory that requires consistent and rigorous debate. As we move into an era where surveillance is increasingly normalised and the data gathered from those activities is on-sold to third parties both private and public, the consequences for civic engagement, social justice, and individual agency are significant. Crisis cannot be used to circumvent important public discussions about space, autonomy, regulation and surveillance.


Accessibility will help us get through COVID

By Lynda Durack 21/05/2020 News No Comments »

Submitted by Professor Katie Ellis, Curtin University

Thursday, 21st May is Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). Now in its 9th year, GAAD aims ‘to get people talking, thinking and learning about digital access/inclusion and people with different disabilities’. The Curtin University Centre for Culture and Technology’s Digital Inclusion and Media Access program focuses research on digital access and inclusion for people with disability.

Our work advocates for inclusive design or the design of mainstream products or services to be used by as many people as possible without the need for special adaptation. The electric toothbrush is a key example of inclusive design. While it was originally designed to help people with physical impairments brush their teeth, the electric toothbrush has now been embraced by the mainstream. The touch screen on your smartphone is another example of disability innovation being used by the whole population.

Social, governmental and institutional responses to COVID19 and preventing its spread has presented a fascinating social experiment in inclusive design and given us an opportunity to reinterpret findings of our key projects undertaken over the years.

We promote the redesigning of our digital systems so that they work for all potential users, including users with disabilities, and their varying language needs and diverse cultural preferences.

Captions and audio description are a key site of research and we have observed their increasing importance in both entertainment and education during the pandemic.

We have observed a shift in the public’s acceptance and use of closed captions on entertainment media. While they were previously considered a nuisance or visual clutter for people who can hear, they are now used by significant portions of the population binge-watching television.

someone watching TV

Watching TV. Unsplash Mollie Sivaram

As Jason Kuhe observes in Wired, audiences are turning to captions to understand the soundtrack and dialogue of their favourite shows because ‘when you watch more TV, you miss more TV’.

I also wrote about this phenomena in my book Disability and Digital Television Cultures citing a research participant who found that her hearing housemates always left the captions on the television even if they had not been watching television with her.

I live with people whose English is their second language and so [captions] can be easier for them … I think it helps them learn English as well.

Just as captions provide accessibility for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, audio description is a narrative audiotrack describing important visual elements of a television show, movie or performance that provides access for people who are blind or have low vision.

In our project Audio Description in Australia we sought out to discover whether sighted people saw any benefit to audio-described content in the same way that hearing audiences have with captions.

Our sighted participants did find value in this feature highlighting the benefits of audio description when multitasking during daily activities. Multitasking was described by some participants as being able to enjoy television when screen visibility is obscured, or their attention is divided, with one saying:

For me personally it reduces the reliance on the visual aspect of the shows to follow what is going on, making it easier to follow when I’m trying to do things while watching.

I think it opens up more opportunities. Previously I would have only watched a show if I were able to actually give my attention to the screen, however this would allow me to divide my attention and multitask.

Audio description was also seen as a way to make visual media more accessible when mobile and/or unable to reliably focus on a screen, for example during hands-on activities that required intermittent–ocused attention. These included cooking, practising a musical instrument, caring for children and crafting.

Video on demand subscriptions have skyrocketed during COVID-19 as people seek out home-based entertainment. With attentions divided between work, study and domestic duties, the captions and audio-described content on these sites are finding new audiences and new affordances.

Captioned online lectures improve also grades when attempting to study from home when other distractions compete for students’ attention.

As the coronavirus spread around the world, quickly becoming a global crisis, schools, universities, and workplaces were forced to change their practices with little notice. Flexible workplaces and accessible digital environments have been key to our quarantine lives.

In the university context, students stopped attending classes on campus, everything went online. This is less of a massive change than a few steps closer to the direction higher education has been headed for some time.

In the months prior to the coronavirus outbreak we interviewed 53 students who had enrolled in 22 online units about their uses of captions in online lectures. While some of these students identified as having hearing impairments or sensory processing difficulties, the majority were distance education students seeking out any tool they could to improve their learning.

We discovered that these students were also multitasking while accessing lectures and used captions as a way to retain focus and improve clarity. These students had diverse learning styles and saw captions as a learning tool that could be used alongside a variety of other learning tools.

The comments made by participants were all made pre-COVID-19 but show just how useful captions would be for students learning from home during a pandemic:

As I am an online student, all of my lectures are online. I sometimes view them multiple times. I will stop the lectures if required while I am taking notes, and sometimes replay sections if I have lost my focus, missed the main points or have difficulty understanding what the lecturer is saying. I usually watch/listen to the lectures in our home office which is separated from the rest of the family, however, I can be interrupted by the teenagers living in the house if they want attention.

[I prefer] captions over sounds. With sound/audio, some accents can be hard to distinguish words. Some lecturers have monotone voices and can make a subject quite uninspiring. Audio is harder to use at night while Husband is sleeping and I want to study.

Image of computer and phone on table - working from hom

Working from home. Image: unsplash/Nathan Dumlao

Although we are now in an opening up process in Western Australia, we will be forever changed by the mandate to stay home to flatten the curve. Work and study-from-home options must remain available, and for these to be effective, they must be accessible. Talking, thinking and learning about digital access and inclusion, and people with different disabilities is key to ensuring we get this right.


Smartphones become even more vital for people who are blind or have low-vision during coronavirus crisis

By Lynda Durack 19/05/2020 News No Comments »

Submitted by Kathryn Locke, Curtin University

Back in the early days of the #Covid_19 crisis, researchers at the Curtin University Centre for Culture and Technology started working on a Vision Australia research project to highlight the importance of smartphones for people with low vision or blindness. Conducted on the precipice of the coronarvirus pandemic, it captured a moment in time for people with low vision and blindness, when smartphones became even more vital for their participation in society.

Smart phone in cafe

Smart phone being used in cafe. Unsplash/freestocks

As Assistant Professor Ashley Shew and CCAT director Professor Katie Ellis have argued in Nature and the Critical Disability Studies blog in the past few weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic underlines and mainstreams the issues faced and limitations placed on people with disabilities. Whether it’s issues around people’s ability to work from home, endorsements of the value of flexible working hours or the essential requirement for fast internet at home, people are exploring issues that have been long-term concerns for people with disability.

Our research, initiated before the pandemic emerged in Australia, highlights the significance of smartphones for people with low vision or blindness, and flags a renewed emphasis on the importance of increasing access to, training in and effective use of this everyday technology.

In February 2020 we conducted our survey of people with low vision or blindness asking them about their smartphone use. It was an extensive survey that came off the back of a three-year investigation into how people with disability use smartphones, specifically in the navigation of urban space. We wanted to track how a specific and significant group in Australia used smartphones, what they used them for, what limitations or obstacles they faced, and what might make the smartphone more useful and accessible for them.

Our researchers engaged with members of the Vision Australia network across Australia, with 845 people responding over a seven-week period, either via an online survey or through a telephone survey. Yet just as we closed the survey, the COVID-19 pandemic changed everyday lives across the world, including people’s use of smartphones and the role of the devices play in our lives.

Though our research question did not change in this context, the impetus to understand the value and role of the smartphone in the everyday lives of people with low vision or blindness was heightened. For people with a vision impairment, the smartphone is often an important part of everyday life, and this was exemplified in our survey results with more than 79% of respondents owning and using a smartphone. This is a smaller participation rate than the wider community, where 91% of Australians had a smartphone in 2019.

Since restrictions required people to stay at home, socially distance and minimise contact with people outside their family unit, the smartphone and other digital technologies replaced face-to-face connections, services, communication and information. The smartphone thus shifted from an everyday item, to an essential one. This is despite the National Disability Insurance Scheme, NDIS, not providing funding for smartphones for people with disabilities as is still does not classify phones as an essential nor everyday assistive technology.

Beyond access to smartphones, our survey was interested in the accessibility of the device. While a significant proportion of people who are blind or have low-vision do use smartphones, our survey identified there remain significant gaps in how and what people with a vision impairment use a smartphone for. While most respondents use the smartphone for calls and text messages, there was significantly less use of other features, apps and capabilities.

Looking at our results, we found 47% of blind or people with low vision that we surveyed used the smartphone to access the web, 24% used it for online shopping or paying for goods and services, and 44% used social media. Furthermore, of the participants who did use a smartphone, 35% did not use the built-in assistive features of their phone, and almost half of participants did not use accessibility apps specifically designed for people with a vision impairment.

There remains a host of reasons for these ‘gaps’ — a shortage of training in smartphone use (65% stated they wanted more training on how to use a smartphone), a lack of awareness of what apps were available and what they were capable of, and the failures of seemingly accessible apps. These mitigating factors often inform and affect each other — people with a lack of awareness of the capabilities of a smartphone for people with low vision will lack training in its use, resulting in a common perception by non-users who took our survey that they had ‘insufficient vision to use them’.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the need to address these issues of training, education and perception become critical in order for all Australians to maintain the same level of information, communication and services.

As our survey respondents predicted, the smartphone in a pandemic context also takes on a different ‘form’ and function for people with vision impairments, filling a void left by now physically distanced human assistants. The people who participated in our survey understood the increasing importance of apps and phones to their everyday life. As one participant said:

I currently don’t use Aps to help me get around, but in this time of social distancing with Covid19 I anticipate a need to use something like Aira to help me follow someone into a medical consultation to avoid taking their arm and getting too close.

This reflection is important for recognising the different ways in which a lack of accessibility is constantly managed by individuals with disabilities. It also acknowledges a new reality for many of us — that devices are replacing the people who help us during this time of crisis. However, the existence of these devices and apps alone do not adequately substitute for the support networks used by many people with vision impairments. Understanding how smartphone use by the blind and low vision community can be improved and extended – specifically through increased access, education and training – will help to facilitate a deeper understanding of real accessibility.


Evidence that open knowledge is central to the future of higher education

By Lynda Durack 14/05/2020 News No Comments »

By Associate Professor Lucy Montgomery – co-lead Curtin Open Knowledge Initiative (COKI) project.

At a time when universities across the world are re-examining their operation and structure as a result of the impacts of the virus, it is COVID-19 that also points a way forward – elevating the esteem for university research and showcasing the effectiveness of open knowledge practices.

The Curtin Open Knowledge Initiative (COKI) is working with partners around the world to examine the ramifications of this new reality for higher education. Drawing on evidence from the world’s leading database on open knowledge practice, our project team are producing a range of tools to measure and understand how open knowledge universities can play a key role in the future of their communities.

Futuristic library/Unsplash Kuma Kum

Futuristic library/Unsplash, Kuma Kum

Around the world, respect for the work of university researchers appears to have risen as a result of the central role of university researchers in tackling the virus.

A recent opinion poll commissioned by the UK Open Knowledge Foundation found that 64% of voters were more likely to trust expert advice from scientists – an outcome which anecdotally appears to resonate around the world.

Most importantly, the poll found that 97% of people believed it was important for information to be free to use, re-use or distribute information relating to COVID-19. The poll comes hot on the heels of a UNESCO initiative to promote open science and greater collaboration across 122 countries to fight the virus.

Openness of the data, research conclusions and expert analysis of universities has never been more topical. However, based on past performance, there is no certainty that collaboration and information sharing will continue – or in some disciplines, simply begin – once the virus is gone.

There is recent evidence of a genuine desire among many universities and research funders to improve equity of access to research results, diversity of students and staff and impact from their knowledge making activities.

However, open knowledge aspirations are often stymied by comparative rankings that are built on data that excludes the work of entire disciplines, continents and languages; and which are not capable of capturing important aspects of the value that universities create.

The COKI project is shedding new light on how an open knowledge university should operate in order to provide opportunities for talented individuals from a range of backgrounds to create, learn and share in the knowledge creation and propagation process.

The project team have developed capability to cast a new light on research performance at a national, institutional, discipline and even individual researcher level and plan to develop a range of new tools to assist universities in the development of open knowledge practices in 2020 and beyond.


Here are 5 ways to flatten the climate change curve while stuck at home

By Lynda Durack 12/05/2020 News No Comments »


Author: Sky Croeser, Curtin University

After the horrors of the last bushfire season, climate action in Australia seemed to have new momentum. But then coronavirus struck. All of a sudden, the public was preoccupied by a different catastrophe.

But one positive has emerged from the devastation wrought by coronavirus: our ability to radically shift social and economic systems when needed. It shows real action on climate change is possible, and should encourage us to work towards that even as we stay at home.

Read more:
From the bushfires to coronavirus, our old ‘normal’ is gone forever. So what’s next?

I must note here that for some people right now, the focus is on simply surviving. Increased domestic violence risk, housing insecurity, unemployment, mental health issues and other forms of marginalisation means many have little energy for activism.

But for those of us with time and resources to spare, there’s plenty to do now to support climate action. My research focuses on how people around the world use digital technologies to create change. So here are five ways to make a difference without necessarily leaving the house.

Words by Hugh Goldring and art by Nicole Marie Burton of Ad Astra Comix, CC BY-SA

1. Create or join local coronavirus support networks

A huge number of community mutual aid groups have recently formed – try joining one.

Mutual aid is about helping each other and realising that we all have something to offer. Participating can do more than help us get through the pandemic – it can also strengthen the community ties we need to cooperate on climate action.

Read more:
The community-led movement creating hope in the time of coronavirus

The lack of effective climate leadership by many governments – including the Australian government – means working for change at the local level is vital. The Transition Towns movement, which began in 2006, is built on the idea that community resilience can create new possibilities in times of crisis.

Recently, Extinction Rebellion UK released the Alone Together resource pack, to help people meet the challenges of coronavirus through compassion, creativity and mutual aid.

Working together can shift our ideas about what is possible, so keep talking to your neighbours once the pandemic has passed.

We can still act on climate change under stay-at-home regulations. KesselsKramer/Cover images

2. Put pressure on government and industry to take action

Climate change advocacy campaigns are achieving significant successes in Australia and there are plenty of ways you can contribute from home.

For example, the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act is currently under review, and public input is being sought. This legislation has not done a great job of protecting the environment since it was enacted 20 years ago, and the effects of climate change mean strong environment laws have never been more needed.

If you want to make a submission and need ideas, Friends of the Earth have outlined how the laws must change. Or just write about what matters to you when it comes to protecting the environment.

Now might be also a good time to check whether any of your money is invested in fossil fuels, and move it if it is: Market Forces will walk you through the process.

You could also give time or money to support organisations working for climate justice, such as Seed Mob or the Climate Justice Union.

3. Keep learning

The pandemic has highlighted problems with our political and economic systems. The crisis has affected everyone, but in different ways. Racial disparities put some groups at increased risk and there are claims that policing of the lockdown is harsher in some areas than others.

Also, people in low-paid work such as childcare and retail are at additional risk of exposure to the virus, while many in better-paid professions can work from home.

Learning from the disparities we see during this crisis can help us build a broader and more inclusive environmental movement. If you have time to read, consider books about Indigenous connection to land, such as Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu, Victor Steffensen’s Fire Country, and Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass.

There have been claims that policing of social distancing rules has not been conducted evenly. BIANCA DE MARCHI/AAP Image

4. Use time at home to reconsider your lifestyle

Making changes as individuals will not in itself solve climate change. The impact of driving less and skipping an international trip pales in comparison to the effect of, say, Adani’s proposed Carmichael coal mine.

But you can link the changes you make at home to broader structural change.

For example, if you’re using time at home to evaluate your water use, find out which industries near you use the most water – and whether there’s a fair distribution. How much are households paying compared to mines, for example, and do any restrictions that your household faces also apply to industries that use a lot of water?

If you’ve shifted to getting groceries delivered, learn more about how to support regenerative agriculture in your area. Can you buy fruit and vegetables from farms that are improving soil health, supporting biodiversity, and paying workers fairly?

The crisis will pass – and may leave us with more hope than before. Andy Rain/EPA

5. Reconnect with nature

Connection with nature can be soothing. It can also help to spark and sustain environmental action. Connecting to nature might mean growing your own food, paying attention to city plants and wildlife on your walk to the grocery store, or simply letting the breeze blow through your apartment.

Together while we’re apart

Finding ways to participate in climate action from home can connect us to our communities, and help us find meaning and agency during a difficult time.

One day this crisis will pass, and we might find we’ve laid the groundwork to come out of it stronger, and with more hope than before.

Read more:
Here’s what the coronavirus pandemic can teach us about tackling climate change

The Conversation

Sky Croeser, Lecturer, School of Media, Creative Arts and Social Inquiry, Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Slow living and the art of home maintenance: East Asian vloggers celebrate the domestic space

By Lynda Durack 07/05/2020 News No Comments »

해그린달 haegreendal/YouTube

Author: Crystal Abidin, Senior Research Fellow & ARC DECRA, Internet Studies, Curtin University


For many of us who are used to working regular hours in an office, home-based isolation and lockdown is a novel and even unnerving experience.

However, East Asian home vloggers (video bloggers) have been documenting their days of “hanging out at home as a lifestyle” and sharing the small joys of home.

I have been researching how social media influencers in East Asia are sharing knowledge with different audiences by observing a group of Chinese, Japanese, and South Korean YouTubers. Their accounts show they are particularly good at chronicling the ebb and flow of daily life. They have lessons to teach those of us grappling with being “stuck at home”.

Soothing routines

I came to discover this online community while away from home for research. Peeking into the houses and homemaking routines of strangers in far away places brought me vicarious comfort.

Home vlogging focuses on performances and feelings of domesticity, privileging a slow and drawn-out pacing of everyday chores and mundane routines that are reframed to be hypnotically soothing.

Home vlogs frequently focus on natural light flowing into the home. Crystal Abidin

Home vlogs turn the mundane routines of everyday life into mini-occasions: drawing the curtains as the morning sunlight floods into a room, listening to the kettle boil to the sounds of bubbling effervescence, watching the laundry tumble through the round glass door of a washing machine. They prioritise highly aestheticised, calming, and mindful ways of spending quality time at home.

The videos follow the daily rhythms of chores and mundane practices, compartmentalised to foster a sense of achievement and to mark the passing of time.

Home maintenance is portrayed as a mindful and even enjoyable activity rather than a chore; hospitality is practised through sprucing up the home and preparing meals for family members; and the house is a locus for meaningful exchanges with other people, with objects, and within one’s self.

Staying at home creates more housework, says vlogger 해그린달 haegreendal. But it’s better to do it daily.

Many home vloggers are adults who don’t work a 9-to-5 office job, but those who do appear to maintain impeccable work-life balance. They include the likes of South Korean 슛뚜sueddu (a freelance illustrator and artist who works from home) and 해그린달 haegreendal (a stay-home mum who cares for her child and home exquisitely). Japanese 少ない物ですっきり暮らす lives in a traditional Japanese house and Mocha is a hobbyist baker who lives by the sea.

The kitchen can be a kingdom, minimal and chic.

Lessons at home

Despite their diverse backgrounds, each of these home vloggers shares an ethos about privileging the home as their primary place of activity, as opposed to venturing into the “outside world”.

They draw from past experience and introspection about working life to share personal stories about mindfulness (say reducing environmental waste), wellness (homemaking as therapy), recovery (opting to freelance or take a break from work due to overwork culture), and recuperation (improving mental and physical health).

East Asian home vloggers have extended their mindful routines to the current pandemic. cardsu까르슈 살림/YouTube

Crucially, these personal stories are still narrated through the vehicle of the home. As the scenes pan across different areas of a room or house, peacefully lingering or gently zooming into different corners to focus on household artefacts, thoroughly dusting an assortment of cutlery can become a lesson on the importance of diligence, whereas watching plants bloom and glisten in the sun can become a reminder that hope can be found even in the most difficult of situations.

East Asian home vlogs tend to pull away from the body as the focal point, departing from many Western YouTubers who favor talking head videos or hosting home tours. Instead, the narrative is driven by small light text that dots across the screen in captions, occasionally supplemented by light storytelling. Many home vlogs have become so popular that viewers from around the world contribute to subtitles.

A day as a gift, not a rush job.

Tacit labors

It takes great effort to romanticise the experience and construction of a home. For these East Asian home vloggers, the leisurely and light tonality of their videos obscures the reality of hard work, diverse skillsets, and middle-class consumption required to sustain a pipeline of high quality home vlogs, at times for well over a million subscribers.

These include conscientious housekeeping, periodic refurbishment of the home to keep viewers interested in fresh contents, and strategically embedding sponsorship into the narrative without disrupting the calm visual flow. They are exemplars of the “tacit labours” required by social media influencers, a collective practice of work that is understated and so thoroughly rehearsed that it appears as effortless and subconscious.

Screen shot from 해그린달 haegreendal’s home vlog during the COVID-19 health crisis. YouTube

A place of safety

East Asian citizens were among the first to experience COVID-19 from late-December. As such they provide a hopeful glimpse of everyday living adjusted to accommodate a global pandemic. They show a calming pace to grow into new lifestyle changes, and a gentle reminder to make the best of our situations.

Their seamless integration of COVID-19 mentions into their vlogs feels soothing, focused on personal coping strategies rather than on health advisories or rumours that have sent some platforms into panic around misinformation and demonetisation.

In the time of COVID-19, where many of us are involuntarily pulled back into our households for extended periods and made to convert our most intimate spaces into workplaces, these home vloggers provide a form of optimistic solace, a hopeful message. For those of us who might like to pursue a new relationship with our houses, perhaps they can be an inspirational template for how to approach “hanging out at home as a lifestyle”.

The Conversation

Cleaning the kitchen becomes a meditation.


Crystal Abidin, Senior Research Fellow & ARC DECRA, Internet Studies, Curtin University, Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Remote digital access to work and life is a human right, don’t forget the disability community when Quarantine is lifted

By Lynda Durack 28/04/2020 Uncategorized No Comments »

By Professor Katie Ellis

Originally posted in The Australian Sociological Association (TASA) on 24 April 2020.


Life has changed swiftly with one in five people worldwide going into coronavirus lockdown by March 2020. Efforts to ensure people can work, learn and access cultural life from home are key to this transition.

Flexible, accessible digital technologies have made the transition possible, as has people’s willingness to change — practically overnight — how things have always been done so they can benefit the rest of the community.

The result is a seismic shift in the way we, live, work, study and connect with each other. The novel coronavirus and COVID-19 have seen the closure of workplaces, schools and universities across the world as people take on a civic responsibility to stay home and work from home wherever possible.

Accessible and flexible digital technologies have made their #stayhome efforts possible.

While for many this is a major shift, it is old news for people with disabilities who coincidently also make up one fifth of the global population. People with disability, such as Angie Ebba, have offered advice on using technology as a coping strategy.

Connect with peers on social media, form group chats with your work buddies, and organize video calls for virtual drinks with your friends. Now that everyone — not just disabled people — need accessible ways to meet via technology, the landscape is changing fast. You can participate in dance classes via Facebook Live, or listen to the symphony streamed to you. Take advantage of these opportunities to stay connected.’

Angie Ebba

Accessibility and digital rights are highlighted multiple times in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability as essential to the realisation of human rights for people with disability. These rights should be made mainstream and available to everyone. Laura Dell, a friend from the Western Australian disability community, recently waded in on the debate with a comment on my Facebook page.

‘If it weren’t for the anxiety my life would be, in practical terms, in some ways better right now: so much music and art and culture online, signature-free deliveries from so many more places, rebated telehealth.’

Laura Dell

My friend and Facebook contact is describing a shift in a key sociology of disability — the ways we have created a world that is inaccessible to people who have non-normative bodies and minds. COVID-19 has forced us to create a different world, one that might just be more inclusive for people with disability.

The experience of observing the large numbers of people being accommodated to work from home has been bittersweet for disability community members who have previously been denied the same accommodations.

In my 2016 book Disability Media Work I observed that some disabled journalists had been excluded in the media industry due to employer fears associated with costs, performance and the reaction of others. I interviewed disabled journalists who described the importance of digital media in creating accessible work environments. Freelancing was highlighted by these journalists as an opportunity for disabled journalists to tailor their work environments and use adaptive technologies.

As more workplaces moved online to facilitate social distancing, disabled journalists and editors are now reflecting on being forced into freelance work because newsrooms and employers had not been willing to allow them to work remotely.

Keah Brown, a writer with cerebral palsy, was refused remote work for years prior to the pandemic and probed the issue.

‘If remote work is suddenly possible now, why wasn’t it when I applied? Is it because non-disabled people suddenly need to work remotely so they can pay bills and have food to eat and clothes on their back and a roof over their heads? Because, disabled people have always needed those things, too.’

Keah Brown

The rapid move to online work, study and cultural life shows that in many cases this type of accessibility for people with disability has always been possible, despite the unfortunate decisions made not to facilitate remote working practices.

Throughout my book I argued that increasing employment of journalists with disability would change the type of representations of disability available in the media. Following Stella Young, I argued that including more journalists with disability could shift the framing of disability beyond inspirational tropes towards nuanced analysis of the ways disability is socially constructed.

In the year prior to COVID-19 there was important disability-focused analysis of a number of issues, for example analysis of the negative effects of moves to ban single-use plastic items, research into the disproportionate impact of climate change on people with disability, and a push for accessible communications such as sign language to be used during natural disasters such as the Australian bushfires.

However, efforts to address these issues remained niche concerns. As Amy Meng, a journalist with an invisible disability, wrote for Buzzfeed, different rules apply when when people with and without disability require similar adaptations.

‘The perception is accommodations like online instruction, paying for sick leave, and single-use products have been deemed too difficult, or not worthwhile, to provide to the disability community — but organizations are willing and able to provide now that the health of able-bodied people is at stake.’

Amy Meng

While my friend Laura is now experiencing a more inclusive digital world, she worries the coronavirus lockdown might turn out to be a terrible exercise in disability simulation where able-bodied people are encouraged to imagine how awful life is for people with disability and then go straight back to their normal lives.

Hopefully this is not the case, with new research by professional networking platform Linkedin suggesting remote work at least will become the new normal.

As the importance of accommodations related to remote work, study and cultural life become more recognised by the general population, and awareness of the importance of accessible communications and single-use items grows, we cannot forget the ongoing needs of the disability community once the quarantine ends.


Masking power in the age of contagion: the two faces of China in the wake of coronavirus

By Lynda Durack 23/04/2020 Uncategorized No Comments »


Haiqing Yu, RMIT University and Michael Keane, Curtin University

China has gradually emerged out of its shadow of despair as the epicentre where the coronavirus pandemic started. Now, there is face saving required – as well as agenda-setting in the global power play.

China played a decisive role in combating the invisible enemy. Chinese officials and academics are taking this opportunity to rescript the narrative and place China as the new world leader.

In the quest for this leadership, China seems to be playing the game of “white face” (friendly face) and “red face” (hostile face). Similar to the Western concept of good cop/bad cop, white face and red face uses seemingly opposing actions to achieve a singular goal.

The red face is Zhao Lijian, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman who suggested the virus originated in the US and was brought to Wuhan by American soldiers.

The white face is providing medical supplies to countries now battling the pandemic, gestures of goodwill described as “mask diplomacy” or “medical diplomacy”.

By understanding the context for these donations, we can understand a lot about how China embeds symbolism within its soft power diplomacy.

Guarding life

Chinese people have a long history of wearing masks as protection from disease, chemical warfare, pollution, and severe weather. As early as the 13th century, court servants would cover their noses and mouths with a silk cloth when bringing food to the emperor.

As China increasingly encountered foreign powers through Treaty Ports at the turn of the 20th century, disease control became a critical concern. Despite the long legacy of traditional medicine, China was seen as an unhygienic place by the Western occupiers of these ports.

China’s opening to the West in 1978 led to a greater awareness of hygiene. The Chinese word for hygiene weisheng (literally “guarding life”) was incorporated by health reformers in numerous applications, from wooden disposable chopsticks to toilet paper.

In China, not wearing masks in the current health crisis is seen as unhygienic, irresponsible, and even transgressive. Punitive measures are taken by authorities, with non-mask-wearers publicly shamed and humiliated on Chinese social media.

In the West, masks have been widely viewed with suspicion. The official advice from Australian health authorities is if you are not sick, don’t wear masks.

This has lead to anxiety and discontent among Chinese Australians, frustrated by what they see as bad advice. The general public attitude toward mask wearers compounds the problem as Chinese Australians are unfairly targeted with racist slurs.

Read more:
Do homemade masks work? Sometimes. But leave the design to the experts

International diplomacy

At the height of the Wuhan outbreak, government, private companies and individual citizens in Japan donated thousands of masks. But more significant than the masks was the symbolism. Emblazoned on cargo boxes from the Japan Youth Development Association were Chinese characters reading “Lands apart, sky shared”, a line from an ancient Chinese poem.

A month later, the Jack Ma Foundation reciprocated with a large donation of masks to Japan, with a quote from the same poem: “Stretching before you and me are the same mountain ranges; let’s face the same wind and rain together.”

Millions of masks and thousands of testing kits are being sent overseas, coordinated and endorsed by Chinese government organisations and taking place at the government-to-government level; by the private sector through companies and charity foundations; and by individuals helping their overseas friends.

Mask diplomacy is part of China’s new dual level power play: aiding to foreign countries to regain face and demonstrate its role as a responsible global power; and sharing conspiracy theories about the origins of the virus to attack the opponent.

Read more:
Coronavirus is a breeding ground for conspiracy theories – here’s why that’s a serious problem

China is being aided in this messaging by inefficiency of the US in handling the crisis. By finger pointing at the US, some say China is hoping to “distract from domestic government incompetence.”

This effort to rewrite the virus narrative through mask diplomacy is a strategic gambit to claim the moral high ground and assert international power.

Changing faces

Perhaps a clue to what is now unfolding comes from the world of theatre.

In Chinese Sichuan opera, the performer magically changes masks. A skilled performer can accomplish ten mask changes in 20 seconds. This is one of the great accomplishments of Chinese culture, part of its soft power arsenal. The term used in Chinese, bianlian (literally “changing face”), however, is also a synonym for suddenly turning hostile.

China may have dodged a bullet. But if the pandemic spirals further out of control, China will have a lot more work to do to deliver its charm offensive.

The next few months will be crucial. Much of the global leadership in this global warfare will depend on the US, with its own president appearing to change face at any moment.

Power in the age of global contagion requires more than the dual faces of white and red. The world needs healing, and so the Chinese government will need to carefully moderate its propaganda. Triumphalism over the success of its own military-style control strategies and finger pointing at others may evoke blowback in the theatre of geopolitics.

Haiqing Yu, Associate Professor, School of Media and Communication, RMIT University and Michael Keane, Professor of Chinese Digital Media and Culture, Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Digital Silk Roads: a model for a community of shared future

By Lynda Durack 22/10/2018 Uncategorized No Comments »

Reposted from DigitalChina and written by Michael Keane

The Belt and Road Initiative (or BRI), describes the overland corridors that connect Western China with Europe via Central and South Asia. Initiated in 2013 by Chinese President Xi Jinping, the BRI idea also includes the maritime routes that link China’s southern provinces to Southeast Asia and beyond. The symbolic legacy of this ‘initiative’ is the Silk Roads, a concept that emerged in the modern era to account for pre-modern forms of long-distance connectivity, trade and cultural change across Eurasia.

In 2016, the term Digital Silk Roads was added to the policy development mix, heightening the stakes and to some extent mystifying the idea. Unsurprisingly, the Digital Silk Roads has received the support of China’s tech community. In order to understand, or perhaps demystify the thinking behind this latest iteration, we need to look it through three optics: connectivity, empire and civilisation.

Connectivity is the most obvious manifestation of the idea. China is connecting, and in many cases reconnecting with territories that are strategically important. Connecting means more than bridges, tunnels and highways; it includes fibre optic cable, telecommunications, and satellite networks. The strategist Parag Khanna uses the term ‘competitive connectivity’. He says that competing over connectivity plays out as a tug-of-war over global supply chains, energy markets and resources.

China’s digital advantage is the subject of a recent offering by Lee Kai-fu called AI Superpowers, China, Silicon Valley and the New World Order. The view proposed by Lee is that China will dominate the region because it has harnessed the power of algorithms. Aside from the US’s Silicon Valley, China is home to the top AI talent in the world.

Connectivity allows China’s digital champions like Huawei, ZTE, Xiaomi, Alibaba and Tencent to extend their influence. For instance, Alibaba is offering its ‘City-Brain’ cloud platform technologies to Kuala Lumpur. The City Brain is already in use in Hangzhou and provides information to city planners about optimal use of transport facilities.

Also, in Zhejiang we can identify how the material layers are supplemented by the virtual. While is an e-commerce titan, it needs physical infrastructure. The transport hubs of Yiwu, the direct rail to Europe, and Ningbo, the deep-water port, allow it to transport its commodities.

Empire conjures up the idea of something arguably more sinister. Political scientists have engaged with China’s strategic ambitions in the South China Seas, and its aspirations in central Asia. However, it is possible to frame empire as something more intrinsic to Xi Jinping’s Chinese Dream. The key idea here is a ‘community of shared future’ (CSF), proposed by Xi Jinping in 2017 as a solution to the west-dominated narrative of development. In the CSF, voices from the global south can be blended into a contemporary version of ‘all under heaven’ (tianxia), the ancient Chinese philosophy of an ordered world.

Civilisation is thus the third layer. Herein China is referenced as a civilizational state. The idea is proposed by Chinese intellectuals and is articulated by the British Marxist Martin Jacques as a more advanced ethical model than capitalism. Chinese civilisation, however, does not register in many nation-states in the BRI. One of China’s core problems therefore is its lack of ‘soft power’.

According to global indices of soft power, a term devised by Joseph Nye in 1990, the attractiveness of China’s values, norms and institutions and inter alia its culture, ranks far lower than developed western nations, particularly the other dominant power in the region, the US. In fact, the 2018 Portland soft power ranking, considered by many to the most authoritative, placed China in 27th place.

The expansion of Chinese culture, and civilisation, into the region is at best a soft power work-in-progress. Tim Winter has shown how cultural heritage diplomacy in the region is attempting to reconcile cultural differences and literally build new bridges. Upping the diplomacy ante is the participation of technology companies, for instance Mysterious Dunhuang is an immersive digital exhibition created by Shenzhen BloomingCulture Investment Co., Ltd. Not to be outdone, Shenzhen-based Tencent have launched Digital Silk Road projects embedded in video games. In this way these tech companies are keeping the faith, and making a commitment to China’s digital future in Asia.

China’s expansion into South-east and Central Asia is now cast within the Community of Shared Future narrative, along with a renovated image of China, now a technologically advanced nation. TV drama serials have been produced such as Legends of the Silk Road, showing a history of harmonious relationships in the region. In this context, The BRI can be seen as an attempt to expand China’s territorial footprint under the guise of a benevolent responsible power.

While Xi’s speech to the UN created little attention globally, an earlier speech in December 2016 to the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, China, called for a ‘community of shared future in cyberspace.’ China’s approach to managing its cyber communities is far removed from the idealism of internet pioneers, and many of their brethren in Silicon Valley.

In effect connectivity, empire and civilisation are the interlinking elements of the Digital Silk Roads. How modern communication technologies, borderless online platforms, and artificial intelligence are transforming China, and how rapidly China is morphing into a ‘digital superpower’, remains to be seen.

Doing justice to disability: the upside of TEDx’s Stella bungle

By Lynda Durack 22/10/2018 Uncategorized No Comments »
Image 20150526 32575 2rphp9.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Stella Young, the late disability activist in whose name TEDx Sydney launched #stellaschallenge.
AAP Image/Supplied

Gerard Goggin, University of Sydney and Katie Ellis, Curtin University

We’ve made real progress in embracing disability as part of everyday life in Australia. But there’s a fair way to go, as the TEDx Sydney missed opportunity showed last week.

With much fanfare, TEDx launched #stellaschallenge, to kickstart conversations and transform disability through campaigns and media.

It was – potentially – a great idea, one that honoured the memory of celebrated comedian, journalist, and media figure Stella Young who died last year. TEDx was uniquely placed, because it had hosted Stella’s 2014 slam-dunk critique of disability as “inspiration porn” – a widely shared and talked about piece of media.

Stella Young at TEDx in 2014.

As details of #stellaschallenge emerged, it was obvious something had gone badly wrong.

At the heart of TEDx’s campaign to change attitudes was the recording of conversations with people with disabilities, especially, to ask them about their experience of disability. As framed by TEDx, it was patronising and simplistic, and really went against the grain of Stella’s own views. As Stella said in a 2013 interview with Star Weekly:

I understand that my presence makes people feel uncomfortable and that they have to say something to engage with me, but it’s very frustrating to have people comment on your presence everywhere you go.

Within hours, a social-media storm raged, with critique, satire, and outrage spreading internationally.

Two days later, TEDx announced that it would “re-set Stella’s challenge to be a project that represents all of our hopes and expectations”.

So maybe TEDx has a point, in suggesting:

even if it wasn’t in the way we had intended, the debate, engagement and activism in and around disability that followed the launch of Stella’s Challenge at TEDxSydney 2015 is a critical conversation to have.

Well, yes, and no.

Full credit to TEDx for its quick response and signalling a change of tack. And, if it follows through, for being prepared to engage with the disability community over the long term. But what’s the way forward – not just for TEDx, but for Australian media and culture generally?

The TED effect

TED is a fascinating kind of new media platform, revolving around its catchy format of compelling, slick, widely broadcast and downloaded talks. Backing the “power of ideas to change attitudes, lives, and ultimately, the world”, its brand has caught on, in its satellite events run by its partners internationally.

Courtesy of the internet, TED has made a real contribution in bringing the live talk back into contention. Its strong suit is an immediately recognisable platform for a certain kind of performance – and circulation of ideas.

However, unlike other traditional media organisations – and some new ones too – TED lacks experience with how to program, curate, develop, and represent sensitive and contentious cultural issues.

It also lacks a deep understanding of disability – especially, the paramount importance of people with disabilities shaping and directing the things that affect their lives. Yet, as Jax Jacki Brown points out, with TEDx’s reach and funding, “it could be an opportunity to really address disability disadvantage”.

This is especially so because, in the media, there are surprisingly few resources for creative, clever, and sustained work that offers the diverse stories, images, analysis, narratives, and representations we need. This kind of vision of a vibrant, disability rich public media is important, because the ways it helps us reimagine our society – and tackle disability injustice.

The stories we need

So, strangely enough, given the great promise and many channels of the contemporary media environment, we have a long way to go in telling stories about disability.

What does exist is underresourced, or, if resourced for a while, funds are cut. Take the pioneering ABC disability blog, RampUp, edited by Stella Young herself. It was funded on the smell of an oily rag, and even that was axed by the ABC in mid-2014. Much as the RampUp closure was deplored by Stella herself, and the subject of a campaign for its reinstatement, nothing has happened.

Then there are the many vibrant projects undertaken by people with disabilities, supporters and allies, and organisations across the arts and cultural sector in particular – but also in media, such as the Melbourne-based No Limits community television program, where Stella got her start in the media.

Key to the disappointment and anger felt by many in response to #stellaschallenge is a palpable irony. TEDx Sydney calls for conversations – but doesn’t recognise that there are already many conversations, relationships, and media, attitudinal, and social transformations underway. So, rather than speaking, genuine listening is required – often the hardest thing to do.

Fabulous as Stella’s TEDx talk is, it’s time to go beyond just resharing it. We need to really listen to it. We must acknowledge and support the many other voices of people with disabilities.

TEDx Sydney should refocus its #Stellachallenge to offer media access, resources, and sorely needed distribution, so these voices can flourish, and be widely heard.The Conversation

Gerard Goggin, Professor of Media and Communications , University of Sydney and Katie Ellis, Senior Research Fellow in Internet studies, Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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