Meryl Alper

Meryl Alper is Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Northeastern University and a Faculty Associate with Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. She is the author of a MacArthur Foundation Report, Digital Youth with Disabilities (MIT Press).

  • Giving Voice

    Giving Voice

    Mobile Communication, Disability, and Inequality

    Meryl Alper

    How communication technologies meant to empower people with speech disorders—to give voice to the voiceless—are still subject to disempowering structural inequalities.

    Mobile technologies are often hailed as a way to “give voice to the voiceless.” Behind the praise, though, are beliefs about technology as a gateway to opportunity and voice as a metaphor for agency and self-representation. In Giving Voice, Meryl Alper explores these assumptions by looking closely at one such case—the use of the Apple iPad and mobile app Proloquo2Go, which converts icons and text into synthetic speech, by children with disabilities (including autism and cerebral palsy) and their families. She finds that despite claims to empowerment, the hardware and software are still subject to disempowering structural inequalities. Views of technology as a great equalizer, she illustrates, rarely account for all the ways that culture, law, policy, and even technology itself can reinforce disparity, particularly for those with disabilities.

    Alper explores, among other things, alternative understandings of voice, the surprising sociotechnical importance of the iPad case, and convergences and divergences in the lives of parents across class. She shows that working-class and low-income parents understand the app and other communication technologies differently from upper- and middle-class parents, and that the institutional ecosystem reflects a bias toward those more privileged.

    Handing someone a talking tablet computer does not in itself give that person a voice. Alper finds that the ability to mobilize social, economic, and cultural capital shapes the extent to which individuals can not only speak but be heard.

    • Hardcover $75.00 £62.00
    • Paperback $30.00 £25.00
  • Digital Youth with Disabilities

    Digital Youth with Disabilities

    Meryl Alper

    An examination of media and technology use by school-aged youth with disabilities, with an emphasis on media use at home.

    Most research on media use by young people with disabilities focuses on the therapeutic and rehabilitative uses of technology; less attention has been paid to their day-to-day encounters with media and technology—the mundane, sometimes pleasurable and sometimes frustrating experiences of “hanging out, messing around, and geeking out.” In this report, Meryl Alper attempts to repair this omission, examining how school-aged children with disabilities use media for social and recreational purposes, with a focus on media use at home. In doing so, she reframes common assumptions about the relationship between young people with disabilities and technology, and she points to areas for further study into the role of new media in the lives of these young people, their parents, and their caregivers.

    Alper considers the notion of “screen time” and its inapplicability in certain cases—when, for example, an iPad is a child's primary mode of communication. She looks at how young people with various disabilities use media to socialize with caregivers, siblings, and friends, looking more closely at the stereotype of the socially isolated young person with disabilities. And she examines issues encountered by parents in selecting, purchasing, and managing media for youth with such specific disabilities as ADHD and autism. She considers not only children's individual preferences and needs but also external factors, including the limits of existing platforms, content, and age standards.

    • Paperback $9.75 £7.99