Lucy Jameson: “Collective Creation: Disabled Innovation and the British Post Office.”

In Students by General Account

How did disabled innovation drive technological development
in twentieth-century Britain? The project will answer this
question by focusing on how disabled expertise was
integrated into telecommunication technologies built by the
British Post Office for disabled ex-servicemen and responauts
(respirator users). The first project strand will concentrate on
the development of adapted telecommunications
technologies used to integrate disabled soldiers into the
workforce after the First World War. During the interwar years
the Post Office worked closely with various industries to adapt
and create technological fixes that allowed disabled exservicemen to work in industry, notably as telephone
operators. Post Office engineers enthusiastically designed
new ways of using the exchange to try and assist these
operators but did not always succeed in anticipating the ways
that these operators were using sound and touch to do this
job. The second will focus on how ‘responauts’ actively
collaborated with the British Post Office to ensure equitable
access to telephony. Responauts’ technological
interdependence meant that they adapted an extraordinary
variety of technologies to live well with respirators and modify
their personal environment. These technologies were discussed by contributors to the Responaut — a quarterly
magazine published in Britain between 1963 and 1989. This
project will show how individual inventions were galvanised
by this user network to become ‘disabled expertise’ and
explore the extent to which this expertise was commodified
by state and private interests. This will enable a new case
study exploration of the nature of invention and collaborative
design in the British context.