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rights,access,& refusal working group

JUST AI working groups expand the field of data and AI ethics by facilitating conversations on emerging topics, encouraging reflection around commissioned work, and making new connections possible. 

The working group on Rights, Access, and Refusal (RAR) is led by Dr Louise Hickman and Dr Alexa Hagerty. RAR members situate feminist theory, critical disability studies, decolonial theory, and the critique of antiblackness in data and AI ethics through participatory research. RAR convenes ongoing conversations and commissions creative work that specifically examines the vexed connections between technology and disability justice. The working group considers the possibilities of tech refusal and its potential beyond a human rights framework by questioning if refusal is antithetical to access while politicising tech access as an ethical issue complicated by existing inequities and exclusions. 


In April 2021 RAR organised a public conversation titled “Access as a Responsible Technology” between Sarah Drinkwater, former Director of Responsible Technology at the Omidyar Network, and design researcher Sara Hendren. The two explored access as a way to rethink the scope of responsible technology. They considered the potential of disability-led design to address the growing demand for multiple perspectives in the development of data-driven AI systems. Guests engaged with Sara’s book “What Can a Body Do? How We Meet the Built World” (2020) to consider the lived experience of disability and the ideas and innovations that emerged from disability-led design. This live discussion served as the launch event for RAR and included a commission call for work that reflected relevant themes. 

After review, RAR chose to commission Harshadha Balasubramanian and Clarice Hilton’s proposed project. Harsha and Clarice collaborate on a 3D VR tool that invites creatives with experiences of disability to design and redefine technological access and its underlying assumptions - rather than access being an after-thought. 


RAR continues to hold regular monthly meetings to review their commission and draft new essays. Most recently, they’ve questioned how disabled people refuse technologies during the Covid-19 pandemic. In doing so, they’ve reflected on refusal of scale and how to repair technologies in intimate ways. The VR project exposed how specific design practices can’t be scaled to the masses and how engagement raises ethical questions about the conceptual framing of the metaverse which relies on the notion of personalization for engagement. 


In June 2021 RAR joined the Prototyping AI Ethics Futures series with a roundtable that explored the dynamics of access and refusal from feminist theory and critical disability theory in order to consider invisible labour hidden behind technologies of access and the potential for technology refusal to surface hidden inequities of the platform-based world. The roundtable was comprised of Alex Taylor 
Reader in Human Computer Interaction, City, University of London; Crystal Lee 
PhD candidate at MIT and a Fellow at the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard University; Mara Mills 
Associate Professor of Media, Culture and Communication, New York University; Sarah Chander 
Senior Policy Advisor, EDRi and JUST AI Fellow. 


Harshadha Balasubramanian

Harshadha Balasubramanian is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Anthropology at UCL. Harsha’s PhD explores how artists adopting virtual reality (VR) in the UK are transforming conceptions about whom and which sensory encounters VR is for. Recently, through an internship at Microsoft Research, she is working to devise design principles and technical standards for non-visual experiences in VR environments. Another defining feature of Harsha’s work has been to foreground lived experiences of disability to creatively rethink social research methods, drawing on a background in performance and journalism to co-produce these ideas in communities with whom she collaborates.

Clarice Hilton

Clarice Hilton is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Computing at Goldsmiths University. In Clarice’s PhD she is developing design processes and tools for immersive media interaction design that are based in queer critical disability design in the context of art and dance. As part of this research she is developing a piece of work with Candoco dance company. As part of the 4i research project at Goldsmiths, she has been developing InteractML, an open-source interactive machine learning tool for designing movement interaction in Unity and Unreal. She is also a creative technologist and immersive artist who has toured work globally at Tribeca Film Festival, IDFA Doclab, Sandbox Immersive Festival and Venice Film Festival. A central part of Clarice’s work and research is making and creating immersive technology more accessible. 

Sarah Hayden

Sarah Hayden is Associate Professor of Literature and Visual Culture at the University of Southampton. As AHRC Innovation Fellow (2019-2023), she is PI of “Voices in the Gallery”: a 4-year research, curating and commissioning and project on intersections of voice, text, and access in contemporary art. Together with Hannah Wallis, she is co-lead of the new British Art Network “Art of Captioning” research group. She is the author of Curious Disciplines: Mina Loy and Avant-Garde Artisthood, and co-author with Paul Hegarty, of Peter Roehr–Field Pulsations and is currently writing a book on voice in art for University of Minnesota Press. 

Yelena Gluzman

Yelena Gluzman is an Assistant Professor of Science, Technology and Society Studies (STS) at the University of Alberta, working in emergent modes of collaborative and experimental STS. Her research has developed critical collaborations with scientists, engineers, experimental subjects, and stenographers, informed by the methodologics of experimental theater and feminist STS. Most recently, she completed a project reconsidering experimental methods in cognitive neuroscience experiments on autism, and is currently working on a project exploring distributed sense-making in “real-time” transcription for d/Deaf students alongside automated talk-to-text alternatives. Yelena participates in the RAR working group. 




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