How Technical Communicators can Advocate for Equity and Support Vulnerable Populations

As technology advances and our daily lives become more digitized, it is important to understand how the world is designed through technology and how it impacts vulnerable populations. Dr. Emma J. Rose positions her article through a social justice lens in technical communication to address: “Who, either by intention or by design, is being left out?” (428). Everyone is affected by technology in one way or another, so this article presents unique findings and research allowing readers to see from other perspectives. This includes how technology reinforces existing inequities for vulnerable groups, but technical communicators have the power to advocate for inclusion and to be a voice for users impacted by design. 

Technical communicators design, write, and communicate information to targeted audiences; therefore, despite our good intentions, if the needs of vulnerable populations are not considered, then we are in danger of creating technologies that reinforce existing inequities. Nevertheless, Dr. Rose argues that the field of user-centered design is gaining traction, and technical communicators have an “unique opportunity to advocate for inclusion of social justice perspective in design conversations with developers, organizations, and policymakers” (442). While this may be a gradual process, communicators can take steps towards advocacy. First, the author states it is crucial to identify vulnerable populations impacted by design. Second, communicators should examine the appropriate and ethical ways to undertake research involving these groups. Lastly, communicators should collaborate with advocacy organizations to help uncover and communicate the needs of these populations. 

Personally, I learned several lessons about human-centered design which broadens how technical communicators pay attention to design, specifically relating to information, services, and systems. I also appreciated how the author includes ethnographic research to explore other people’s direct experiences, or the cultural and social context of their everyday lives. This gave me insight into the perspectives of people who are homeless using public transportation. Specifically, how this vulnerable population views transportation as a refuge and escape, the constraints relying on public transit, and the extreme measures to manage and save money to use public transportation. Dr. Rose dives deeper into different implications of policy and design for this group of people and offers solutions to think about the needs of low-income bus riders depending on this public transit everyday. Overall, this study expanded my own knowledge and allowed me to reflect on diverse spaces, cultures, and needs outside of my own experience. 

In the future, people should practice self-reflexivity of their own experiences, and then step outside of their comfort zone to learn and empathize with others. The author takes this idea further and encourages readers to take a “principled stance to understand the lives, needs, and values of vulnerable populations” and to further advance conversations about inclusivity requiring technical communicators to reimagine equitable design solutions (443). This research expanded my own knowledge and world view, so I hope Dr. Rose’s article will allow readers to do so as well which will positively shape our collective community advocating for equitable technological designs.  


Design as Advocacy: Using a Human-Centered Approach to Investigate the Needs of Vulnerable Populations, by Emma J. Rose

Viewpoint Written by Grace Larner, Texas State University

Edited by Mariah Clem, Texas State University

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