Detail of the decoration of a red-figured Greek vessel showing a seated woman holding an open casket (Pandora ) surrounded by two men and the feet of two winged figures are just visible at the top of the image. It is Watercolour by A. Dahlsteen, It is a public domain image from Wellcome Collection

Push the Narrative Back!

“Why won’t you let us innovate?!”

“You are holding us back!”

“If we have to do the things you say, we won’t be able to change anything!”

“You’re wrong, we’re right, and we are going to ignore all your concerns!”

“Disabled Students will just have to make do with the content they can access!”

It’s been almost 25 years since I sat down for an interview for one job (doing tech evangelism) and walked out of the office being offered another. (Thanks Richard)   

“We want a disability tech centre for the sector, and we want you to run it.”

I was a learning technologist at the time, based in one of the minor LTSN Subject Centres. I knew nothing about disability, and other than simple authoring tools, not much about technology. 

In 2001, we launched TechDis, a direct response to new disability legislation in education. Jisc wanted a service that could advise the sector on good practice and how to respond to changes. Good times! It felt like we were doing work that mattered. Making a difference for our most precarious students! Surely me and the team would be welcomed with open arms, held in the sector’s warm embrace and nurtured. 


For the first six months I went into listening mode, attending every learning tech event I could. Started asking questions, “would that work if you had to comply with WCAG”, “Is there a way you could create a text description of that”, “would it be possible to have subtitles?”

Our first strategy was to suggest things in a supportive way, nudge people gently. The push back was instantaneous. One of my peers told me from the podium at an event at the Royal Geographical Society that our work was damaging to e-learning. 

We quickly became the “accessibility police” – that was to our faces, who knows what was said behind our back. It wasn’t just learning technologists and academics in the sector, vendors wrote opinion pieces, they even wrote to the people funding us and the members of the board saying that we were damaging their business, and demanding that we MUST NOT publicly criticise them.  

At the time we started there was still a few years before the legislation around digital learning would kick in, it felt like no was listening. I think trying to create change in that situation was one of the hardest things I have ever tried to do. But, thanks to good mentoring and support from people like David House (DVC) and John Porter (VC), we got tougher, and started pushing back harder. We might not have been popular, but I, we, the TechDis Team, were damned if we were going to be ignored. 

Why am I reflecting on this now? Because The narratives at the top of the page are back in full strength. The TechBros are back saying the same old rhetoric. 

“Why won’t you let us Innovate?” 

“Why do you drag everything back to ethics?”

“You’re slowing us down!” 

“Why are you moralising?” 

This time it’s not about us asking for disabled students to be considered in the development of platforms and content. Although maybe in part it is, as well as other precarious groups! 

This time they are trying to silence the voices asking for ethics to be considered in their technology. Asking for critical engagement with the implications of Generative AI in the academy. 

When the academy does research, it goes through an ethical review process, the process is part of the research, the thinking, the learning. We consider all the things, the implications. We do this both because it is the right thing to do, and because mistakes have been made before when ethics are ignored. 

Right now there are probably hundreds of small Generative AI projects going on in education, doing assessments, creating content etc. I hope some of them have considered ethics. But even that pales into significance with what the toxic technology culture is doing to education. Wannabe TechBros, EdTech Start-ups, and “Thought Leaders” who speak like Silicon Valley. “Disrupting the Education Sector” or “Moving Fast and Breaking Things”. All promising efficiency and innovation, while looking to extract money from a sector that is under-funded and under stress.  When they say break things, and disrupt the sector, they are talking about the lives of staff and students. They are talking about a technology that was released to the public less than two years ago. Less time than it takes to do an undergraduate degree. Because some TechBro wanted to break things, and then a load of “evangelists” started trying to disrupt education for their own gain.

“Why do you drag everything back to ethics?” 

Because I have been here before, because I have stood and heard this tactical narrative applied to other things, and because somebody has to. 

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