Giving Voice is a book about Assistive Technology for non-speaking children, more specifically those who use Proloquo2Go and other software on an iPad. This specificity could be problematic except for the ubiquity of the iPad and the structure of the argument which can be more generally applied. The first question I pose about any book about disability is, "Is it disability studies promoting the view of people who experience disability?" The next question is, "Is it critical disability studies?" There is not enough time left in my life to read that which is not. I devoured Giving Voice. However, I need to further disclose my bias. I am a 70-year-old crip who has resisted machine assistive technology for my significant speech impairment believing myself to be in no woman's land between needing technology and being not quite impaired enough for what exists.

Although I wish the book's focus went beyond children and took a life-course perspective on temporal shifts in obtaining voice and taking voice, rather than one limited to giving voice and its too often passive reception, a child's experience of receiving voice is a realistic starting point. We do need to consider the power vacuum of many childhoods. Chapter one jumps right into the complex reality of money and power systems that impose both bureaucrats and professionals between technology and disabled "users" who are usually not granted the status of "consumers" because health insurance and school districts are the true consumers. No book on assistive technology, particularly communication assistive technology, is complete without this view—although disability studies is becoming better able to deal with parent advocates without pretending that parents are always good gatekeepers.

The book begins with research on stratifying families by indicators of privilege and oppression, a useful and even perhaps necessary step if a bit simplistic—an access to access tech necessity to understand. A media scholar, Alpers notes the prevalence of "narratives of personal liberation" (27) when the voiceless are "given" voice, with all of the subtle confounding of agency you may imagine. A central character is the iPad itself and this a story of its domestication (30). The primary domesticator is the parent. Here, I break my own rule. That is, I believe disability studies should foreground the experience of the disabled, this study centers parents. However, the book is full of enough well-chosen direct quotes from the parents to create a memorable narrative about the children. I read this thinking of my own parents and their role in my domestication of communicative tech. I also note the trend to look at the disabled family as the unit of study and I am more than usually satisfied with what I learned about myself from Giving Voice. The best test of any book.

Chapters include themes of "what is voice" (and whose?), a beautiful and philosophical discussion of voice and self, "Is one iPad enough?" and "What is its value for different sectors of uses?" Afterwards, the book returns to privilege and possible intersectional users as coalitions. Voice is not oversimplified to be just sounded communication or even require words, but rather requires meaning. The book manages to hit all my trigger points and reveal a few I had not catalogued. Alper satisfies my demand in that she understands the inherent political nature of all communication assistance. Voice becomes so close to identity that adoption or upgrade of any speaking technology should not be assumed, particularly in a child/parent/prescriber relationship where children have few options other than all or nothing. The whole topic cannot be approached without talking about customization for a questionable goal of normalization. Alper quotes many parents talking of how they (not usually their child) chose what voice. Themes of embodiment and performativity prevail. This relates to my experience with adults living in congregant care settings precisely because they did not have a workable solution so streamlined as an iPad with the right software and training as a child. I wonder if these children will have a different future.

A big problem with reliance on Assistive Technology is that it can be rationed or taken away. Alper's book works against this ill fate. For one, her focus on the iPad, without lauding Apple, recognizes the unprecedented ubiquity of technology in the future lives of most children and their need to profit like their peers and not be the 5% (or .5%) whose needs don't make it to the marketplace. The line between Assistive Technology and just plain technology which assists is blurring (49). Alper divides her chapters with many sub-headings: pain, surveillance, safety. These headings are helpful as they make the book more accessible to both parents and students of disability issues. In her chapter on "cases" she introduces a second extended metaphor to that of "voice," with one subheading of "Encased, Unencased, and Reencased" (79). There is a subtle humor here that I applaud. Not only do humans remember song lyrics better than speech, we remember humor, making the book more useful to a parent or disability advocate. This use is clearly intended. My applause. It is hard to find work that is easy to read and remember and that is also unassailably and freshly political and scholarly.

This book is one of those smart dissertation projects that asks important but elegantly simple questions around a core metaphor (voice) with clear demographic criteria (privilege) and translates well to book form from a skilled observer and writer. Alper both brings her study participants alive in the narrative text and gives us a Methods section (171) with many further details.

Giving Voice tackles sticky questions about the value of tech mediated communication from the Luddite who would take much of it away as degrading, to people like me who can "pass" only in a virtual world. Here is where the voice of the disabled growing to adulthood and then moving softly into age is necessary to see how parents' advocacy turns into adults' agency. Let us hope that this young author returns in 20 or 30 years to see how some of these same people have embodied, encased, and maintained voice.

Return to Top of Page

Copyright (c) 2021 Devva Kasnitz

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Volume 1 through Volume 20, no. 3 of Disability Studies Quarterly is archived on the Knowledge Bank site; Volume 20, no. 4 through the present can be found on this site under Archives.

Beginning with Volume 36, Issue No. 4 (2016), Disability Studies Quarterly is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license unless otherwise indicated. 

Disability Studies Quarterly is published by The Ohio State University Libraries in partnership with the Society for Disability Studies.

If you encounter problems with the site or have comments to offer, including any access difficulty due to incompatibility with adaptive technology, please contact

ISSN: 2159-8371 (Online); 1041-5718 (Print)