Date of Award

May 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Patricia Mayes

Committee Members

Scott Graham, Rachel Spilka, Sushil Oswal, William Keith


agency, disability, interdependence, Posthuman, social interaction, usability


“Agency at the Seams: A Posthuman Approach to Disability in Family Interactions with Communication Technologies” explores issues of agency, interdependence, and disability for children learning to use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) technologies. In this project I use a conversation analytic methodology to examine how parents, children, and therapists interact with each other as they learn to use AAC technologies. I explore how breakdowns in communication occur and how participants work to negotiate and repair uncertainties in communication. My research findings suggest that communication through AAC is a collaborative process that is shaped by the interactions of assemblages of actors and objects. The usability of AAC is impacted not only by the characteristics of the AAC device, but also by the participants’ communication strategies, by objects such as toys, and by their environment. As such, I argue that technical communicators can expand our notions of usability to include human-technology assemblages. Additionally, I argue that the posthuman approach to human-technology relations examined in this dissertation demonstrates the way that agency emerges from the interdependences of assemblages of actors. To help users improve their relations with technologies, we must take seriously their communication practices and examine how different configurations of human technology assemblages bring about different opportunities for acting with and through AAC technology.