Coreen McGuire
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Inventing amplified telephony
The co-creation of aural technology and disability
in Rethinking modern prostheses in Anglo-American commodity cultures, 1820–1939
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Amplified telephony was introduced to the UK by the General Post Office in an attempt to provide ‘hard of hearing’ individuals access to telephone communications during the inter-war years. In defining deafness as an inability to engage with telephony, the Post Office used this technology to construct new thresholds of hearing loss. Through exploring the development of amplified telephones for ‘deaf subscribers’ I show how telephony was used as a tool in the categorisation of disability and how, in turn, telephone users modified such technology to fit their personal needs and identities. A growing number of histories of disability examine the multiple ways in which social contexts shape disability and ability. This analysis provides a new perspective on the fluid, technology influenced definitions of hearing and deafness. By conceptualising the amplified telephone as a prosthetic, this analysis uncovers some of the ways in which hearing and deafness were socially and technologically constructed in interwar Britain. Study of early twentieth century telephony redefines the relationship between technology, communications, and disability, broadening our historical understanding of deafness in particular.

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