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The Hidden Burden of Exoskeletons for the Disabled - The Atlantic
"“We’re at a cultural moment where young people who are going into technology are looking around for research where they can feel purpose,” says Sara Hendren, an artist, designer, and researcher based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who specializes in assistive-design projects. When they encounter assistive technologies like prosthetics and exoskeletons, she explains, they think they’ve found something that seems like pure good.

“But the problem is that patients are so marginalized from defining their own wishes, that you risk replicating that same top-down assumptions about what people want.” Hendren uses cochlear implants as an example: Inventors assume that a person must want to hear, because they can’t imagine another possibility—but in reality, the Deaf community is quite vibrant, and not everyone feels the need for an implant.

Hendren points out that that putting too much focus on these kinds of devices can also create the idea that there is a “successful” disabled person: that someone who can use an exoskeleton to walk, or a prosthetic limb to run, has succeeded more than someone who cannot. “I worry that an excessive focus on this technology risks romanticizing bootstrapping and overcomer stories,” she says. “I don’t want to diminish what they do, but I don’t want to live in a world where there’s a continued repulsion around dependence. I want to live in a world where it’s okay to ask for help.”

Exoskeletons aren’t the only project that illustrates this issue. Hendren remembers a person who suggested that those in wheelchairs could perhaps carry their own ramps around in case they want to go somewhere that isn’t wheelchair-accessible. Aside from the fact that different settings require different ramps, these sorts of solutions put the onus on the individual to make something usable, rather than on the community. Why should each wheelchair have to come with a toolbox in order to be able to get anywhere?"
sarahendren  disability  2015  design  accessibility  prosthetics  exoskeletons  deaf  deafness  difference  wheelchairs  ramps  technology  bootstrapping  overcomers  dependence  assistance  assistivetechnology  disabilities 
august 2015 by robertogreco

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