All Technology is Assistive Technology

My son uses words, jargon (sounds that are not recognizable to people who aren’t in the know), signs, gestures, expressions, symbols, and an I-pad to communicate. We’re deeply in to the assistive technology world – it’s helping Nico find a voice that anyone could understand, rather than just his family, teachers, and therapists.

So it was with interest that I read this syllabus about adaptive and assistive technology at the Rhode Island School of Design, by Sara Hendren. The whole syllabus is fascinating, but this paragraph was powerful:

Be aware, first, that a central tenet of this class is that all
technology is assistive technology: No matter what kind of body you
inhabit, you are getting assistance from your devices and extensions and
proxies every single day. And second, gird yourself with a proper
humility: ask lots of questions, do the research on precedent tools, and
respect the stunning sensory organism that is the living, breathing,
adaptive human body. White canes, ankle braces, and assistance animals,
after all, are extraordinarily sophisticated prostheses. Digital tools
offer unique capabilities, yes—but they’re not inherently “smart”
because of their digital nature. The point here is to see ability and
disability as an exciting, expansive lens with which to think about many
bodies and many kinds of needs.

In the disability world (I’m including myself there as a parent), we often dance between “respect our differences and provide reasonable accommodations” – and – “we’re just the same as anyone else” (often with the caveat “the same but different).” It’s complicated. I like this syllabus.

Hendren then links to a video that serves as her manifesto. It features two people walking and talking. One is in a wheelchair. It explores technology, language, public policy, and so much more. Watch it.

Some quotes:

“Physical access leads to social access.”
“Nobody goes for a walk without there being something that supports that walk.”
“A false idea that the able-bodied person is radically self-sufficient.”

Saturday is a good day to think about that “exciting, expansive lens with which to think about many
bodies and many kinds of needs.”

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