How Radical is Technology for Disabled Rights?

It is impossible to overstate how important technology will be in reframing the conceptual dynamic between abled & disabled people in the coming decade.

It has always been a matter of choice (or, too often, simply not thought about, and therefore a result of unintended consequence) for abled people whether disabled folk have a place in their vision of utopia. Our place in their future has literally been a matter of whim or oversight. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the recent campaigns for a world free of single use plastic, where the needs of disabled people are either not even considered, or considered to be a necessary sacrifice. For disabled people any vision of the future, of necessity requires thought about the abled, and has required their presence, in order to accommodate our needs.

A world without single use plastics might be a world without many disabled people.

Technology, automation, artificial intelligence, robotics for the first time ever offer the prospect for disabled people of having a vision for a utopia where the presence of the abled is a matter of choice.

That is truly, world-changingly revolutionary from the standpoint of how people think of their place in the world, in history, and think of themselves as subjects.

Many abled people will read this, of course, and feel horror at the thought of their continued presence possibly being at the whim of someone else, at the thought they might be erased from history. To them I might respond “welcome to the totality of our history”.

If that feels a little petulant, it probably is, but is is the precursor to what needs to be a long, serious conversation about the place of people in the world. And by that I mean the place of groups of people, such as the disabled, in any vision for the future. After all, if we survive the climate crisis, how we did so will become humanity’s origin myth for centuries to come, shaping the whole way we as a species conceive ourselves. If humanity’s survival is predicated on sacrificing the disabled for “the greater good”, I cannot imagine the origin myths will sustain any kind of society I would want to imagine. Which is why I also mean we need a conversation about humanity more widely. We need to talk about human exceptionalism and whether it, and we, have passed our sell by date (Paola Antonelli has written a brilliant article advocating humanity “design an elegant ending”). And this is a conversation where those of us for whom our imagined non-existence is part of day to day life may find we have exceptional value in driving the conversation, and, maybe, providing comfort to those for whom such thoughts are utterly new. Where the abled have hitherto shown a catastrophic empathy gap toward the disabled, maybe the twilight of our species will see the disabled unleash a wave of compassion to close hat gap. If anything survives, or comes after, that really would be lead to an origin myth worth valuing.

All of these are issues I will be discussing in Can Blue Planets Find Space for Rainbows?

 

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