Disability and Destiny in a Technological Age
Stephen L. Talbott
Introduction: Finding Ourselves in a Technological
Technology and disabilities -- bring them both to mind and the phrase
"enabling technologies" will very likely occur to you. These are the technologies
helping us to overcome the various "defects" afflicting human beings.
From dentures to artificial limbs to eyeglasses to hearing aids, prosthetic
devices have restored normalcy to millions of individuals who otherwise
would face serious limitations. The ongoing battle between technical genius
and the powers of death, disease, and accident has occasioned many of
our greatest technological triumphs.
What is not so obvious to most people is that we also have disabling
technologies -- often the same technologies we rightly think of as enabling.
A device that opens up new possibilities almost certainly closes off others,
even if, as a society, we are less inclined to notice the loss than the
gain. Concerns about negative effects date back at least as far as Plato,
who worried (with obvious justification, we now know) that the new technology
of writing would tend to disable human memory, and with it all those crucial
functions of a traditional society depending on memory.
In our own time, the machinery of rapid