Sunday, March 29, 2009

Enabling Technologies Should Matter to us All

What struck me most about Gary Bishop's talk was the line that disabled people are a

“a minority you can join at any time. ” This struck me, as I had taken a first year seminar on wheel chair accessibility at the UNC system schools, and my professor there would constantly remind us that we are all just "temporarily abled." Indeed, we will all eventually, if not through an accident then just naturally, lose our abilities to do what we consider "basic" functions. Our eye sight will fade. Our hearing will deteriorate. Our joints and muscles aren't going to want to make the same walks up the stairs that they used to. And so from this point of view I believe that enabling technologies are important not just for the blind or deaf or those confined to wheel chairs, but for us all--because we are all likely to join the "disabled" list at some point in our lives.

What I also liked about Bishop's talk was his focus on public service--that working on enabling technologies is a great way to give back and make some people's lives a little easier, a little more fun. This is certainly a worthy goal. When working on my project for the first year seminar, the class saw how grossly un-wheelchair friendly UNC-sytem facilities were. At some schools, the disability services buildings weren't even wheelchair accessible. This is why it's so important that enabling technologies work to make people's lives easier, because their lives are filled with constant challenges. And as Bishop enthusiastically reminded the audience, this type of public service can be a lot of fun. I loved his idea for a "create your own adventure" books--these could work well not only for young kids, but for aging adults looking for some excitement and fantasy in their lives. The iDaft game was also extremely creative, but also extremely useful.

What I'm wondering then is what will it take for enabling technologies to receive more support and funding? Do we think the engineers are going to need to show how it helps not only people with "permanent disabilities," but also the rest of us who will eventually become disabled in some way? Or maybe do they just need to get them into more schools so they can show broader ranges of success? Or will this have to be done one computer programmer/engineer at a time?


  1. I think the question of 'what will it take' is a very difficult one to answer. If people in government talked about a need for it, it would likely happen faster but the chance of enabling technologies being that high on the list, or even on the list at all, of priorities is practically zero. I do think, however, an emphasis on how this is important to everyone would be key to getting more funding/support because sadly humans are far less likely to support something when they aren't directly affected. Also a comment on the whole wheelchair-unfriendliess of UNC thing, I've definitely noticed that. We may have wheelchair friendly dormitories, but actually getting to the main parts of campus and into the buildings where a majority of classes are held is practically impossible if you can't walk up at least five stairs. It's rather sad and it's not something that's likely to get attention in the very near future as making UNC more disability friendly is highly unlikely to be on a list of priorities during economic recession and budget cuts.

  2. The fact that all of us could join the minority of handicapped people struck me as well. It is very troubling to know that we all are just a second away from being handicapped in more than just one way. We could become handicapped physically as well as socially. Without the things we take for granted such as books, listening to music, and movies to watch, we would truly become different people. I think that we all should take 5 minutes, go to the website of Gary Bishop and create a book or two. It seems to be very easy and simple to do. I know that the handicapped children would appreciate it and I also know that it will help us think of the world from a different perspective.

  3. It may be only a niche concern now, but in the future, enabling technologies will most definitely matter more to the public. Many of the older people needing this technology now were born in the Forties and earlier. In forty more years, however, we'll all be reaching our 60s, and we, being accustomed to having technology all around us all the time, will potentially need our own enabling technology. It might take another thirty or forty years, but eventually, as those who grew up with technology become disabled, enabling technology will take more of a public interest.

  4. I have never really thought about enabling technologies in this way, because for the most part I haven't ever envisioned myself as disabled. Even when Gary Bishop was speaking I somehow skipped over his allusion that we will all be disabled some day, but seeing it in text really brought the point home. I agree with Ben in that these technologies will become much more important as the 'baby boomer' generation continues to age. I know that other sectors of the commercial world are trying to profit from the 'baby boomer' retiree market, and I think this will be no different with 'enabling technologies'. Hopefully those in charge hit the learning curve (or cost-efficiency curve) quickly so that this opportunity doesn't pass them by.