The Physically Disabled

The WTA-disability mailing list

Disabled people using the latest assistive technologies, with their eyes fixed on medical progress, are a natural constituency for transhumanism. Disabled people in the wealthier industrialized countries, with their wheelchairs, prosthetic limbs, novel computing interfaces and portable computing, are the most technologically dependent humans ever known, and are aggressive in their insistence on their rights to be technologically assisted in fully participating in society. 

Some disabled people are even consciously embracing the transgressive image of the cyborg. Paraplegic journalist John Hockenberry made the point in Wired magazine that disabled people are pushing the boundaries of humanness: “Humanity’s specs are back on the drawing board, thanks to some unlikely designers, and the disabled have a serious advantage in this conversation. They’ve been using technology in collaborative, intimate ways for years - to move, to communicate, to interact with the world. …People with disabilities - who for much of human history died or were left to die - are now, due to medical technology, living full lives. As they do, the definition of humanness has begun to widen.”

Probably the most prominent symbol of disabled transhumanist activism these days is Christopher Reeve, the former Superman actor who became a tireless campaigner for biomedical research after a horse-riding accident left him quadriplegic. Reeve has been especially important defending the use of cloned embryos in stem cell research, and his advocacy of cures for spinal injuries has made him controversial for the disability rights extremiss who see a zero-sum trade-off between disability rights and cures for disabilities.

But most disabled people are not Luddites. Most disabled think parents should have the freedom to choose to have non-disabled children and that technology can be used to overcome or cure disabilities, while we fight for equality for people with disabilities. Just as we should have the choice to get rid of a disability, we should also have the right to choose not to be “fixed,” and to choose to live with bodies that aren’t “normal.” The right not to be coerced by society to adopt a “normal” body is also a central demand of transhumanism.


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