All the useful technical improvements that make everyday life easier for people with disabilities are to be welcomed. However, care must be taken to ensure that these precious aids do not lead to the relativization of the handicap or even to its invisibilization, thereby avoiding the attention which is due to it.
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The undeniable contributions of techno-science
François Matheron is a French philosopher who had a stroke in November 2005. What saved him from continuing to think are the tools of today’s techno-science. In his book, The Man Who Couldn’t Write, the philosopher states:
“One day, I learned of the existence of machines allowing you to write by voice, without any other intermediary: all you had to do was talk, the machine did the rest. I had entered the world of voice recognition; I was able, then, to rewrite without knowing how to write. I write “The man who could not write” with my device, the result is immediate […] If I had lived in Althusser’s time, I would not have been able to write this text or any other: I therefore bless the gods, and my parents, for allowing me to exist today, that is to say in a time unknown to Althusser, and to Benjamin: that of computing, of computer and its derivatives. “
We find many other techno-scientific developments that help face different disabilities: smartphones for the visually impaired, adaptation of the Web to disabled people, software to compensate for “days” disorders: dyslexic, dysorthographic, dyspraxic. The software supports autistic children in their development through edutainment applications. The explosion in the use of digital information systems (the Internet and all social and information networks) has had a considerable impact on people’s lives previously isolated physically and psychologically. It has therefore increased their possibilities of body and mind.
Beware of the fantasy of eradicating disability.
These technological innovations have contributed to the very relativization of the concept of disability. However, the organic fact of disability may be very little compared to the impact of a cultural, techno-scientific, and social context, which gives it disabling effects or which allows their effective compensation.
This goes to the point where medical progress dangles cures that were not possible until then: blindness, deafness, in a certain number of cases, would no longer be definitive identities but could be “cured” by nanochips, cochlear implants, etc. And we can already imagine that people with paraplegia will resume walking with the help of appropriate exoskeletons. The increased body would come to make the handicap disappear.
In the midst of this flood of discourse on scientific and technical progress, we should, however, be wary of a fantasy, which is that of the definitive eradication of disability, a fantasy resulting from the medicine of repair and augmentation. In transhumanism, suffering, disease, disability, aging is gradually described as unnecessary and undesirable. We should master this obsolescence of our species. But there is no real reflection here on the human condition, no understanding of the richness that confronting human vulnerability has always brought to society.
The risk of invisibilization
The most serious here seems to be the focus on something other than attention to disability. Tales of repair and augmentation techno-science mirror the larks, for there are many types of disabilities, and those for which there will be no remedy will remain on the side. Stuffed with great transhumanist stories, the public will therefore have been anesthetized in the face of the real difficulties of disability. When transhumanism calls for an augmented man, philosophy calls for an augmented understanding of man.
People with disabilities do not suffer from a physical or mental problem, but above all, from contamination of their sense of identity and a dramatic loss of self-confidence. In existence, we are not isolated psychically but live in intersubjectivity, that is, in the permanent exchange of looks and ideas, in the reciprocity of consciousness. It is this reality that must be taken into account.
The greater our deficiencies, the more spatial and architectural structures can be decisive in preventing, reducing, or aggravation. But in all of this, we are still too often focused on technology, and we forget the importance of relational accessibility.
The setbacks described by any disabled person who finds himself at a conference or an auditorium where “exceptionally” the elevator is broken should draw our attention to the dangers of a habit of making the disabled invisible thanks to the universal technical accessibility. Because as soon as the technique is poorly thought out or defective, the handicap reappears violently within a social model that thought it had come to an end.
The fight for a reduction in disability will, therefore, in reality, be a relational struggle. Through his attitude, each of us can influence the increase or decrease in the handicap of the other. For this reason, we call for de medicalization and de-technicalization of the issue of disability.