Tag Archives: disability

Autism and the Internet

Several months ago, the CDC released a report on Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). They found that as of 2010, 1 in every 68 U.S. children are on the ASD spectrum. This is up from 1 in every 150 children just ten years prior. This means that rates have more than doubled. The reasons for the large increase are fodder for some wonderfully interesting conversations and heated debates about biology vs. environment vs. culture vs. the Medical Industrial Complex. Putting these debates aside for another day, however, I instead want to talk about how new technologies can serve this ever growing population. As a quick caveat, I should say that I am a person who dabbles in disability studies research. My hope is that those who know more than I—through personal experience and/or professional expertise—will add nuance to the ideas I present below and help guide the discussion into all of the complex places I know it can go, but don’t quite know how to take it.

autism_data_graphic2012-copy (more…)

Progress Vs. Ableism Revisited: The case of the “Bionic Woman”

Claire Lomas, promoted by the media as the “Bionic Woman” just made history and sparked inspiration by completing the London Marathon in 16 days.  Averaging about two miles per day, this woman with below-chest paralysis walked her 26.2 miles to finish proudly in 36,000th place. She did so with the help of a ReWalk suit, a supportive family, and the goal of raising money for spinal cord injury research.

The ReWalk suit resembles closely the Ekso suit that I wrote about previously and raises similar questions. They both enable people with spinal cord injuries to stand and walk. They are heralded by the companies as tools to enhance rehabilitation, mobility, and dignity. They also both leave me with the same uncomfortable uncertainty: is this progress or ableism? (See link above for a full delineation of this uncertainty and a lengthy discussion in the comments section). (more…)

Progress versus ableism: The case of Ekso


Eksobionics, a company dedicated to the augmentation of the human body, recently developed Ekso—a “bionic exoskeleton that allows wheelchair users to stand and walk.” In this post, I pose a question to which I honestly do not have a definitive answer: Does this development represent human progress or does it further perpetuate the subordination of physically impaired bodies?

I begin with a brief background on the company and a description of the product. I then present arguments for both progress and ableism. Finally, I question —but ultimately defend—the validity of this dichotomy. (more…)

Disabled Bodies and the Parable of the Good Robot

Photo by Howard Schatz

My post today comes from a class on ableism and disabled bodies that I taught earlier this past semester in my Social Problems course. Its inception came from the point at which I wanted to introduce my students to Donna Haraway’s concept of cyborgs, because I saw some useful connections between one and the other.

My angle was to begin with the idea of able-bodied society’s instinctive, gut-level sense of discomfort and fear regarding disabled bodies, which is outlined in disability studies scholar Fiona Kumari Campbell’s book Contours of Ableism. Briefly, Campbell distinguishes between disableism, which are the set of discriminatory ideas and practices that construct the world in such a way that it favors the able-bodied and marginalizes the disabled, and ableism, which is the set of constructed meanings that set disabled bodies themselves apart as objects of distaste and discomfort. In this sense, disabled bodies are imbued with a kind of queerness – they are Other in the most physical sense, outside and beyond accepted norms, unknown and unknowable, uncontrollable, disturbing in how difficult they are to pin down. Campbell identifies this quality of unknowability and uncontainability as especially, viscerally horrifying.

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Laughing at Disability on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”

Crossposted at Sociological Images

I am a huge fan of the television series “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” but I want to problematize some of the humor we often take for granted in the show. In a recent interview with Conan O’Brien, Charlie Day discusses some of the changes introduced into the current season of the show. Specifically, about 1:30 in, they discuss the weight gain that Rob McElhenney (“Fat Mac”) accomplished in pursuit of a “funnier” character. Notice how Charlie Day and Conan laugh—freely and unapologetically—at the prospect of Mac contracting diabetes (especially Conan’s mocking “Go America!” response to the image of “Fat Mac”): (more…)

Prosuming Identity Online

Can an identity have a homepage?

Many have long argued that identity is the result of both  (1) performative work on the part of the individual as well as (2) the influence of society with all of its history, structures, institutions, norms and so on. We do not produce our identities in a vacuum, they are influenced by society. And we do not blindly consume our identities from the options given to us; humans are complex beings who creatively tweak, mix and remix to achieve something always unique. Not just producers or consumers,  it is best to think of ourselves as identity prosumers. Here, we will show how this process is made most explicit when identities are prosumed through social media technologies. (more…)