Thursday, 4 October 2012
Technology is getting disabled people back into work
This article on the BBC News website was brought to my attention by a friend who has fairly serious ME. My first reaction was anger, a sort of slightly pent up anger that has been brewing all summer. The Paralympics presented me with very mixed feelings. The achievements of the athletes are phenomenal, just as those of their Olympian compatriots are. What angered me, though, was that they perpetuated a discourse on disability that focuses on a narrow range of disabilities and that much of the coverage of people like Oscar Pistorius also focuses on the way technology can "eliminate" disability. I'm a fan of technology and it helps a lot but no expensive titanium wheelchair will help if, for example, you turn up to an event to discover the only accessible access to the building has been locked up because it's past 6pm so the only access is via 20 steps. Yes, this happened to me last week at a major Scottish university. Presumably all disabled students should be tucked up in their beds, rather than attending the lectures taking place that night. If I see that picture of Pistorius and the wee girl with blades, with the "the only disability is a bad attitude" quote, I may become homicidal. The guy at the start of this article elicits the same reactions. His hi-tech legs did not get him back into work - they got him back rock climbing (which was how he lost his original legs) which is all well and good but he was clearly an extremely athletic person with or without his lower legs. I'm glad technology can help disabled people - I'm very much hoping that one day someone will come up with something that will help me. My Orthopedic Consultant sent me away with "the good news they are doing clever things with carbon fibre, so that might be an option soon". But I am very much aware that not all disabilities can be overcome with technology. The article improves as it goes on. The section at the end, which does mention the ways attitudes to disabled employees need to be overcome, makes some good points, but it still focuses on ways disabled people need to use technology to navigate the workplace, not ways that the workplace can become more accessible to disabled people.