The Physically Disabled
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.
- Wolbring , G. (2003) “NBIC,NGO’s society and three types of disabled people” Paper written for the conference Within and Beyond the Limit of Human Nature October 12-16th 2003 Berlin, Germany Version from 21th. September 2003. Documents the emergence of transhumanist disability activists who believe that there is no such thing as a normative human form, and that all human bodies are disabled and in need of improvement.
- “And the Disabled Shall Inherit the Earth: Uninhibited about technological modification, they’re poised to be the first posthumans,” by George Dvorsky - Betterhumans 9/15/2003
- “Death vs. Hope: The pace of medical progress should give patients and doctors pause when considering assisted suicide,” by George Dvorsky - Betterhumans - 10/13/2004
- “NBIC, NGO’s society and three types of disabled people,” by Gregor Wolbring. Paper written for the conference Within and Beyond the Limit of Human Nature October 12-16th 2003 Berlin, Germany Version from 21th. September 2003
- “Disability and Transhumanism” panel at Transvision 2003
- James Swayze Quadriplegic and transhumanist activist
- Alliance for Technology Access
- Internatinal Center for Disability Resources on the Internet
- Center for Genetics and Society on “Disability Rights Advocates”