squeamish with handicapped-assisstive technology
Thursday, May 17 2007
All the newly-freed floor space in the laboratory has made it a great place for me to do wheelchair tricks whenever I need a calisthenic break away from the computer screen. I especially like executing tight, rapid rotations, and rolling at high speed back and forth across the floor, always with just the two rear wheels on the floor. Sometimes Marie the elderly cat is in my lap as I'm doing these things.
Gretchen and a few of our friends are disturbed by the sight of an able-bodied person rolling around in a wheelchair. I think that they think I'm consciously or sub-consciously mocking the handicapped, or else they think that if there is any pleasure or added capability to be had in getting around in a wheelchair, it should be a joy (like handicapped parking) reserved for those who are actually confined by circumstances to wheelchairs. But I don't see things this way at all. In history, many of the increments to technology have started off as assistance for the disabled. The typewriter, for example, began as a tool to allow the blind to write. And one of the biggest practical uses for general-purpose speech synthesis is to enable those without speech capability to talk. So I think it's important for creative people to not be squeamish in interacting with assistive technology for the handicapped. I don't know if I'll come up with any great ideas from tooling around in a wheelchair. Offhand, though, I can already think of one reason non-handicapped people might want to roll around indoors on wheels: to allow them to move freely in places with low headroom.
I suspect my baggage-free relationship to handicapped assistive technology reflects two things about me, one nature and the other nurture. On the nature side, I'm intensely practical, and might (for example) find a non-toilet use for an old toilet despite its "vibe" and/or "cooties" probem. If a swastika shape is needed for a compartment design, then the fact of the Holocaust will not deter me. On the nurture side there was my experience at Big Fun with people who, as part of their youthful rebellion, embraced and incorporated the trappings of the handicapped, the infantile, and even the dead wherever appropriate to needs of the day. Mummified animals and doll heads could be used to decorate circuit breaker boxes, and wheelchairs made for a much more interactive chair experience than anything that could be bought at, say, Ikea.
Gretchen isn't practical or in this way at all; she's always aware if something has a dark meaning, and then doesn't want any part of it. For this reason I am forced to keep the cat skull I found in the forest some years ago hidden away. She seems to be gradually acclimating to my enthusiasm for wheelchairs, but it's doubtful I could decorate my laboratory with crucifixes, which would be in keeping with my goth-informed æsthetic.
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