Enhancement Technologies and Disabilities
Virginia Tech philosophy Professor Ashley Shew will present “We Can Rebuild You: Disabled Bodies and Technological Imagination” at 11 a.m. Friday, Jan. 22, in Philips Hall in the Performing Arts Center at Cal Poly.
Disabled people are often test cases for new technologies that could become widely used by non-disabled people. For instance, exoskeletons developed to help those with paralysis walk again also help workers and soldiers lift and carry heavy equipment over greater
distances. News reports suggest that bionic technologies, including wearables and implantables, are set to radically alter life in the very near future. However, some individuals with disabilities also challenge popular narratives about technology and disrupt
common ideas about how to treat disability.
Shew, a recent amputee, will contrast this pop discussion against the reality of actual, lived experiences. In her talk, she will focus on three major themes: prosthetic technologies for limb amputees and exoskeletons for people with spinal cord injuries; the
social pressure to walk; and pop culture and media coverage of paralympians, “Dancing with the Stars” contestants, and others — highlighting tensions between authenticity and enhancement, disability and superability, and being fixed and being okay with oneself.
The talk is organized by the Ethics + Emerging Sciences Group at Cal Poly, one of the world’s leading research groups in science and technology ethics, led by Patrick Lin, research director and an associate philosophy professor at Cal Poly.
“Hype always surrounds new technologies and drives a lot of things, such as market investments and military policy,” Lin said. “That’s why it’s vital to clear through the hype to see how technologies are really unfolding on the ground. Dr. Shew will help give
us that picture, which is even more important as it affects disabled folks who are among the most marginalized and invisible in our society.”
Shew earned her doctorate and two master’s degrees from Virginia Tech, where she is an assistant professor of science and technology in society. As an interdisciplinary scholar, she works to extend philosophies of technology into conversation with animal studies
and disability studies, with a focus on emerging technologies.
The event is free and open to the public. The presentation is sponsored by Cal Poly’s College of Liberal Arts’ Lottery Speakers Fund; the Disability Resource Center (DRC); the Science, Technology and Society Minors Program, and the Philosophy Department.