Technology assists disabled people every day, whether it’s for activities of daily living, or for our passions and hobbies. Thanks so much to my friend Noemi and her daughter for sharing their experiences with us in this guest blog post.
Noemi Martinez is a poet-curandera and writer with Mexican and Caribbean roots living in South Texas. Her poem+photo collection “South Texas Experience: Love Letters” can be purchased on Hermana Resist Press’ website.
As technology advances, so does society’s dependence on technology; and with it, a phenomenon of shaming. It’s not a new response, from society, to changes in the way we traditionally ascribed to do things. The horseless carriage of the late 1890s was an invention used by the elite and super wealthy. When the Model T came along in 1908, it was the most affordable automobile being produced. Before that, automobiles were extremely expensive and a luxury beyond our wildest dreams. There was the expected backlash, of course, of new and unknown technologies, as happens when one industry is replaced with another; the push from the railway industry and those that made a living from horse-drawn carriages.
The same can be said for the use of electricity, telephones, and media; the debate of newspapers as a dying form of media, or the debate on how print is dead.
But with new breakthroughs and advancements come societal benefits.
In the Age of Tech
So it’s not surprising that we see so much pushback from those purists that wag their fingers at devices such as selfie sticks, or educators who admonish students who use technology in their classes.
The selfie stick has been called “the narcistick,” and has been banned in places like Disneyland and museums. Users are often called obsessed with their image and obsessed with social media.
I had not been privy to any discussion of selfie sticks, either for or against. This changed a few summers ago when my daughter suffered an attack to the brain and spinal cord from acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, a rare autoimmune disease. After a few weeks in a coma and four weeks of intense physical therapy as an in-patient, we came home to learn how to go about doing things in new ways: allowing for adjustments due to imbalance, weak legs and arms that did not fully extend, and using a walker and wheelchair.
One of the things my daughter loved doing before getting sick was snapping pics of the different colors in sunsets, or her dolls and toys in natural settings—think a doll in a tree or a figurine in a shrub. We settled into a routine of learning new ways to do things she had done before, and taking photos with her phone was one of those things she really wanted to get back into. So naturally, we went looking for adaptive devices to assist her in having fun – because why not?
Here’s the thing: when folks usually hear the phrase assistive devices, they think canes or walkers. It’s actually quite an ableist way to think. It’s not uncommon that folks needing adaptive devices wouldn’t use the same things others are using in new and different ways. In fact, many of the inventions we use to make life easier were made intentionally for disabled folks.
The hate on selfie-sticks is connected to the idea that users are obsessed with social media and narcissistic at heart. Last year, CNN published an opinion titled “Why the selfie stick must die.”
“It looks ridiculous”
If you’re judging someone’s aesthetic because they are dragging around a piece of metal, I must also wonder how judgment is going on with folks using walkers or loud and motorized wheelchairs. I must also wonder if haters of selfie sticks are worried about the changing landscape of their museums and parks. What is the acceptable amount of metal and technology that bothers them, and what is the deciding factor on what they consider an adaptive device or a narcissistic device?
My daughter has complained of the unwarranted sympathetic looks from strangers as well as the general WTF looks that are completely inappropriate to do to a child. She avoids interaction with strangers at all costs because of this. So I can’t really see her asking a stranger to snap a pic of her and her brother at some event or outing because of the expectation of these unwarranted, sympathetic “poor you” expressions.
“Obsession with Self”
I’m perfectly all right with the idea we are obsessed with ourselves if it means my daughter is not getting unwanted attention and we are not getting bombarded with questions. I’m perfectly okay with others assuming she is obsessed with social media if it means the focal point of her phone can be extended beyond what her arms can extend; and besides, she hates Facebook and Instagram. For someone in a chair or for someone who has mobility issues, using a selfie stick means they don’t have to go down low to snap pics on the ground, or close ups, or above them.
“They’re not singing or moving”
“They can slow down a parade”
I read statements like this on why selfie sticks are banned in certain locations and gatherings. Again, let’s go back to who is also not singing or moving, and who is slowing down a parade. We certainly would be slow in a parade if we were in a wheelchair, or if we had to take breaks because of pain or imbalance. This idea of what is the norm and the ideal spectator comes up again and again in arguments against technology like the selfie-stick. From what I’m seeing, what is acceptable here is a reflection of the arguers who don’t understand how and who uses assistive devices.