Technology alone will not revolutionize the lives of people with disabilities

One of the videos reposted with the hashtag #DisabilityDongle. | Screenshot via YouTube

#DisabilityDongle (in French: “gadget for the disabled”): on this English hashtag launched by activist Liz Jackson, many tweeters make fun of inventions supposed to revolutionize the lives of people with disabilities.

A wheelchair with special wheels for climbing stairs, smart gloves that allow you to understand sign language without having to learn it, or even an exoskeleton allowing paralyzed people to walk… Regularly, a university or a start-up up is creating a buzz by promising to make society more accessible through technology. People with disabilities are skeptical about the real scope of these innovations.

Poorly adapted technologies

Ashley Shaw is an associate professor at the University of Virginia, a specialist in the links between technology and disability, and disabled herself. “A student once asked me, ‘How do you go to the bathroom in an exoskeleton?’ The answer was that the person in the exoskeleton has to take it off entirely, and move into their wheelchair in order to then go to the bathroom. It’s unusable outside your home, ”she laughs.

One illustration among many of the fact that these technologies actually meet the needs of people with disabilities quite poorly, for lack of understanding. Similarly, the gloves that translate sign language are unable to take into account the expression of the face, which is nevertheless an essential key to understanding. Conversely, technology like the self-stabilizing spoon really fills a need, allowing people with severe tremors to eat easily.

“People already affected by poverty are being asked to pay for very expensive devices so that they can – tada! – do the same things as…

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