Contemplating the Future of Prosthetic Devices

I keep up with the technology used to help people live fuller lives when they have a special need in as much as is possible. Of course, even if I devoted full time to the task, keeping up with every innovation would be impossible. Still, I try to find articles and other resources that go along with some of the concepts I originally discussed as part of Accessibility for Everybody: Understanding the Section 508 Accessibility Requirements. I recently read a Smithsonian article that helped me better understand precisely where prosthetic technology will be going in the future. Hugh Herr has turned a terrible life experience into something incredibly positive by creating prosthetic devices that work more like the flesh and blood counterparts they’re designed to replace.

The technology described in the article is simply amazing. However, the article also underscores some of the underlying issues that anyone with a special need faces. People automatically think that anyone with a special need is somehow deficient or requires special treatment. Given the resources, training, and devices available today, most special needs people can live as if they don’t have a special need. In fact, as far as they’re concerned, they don’t have one. So, while the article does describe really cool technology and tells of the heroic battle fought by several people to live normal lives, it also tells of a society that just isn’t ready to understand how technology can level the playing field and what a desirable response to special needs people should be.

Which brings me back to my book. When readers write me about my book, they often miss the point. Yes, my book is designed to help developers create really cool applications. It’s also designed to help people understand their legal and moral responsibilities in helping people with special needs. A few readers even get the idea that they’re likely to require special aids at some point in their lives. However, almost everyone misses the the point that I wrote my book to help people, all people, feel acceptance for who they are—no matter who they might be or what their requirements are.

Forward thinking people like Hugh Herr really are important today because technology such as bionics have the potential to change how we view humans as a species. A recent MIT Technology Review article highlights where Dr. Herr is going and where he wants to take us. If he can realize his vision, the things we’ll be able to do boggles the imagination. More importantly, the loss of a limb will no longer be an impediment to doing anything at all. Perhaps the makers of The Six Million Dollar Man had it right all along.

Where do you think we’re going with technology designed to overcome special needs in a way that makes them all but invisible? More importantly, what do you feel are the changes society needs to make with regard to treatment of special needs people? Let me know your thoughts at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

The Bionic Person, One Step Closer

When The Six Million Dollar Man first arrived on the scene in January of 1974, most people thought it was simply another science fiction television show. The addition of The Bionic Woman in January 1976 was just more good entertainment. The only problem is that these shows really aren’t just entertainment anymore. I’ve already discussed the use of exoskeletons to help those who have lost use of their legs in Exoskeletons Become Reality. No, none of the people using these devices can run 60 mph or make incredible leaps—that part is still science fiction, but I’m beginning to wonder for how long. (Just in case you’re interested, there is also a bionic arm in the works.) Today I read an article entitled, “Australians implant ‘world first’ bionic eye” that appears to take the next step in the use of bionics with humans. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that these things would happen when I originally wrote Accessibility for Everybody. I’m happy that they have !

Of course, the bionic eye of today is quite limited. Early bionic eyes have relied on a camera built into a pair of glasses to help someone see. You need a lot of hardware to make these eyes work and the best you can hope to achieve in many cases is to see light and dark. The part I find interesting about this new bionic eye is that the apparatus is actually inserted into the person’s living eye on top of the retina (yes, you still need the glasses, but just for the camera part of the technology)! This is a true innovation because it means that we’re headed in the direction of bionics becoming nearly impossible to detect. Once this technology leaves the laboratory, the doctors envision the person being able to see a 1,024 × 1,024 image. OK, that’s not HDTV standard, but it’s a lot better than someone who is blind has today.

In many respects, the technology advances we’re seeing today are both amazing and a bit scary at the same time. Scientists are literally probing every element of the human body, discovering how they work well enough to help people live better lives, and then using technology to fill in the gaps. I see a time coming when no one will have to suffer with a devastating loss that significantly limits the enjoyment of life. What do you think about the coming of the real bionic person? How far do you think this technology might go? Let me know your thoughts at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.