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


Interesting New Words

Every day I learn at least two new words. On some days I learn more. A lot of those words are interesting, but I probably won’t use them very often, if at all. However, they at least tell me something about English and provide some food for thought on how to use words in the text that I write to convey specific meanings. I’ve written about this topic before in Not Mere Words and again in Power Words. However, it’s a theme that needs to be repeated because people often find it hard to convey their thoughts due to a lack of words in their vocabulary. The result is often garbled, with the hearer not really understanding what the speaker wants to say.

I learned two new words this week that I could potentially use at some time. The first is metathesis, which is a mispronunciation due to the transposition of letters or syllables in a word. The most common metathesis for me is saying Calvary instead of cavalry. The transposition of the letter l is the problem in this case. It turns out that some words in our language are actually created because of metathesis. For example, the word mullion (a vertical divider, such as a piece of wood in a window) comes from the metathesis of the word munial. It doesn’t surprise me that there is a word to describe an error that most people make, but until now I didn’t know what it is. The funniest word that I’ve learned is formed from metathesis is girn, which is a kind of grimace or snarl. Of course, the source term is grin.

The second word is biovermiculation, which refers to lines drawn on a surface by a microbial community. I read about this word in a National Geographic article entitled The Hunt for Life Beyond Earth. I found the implications of the article amazing, but the addition of a new word to my vocabulary is a bit more practical. Without the proper word to describe this phenomena, it would be difficult for me to understand that biovermiculation on another planet could possibly point to life on that planet—at least, sometime in the past. Knowing the proper words gives you the power to convey specific meanings and provides you with an advantage over someone whose vocabulary is less comprehensive (and therefore, less precise).

I build my word power through a number of sources. Of course, National Geographic and Smithsonian both provide me with new words that appear with surprising regularity in my writing. However, for those two daily words, I look to A.Word.A.Day and Word of the Day. In addition, I build my word power through all sorts of technical sources, including other books. There are many places where you can find interesting new words to use when writing or simply speaking to someone else. What new word have you learned today? Tell me about your positive (and G rated) word learning experience at