Posted: November 9, 2010 by Wildcat in Uncategorized

Prosthetics: From Functionality to Self-Modification

Prostheses, as they are currently used, mechanically replace a limb function that was either lost or never possessed. Our understanding of prosthetics is that they are used by people whose unassisted physical abilities are limited by their lack of functioning…. the “disabled.” We might assume, therefore, that if normal functioning could be completely restored by prostheses, we would no longer describe them as disabled. Some modern prostheses are so good that they function more efficiently than regular human limbs, and yet people who have even the most advanced prosthetic limbs — paralympians with high-efficiency replacement legs, for example — are still normatively described as ‘disabled’. This suggests that our understanding of disability is defined by more than simple functionality, and that there are some deeper anthropological assumptions at work when we think about what it is to be ‘able bodied’. This distinction becomes even less clear when we consider other technological augmentations that restore ‘normal’ functioning. Many people wear glasses, for example, and yet we do not typically think of being shortsighted as a disability in the same way as we do, say, missing a leg. To be shortsighted is to be physically impaired, so we might ask what the distinctions we make are really based on. Both prosthetic limbs and spectacles have been around for a long time, and have typically provided an imperfect — though effective — therapeutic solution. In creating limbs that work more efficiently than human limbs, however, advances in modern prosthetics may change both our understanding of disability and the nature of the distinctions between different kinds of mechanical therapies. Furthermore, thinking about the possible applications of prosthetic technology more widely reveals aspects of human culture that we perhaps usually overlook as a result of viewing them purely through the prism of their role in therapy. (via Prosthetics: From Functionality to Self-Modification | h+ Magazine

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