How robotics can improve our understanding of disability


Interesting piece from science site on "How robots can help us embrace a more human view of disability". An extract:

When dealing with the otherness of disability, the Victorians in their shame built huge out-of-sight asylums, and their legacy of "them" and "us" continues to this day. Two hundred years later, technologies offer us an alternative view. The digital age is shattering barriers, and what used to the norm is now being challenged.

What if we could change the environment, rather than the person? What if a virtual assistant could help a visually impaired person with their online shopping? And what if a robot "buddy" could help a person with autism navigate the nuances of workplace politics? These are just some of the questions that are being asked and which need answers as the digital age challenges our perceptions of normality...

We often feel pity or guilt when we see a person with a disability. However, the digital world offers an emotionally healthier way of viewing people with disabilities – with a better chance of taking them at face value. Designing technologies for people with disabilities means designing better technologies for all of us. For example, with the help of people with autism, we are building robots that will be better at social interaction. So we need the help of people with disabilities. Through these new technologies there is greater inclusivity and people with disabilities can play a more active role in society.

The attainment of impossible perfection is arguably one of modern life's pitfalls. However, neurodiversity is the idea that differences in the genome are natural variations rather than pathologies. Modern technologies can offer greater equality, more opportunities and a better lens through which to view disabilities. Imperfection is nature's insurance policy – something we should bear in mind the next time we judge both others and ourselves.

More here.