“HOW DO WE TALK ABOUT TECHNOLOGY? DISABILITY, PROSTHESES AND EMBODIMENT”
The computer is often spoken of — by historians, media studies scholars and tech journalists — as an intellectual prosthesis, one which augments the abilities of all humans by enhancing and expanding upon what people are capable of. This is a metaphorical prosthesis, where a body part is not replaced, but instead a technology allows people to do things no one can do without it. Yet, in spite of the figurative use of disability here, rarely are people with disabilities considered as computer users when discussing augmentation. The long history of people with disabilities pushing for greater flexibility for the computer to work with diverse bodies offers a site to bring together augmentation with embodiment, turning away from a metaphorical prosthesis to center disability as an analytical category, highlighting different kinds of bodies and augmentation.
Elizabeth Petrick is an associate professor of history at Rice University. She works on the history of computer technology, the relationship between technology and users (particularly, users with disabilities), interfaces, and how technology relates to civil rights. Her book "Making Computers Accessible: Disability Rights and Digital Technology" (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015) received the 2017 Computer History Museum Book Prize.