Today, I want to talk about a complex issue: The rejection of Assistive Technology through people with disabilities. I call this phenomenon AT avoidance.
It is surely not a secret that diferences of the body norm like disabilities are stigmatized. In Germany for a long time handicapped people were not visible in public places. Onlny since a few years, you see people with white stick or a guide dog, wheel chair or rollator in public.
When people with different disabilities meet, you can start endless discussions about the question if it is better to have a visibile or a invisible disability. I don’t want to start that discussion right now, but it is clear that invisible disabled have the opportunity to hide or show their disability, people with a visible disability have no decision, they have no incognito.
The rejection of Assistive Technology
Many people with disabilities, not only new disabiled, reject the use of Assistive Technology. I didn’t use a white stick for years, although it would have been useful to me. Than I recognized that other people does not care if I am blind or not. I’m not alone at all, people like Sabriye Tenberken or Eric Weihenmeyer wrote in their biographies, that they made the same experience. In a magazine of a german newspaper a young woman described, how she hide her visually impairment rom her colleagues. Most time of her working life she lives in the fear that somebody will recognize her disability. A similar phenomenon we find in people with hearing disabilities. They don’t want to wear hearing aids and the although don’t want to tell their friends of their disability. The result is a chronic frustration because the participation in events is very low. As a blind you can’t go without help into a canteen, for people with hearing problems it is dififcult to take part in talks with many people sitting around a table and with loud background noises.
Im my experience, there are two psychological motives for the rejection of Assistive Technology. First people don’t want to demonstrate their weakness, because they fear that their colleagues will change their behaviour if they got to know about it. Disabilities are still seen as weakness, many people seem to assume that hearing loss or blindness guide to weakness or dumbness. Often, a disabled person earns pity or aversion and both behavoirs are not convenient for the disabled person.
On the other hand the use of Assistive Technology seems to be the admission, that you will never return to your healthy body. Many people are not ready to take this step and some never will be. You often find this kind of thinking in people with visual impairness. They prefer to use high degrees of magnification or run against walls instead of using screenreaders or a white stick, although this would be better for them. I live more convenient since I accepted the stick as part of my body and personality.
Is such a behavour a good idea? In fact it is their decision how they behave and what they do.
On the other hand, it means a lot of stress to people to hide their disability. People with low vision can not go to the the Kantine, because they need help to choose or carry their meals. They can not make sports with their collegaues, because they see to bad and so on.
The other problem lays in the danger of causing an accident because you can not see or the other participant can not see that you can not see. Any court will judge the blind partner when he is a part of an accident, if he or she were not recognizable as visually impaired.
A typical behaviour for such a person is to avoid the participation in difficult social situations.
The role of design of Assistive Technology
The solution is very easy: We have to abandon the stigmation of disability. But this will not happen in the next twenty years.
A task, which is easier to fullfil is a better design of Assistive Technology. Most AT look like medical equipment. Of cause they are medical equipment, but no one says, that they have to look like that.
We have to push the whole complex of helping aids into design for all. It is out to produce special mobile phones for older people and to call them senior phones. And it is out to buy special Assistive Technology in special shops.
Apple showed how to make it: Without great expectations in return on investment, they implemented AT in all their actual hardware. With one action, Apple has transformed into the biggest producer of AT in the world. And Apple is cool, no one is ashamed of his iPhone or iPad. You know anybody, who would put his hearing aid on the table, where everybody can see it?
Another example are glasses. Although glasses have changed their reputation , today many young women and men wears glasses which are noticeable. Glasses are part of fashion and style.
A change in culture
In the same manner, the behavior of humans with disabilities have to change. In fact, it changes already, young blinds are more integrated than older blind. But we have although to develop a new consciousness in the sense of blind power. If you behave like an victim, the others will treat you like an victim. They will accept you as a case of pity, but not as an equal subject.
In the eye of the other man you will never be a whole person until you behave like a whole person.
Some people would say that people without disability have to change their behavior to. This is right, but it is also right that disabled people have to change theirselves to. They have to overtake more responsibility for themselves, it is easir to change yourself than to change the other one or the whole society. Gandhi says, that you hvae to be the change you want to reach.
- The Atlantic. Why Are Glasses Perceived Differently Than Hearing Aids?
- Eric Weihenmeier – Bio
- Psychology Today. Why We Don’t Wear Hearing Aids