Talking at ETech this Thursday: DIY for People with Disabilities

I’m going to be speaking at ETech in a couple of days about technology, culture, and disability/access invention. I’m all fizzy with enthusiasm and can’t wait to give the talk and see what people about afterwards!


ETech Conference 2009

If you’re curious, Here’s the talk description, and I’ll put slides up on Thursday or Friday.

Wheelchairs aren’t any more complicated than bicycles, but they cost a ridiculous amount of money. They shouldn’t. Neither should other simple accessibility and mobility equipment. In the U.S., people with disabilities who need adaptive devices depend on donations, charitable agencies, insurance, and a corrupt multi-billion dollar industry that profits from limiting access to information.

With a cultural shift to a hardware DIY movement and the spread of open source hardware designs, millions of people could have global access to equipment design, so that people with disabilities, their families, and their allies can build equipment themselves, and have the information they need to maintain and repair their own stuff.

Since we can’t all do it ourselves or weld our own chairs, we also should encourage a different mindset for the industry. You can’t stand up all day at your desk, but you don’t need a doctor to prescribe you a $6000 office chair. A consumer model rather than a medical and charity model for mobility aids would treat wheelchairs simply as things that we use to help us get around, like cars, bikes, or strollers.

Small assistive devices such as reacher/grabbers, page turners and book holders, grip extenders, can be made with bits of rubber tubing, PVC pipe, and tools as simple as box cutters and duct tape. Rather than obsess over impossible levels of healthiness and longevity, we need to change people’s expectations of how they will deal with changing physical limitations. Popularizing simple designs, and a DIY attitude for mobility and accessibility gear, will encourage a culture of invention that will be especially helpful to people as they age.

This will be my first O’Reilly conference. No, wait, it won’t, I went to a huge impersonal scary Perl conference in about 1998, as a somewhat lonely programmer and the founder of Orange County Perl Mongers. But that’s another story. What I want to say here is, I really liked the O’Reilly conference registration site. It let me make my own profile and control it, rather than emailing a bio and info 12 months ahead of time. It lets me see all the other speakers and attendees, which is hugely important for me so that I can picture where I’m going to, how comfortable or hostile an environment it will be, whether I know *anyone* else there, how my talk will fit in with other talks, and so on; it helps to emphasize that people are the map. There are even social network features so that I am coming into the conference “friended” with a bunch of people and able to message back and forth with them. It is all very slick and very useful to me.

A conference is a social event. It makes sense to build social media around it.

Related posts:
This entry was posted in Composite: Tech & Poetics and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Talking at ETech this Thursday: DIY for People with Disabilities

  1. S. Bear Bergman says:

    My pal Bug had a slow leak in one of his tires, so he called the wheelchair repair place and asked how much to have the tubes and tires replaced.

    $250

    He went to the bike store instead. That (incl. better tires), plus rim liners, plus spokes tightened: $50. He figures he probably could have done it himself for $30 if he had the right tools at home.

    ::head shaking::

  2. Kara says:

    I ran across an ad for your talk a few days ago (sorry-can’t remember where!) and I would love to attend. DIY for disabilities is about so much more than understanding there are resources out there. It’s also about taking back the power over our own lives! Good luck and I hope our professional paths cross soon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>