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The Kanchi Blog

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Reflections on TED Talks

Posted on
15th November 2010
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Caroline Casey,Disability

In light of Caroline’s upcoming debut on TED Women, I decided to review what TED Talks has to offer on disability. The first talk I found was by Aimee Mullins, an athlete, model, actress and activist for women and sports who was born without shinbones and thus uses prosthetic legs. Her talk was called “The Opportunity of Adversity”, where she suggests that adversity, and specifically what would be labelled disability, is not something to be overcome, but embraced as an essential and enriching component of the human experience. She also suggests that “disability” is simply the perverse manifestation of a murky pool of individual insecurities and fear of difference, that disability does not exist in its own rite, but is perceived to exist by those who would cast aside, rather than embrace, the diversity of humankind.

The second talk I found was by Aditi Shankardass, a neuroscientist who leads the Neurophysiology Lab of the Communicative Disorders Department at California State University. Shankardass discussed disability from a different, but equally fundamental and useful perspective: how science and technology can create tangible improvements in the functionality of those with impairments. Specifically, she discussed a new method of diagnosing brain disorders that is more accurate than the prevailing methods because it actually looks at the brain as opposed to just the observable, behavioural manifestations of the disorder. By more accurately diagnosing brain disorders, this technology allows for targeted and informed treatment programs that can substantially improve the functionality of those who have them.

Viewing these talks side-by-side, we see that there is a close parallel even though one comes from a primarily social perspective and the other from a scientific one. Both talks, at their core, emphasize opening doors to people who have disabilities rather than “putting the lid” on them. The underlying assumption behind research into technology to better diagnose and treat people with neurological disorders is that these people have something valuable to offer the world if only we’d let them. To finally squash the phantom that is disability, two things are indispensable: technology that facilitates functionality, and the belief that each and every individual has the potential to make valuable contributions to society, and to not rest until doors are open to them.


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The Author: Yifan


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