Tag: Disabling Technologies

Does ‘Going Sighted’ Make Life Better? Undoing the Desire to Cure Blindness in Russia

In 2017, two Russian deafblind patients—Grigoriy Ulianov and Antonina Zakharchenko—received retinal implants, or so-called “bionic eyes.” Both patients were selected from a pool of applicants, having met the criteria of acquired blindness through retinitis pigmentosa and a capacity to perceive light but not contours of objects. Immediately after, the country’s major media outlets burst with numerous media reports. The titles ranged from the celebratory, such as Breakthrough in Russian Medicine: First Patient Got Bionic Eyes; Magician? Just a Doctor; The Miracle of the Bionic Eye; to the more restrained, with Second Russian Patient Will Receive a Cybereye This Fall; I See But Not Like You Do: On How The First Russian Patient with the Bionic Eye Lives. The overall tone of the reports was marked by magic, wonder, gratitude for the doctors, and profound satisfaction with the procedures. They were mostly celebratory and hopeful about the new possibility of converting up to (approximately) 50,000 blind Russian individuals to sight. In the context of a new federal policy orientation aimed at making Russia inclusive of different abilities, these reports emerged as a token of a hopeful future, in which problems with the well-being of blind individuals would be solved not through systemic measures, but instead, through eradicating blindness. I follow Alison Kafer (2013) in understanding this fantasy of desired technological enhancement as part of the normative curative public imagination. (read more...)

“Becoming Blind” in Virtual Reality

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth post in the series on Disabling Technologies Can technology convey experiences that are not our own, ones we can at the most imagine experiencing from a first person perspective? Furthermore, can technology help us understand the multisensory and deeply emotional qualities of such experiences? Central to this post is the consideration of how the Virtual Reality (VR) documentary Notes on Blindness may enable us to experience a ‘world without images’. I explore these questions through touching upon the problem of individual experience contra the universal. Indeed, if there is no such thing as a “universal” experience of blindness (Cupitt 2017; Hull 1990; Sacks 2005), and if VR experiences are also highly individualized (Aardema et al 2010), is there still value to be found in the personal experience? In an auto-ethnographic description of my experience with Notes on Blindness, I will focus mostly on my bodily sensations, changing emotions and how I went about “looking for my legs” in a VR. (read more...)