Aimee Mullins: Dancing with adversity

March 3, 2010 at 8:20 pm Leave a comment

A friend recently shared with me this fantastic video of Aimee Mullins speaking at TED in 1998 “about her record-setting career as a runner, and about the amazing carbon-fiber prosthetic legs (then a prototype) that helped her cross the finish line.” Unfortunately, the sound quality is sub-par — but there is another great video of a talk she gave in 2009 about her 12 pairs of prosthetic legs. At TEDMED this past October, Aimee spoke about “the opportunity of adversity“:

The thesaurus might equate “disabled” with synonyms like “useless” and “mutilated,” but ground-breaking runner Aimee Mullins is out to redefine the word. Defying these associations, she shows how adversity — in her case, being born without shinbones — actually opens the door for human potential.

In an interview with NewScientist, Aimee was asked how technology is changing the way society views people with physical impairments:

Has anyone ever referred to you as a cyborg?

For me that term means not human. I don’t like it. In the 15 years I’ve had a public persona, people have called me all kinds of things – trans-human, post-human, a cyborg. Is someone who wears contact lenses a cyborg? If we think of a cellphone or a pair of scissors as a prosthetic because they are augmenting our limbs, are we cyborgs when we use them?

Is technology bringing us closer to the point where disability can become super-ability?

Absolutely. We are already there with laser eye surgery. We don’t even consider people who are visually impaired disabled any more. There isn’t the stigma around wearing glasses that there was in the 1940s and 1950s. The technology gives us super-ability.

The golfer Arnold Palmer couldn’t have continued to play without his replacement titanium hip and Tiger Woods has had laser eye surgery twice. This gave him 20/15 vision – even better than “perfect” 20/20 and a clear advantage for someone who plays a target sport. People are living much longer now and looking to technology to help push their bodies beyond their natural limit. That could be technology to aid and even augment ability that might have once been compromised with amputation or visual impairment, hearing impairment or ageing.



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Jason R. Atwood

I'm an avid trail runner and doctoral student at U.C. Berkeley who studies motivation and the relationship between the mind and body. This blog is a forum to share research, news, and musings about these topics of interest. More

Play is the beginning of knowledge.

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