An excuse some writers of futuristic fiction particularly science fiction use, is that there won’t be any disabled people in the distant future, because we will have cured all disabilities. Aside from being down right offensive to many disabled people, this belief has very little merit and that’s what I’ll be talking about today.
I’m going to start off by pointing out that saying disabled people won’t exist in the future or creating a world where that is the case, is very offensive to many disabled people. Why? It’s essentially a dressed up way of saying that we want to get rid of people like you. There are possibly occasions where it’s not meant like that, but it’s important to understand, that that’s the message you’re sending.
Many people assume that all disabled people would want a cure for their disability or for technology to completely negate their disability. While it’s true that that is what some disabled people want, for many of us, we are happy with our disabilities, they’re a part of who we are. I think we’d all be grateful for some better assistive technology and we all probably have symptoms of or aspects of our disabilities that we wish were less of a problem, but that’s very different from wanting a cure. I may come back to the topic of cures in more depth in another post, but suffice it to say they’re not viewed favourably by a good many disabled people.
But essentially, even if we all wanted cures, I can’t say that I think it’s very realistic. Eradicating disability would mean curing every health condition and disability that exists in the world. And there are a lot of those. Twenty percent of the population has some form of disability. There are a wide range of disabilities, impacting every aspect of the body. Even within the same disability, there can be a variety of health conditions that cause the same disability. So, basically, we’d have to find a cure for absolutely everything.
And I don’t think that’s going to happen.
Also, the more we investigate in to medications and cures, the more new health conditions we come up against. Medication has side effects. It causes new symptoms, some of those symptoms have a long term impact on a person’s ability to function in a typical way. Some of those symptoms, especially when grouped together, are disabilities. So, in short, not only would we have to cure all existing health conditions and disabilities, we’d have to cure any new ones that arise as a result of the treatments that are used to cure the existing ones. And then we’d have to cure any new health conditions or disabilities that arise out of that treatment and so on and so on.
Furthermore, we do not know what the long term impacts of the things that we’re doing now are. For example, many major countries have nuclear weapons now. If there’s another major world war, they may be used more. This would mean there would be more radiation and I would argue that we don’t currently know what long term impact that will have on a large scale.
Similarly, we do not know the long term impact that all the technology we currently use will have. Also, global warming is definitely a problem. We do not know the impact that that will have.
Even if healthcare does improve drastically, there are people in the world who do not have access to clean water or food, let alone healthcare. So we’d also have to achieve world peace and rid the world of poverty. I would love both of these to be achieved, but I can’t say I think they’re possible in a complete sense.
Additionally, many disabilities are genetic. Genes are constantly mutating. We adapt to our environment. It may be that there are new disabilities in the future. Furthermore, if we are going to cure genetic disabilities by altering genes, we do not know what the impact of that will be. We would also need the whole population to consent to having their genes altered, which is not likely to happen with many people being against the idea of genetic engineering.
Which brings us back to the fact that not everyone wants to have a cure. To find these cures, we would need people with every single disability or health condition in the world, to consent to trialing new treatments. There are enough people in the world who do not want to be cured, that I do not see this happening.
This discussion has been very medicalised. It’s also important to note that that’s not how many disabled people see disability. Many see their biggest obstacles as the way society treats them.
It would be nice to have a future where society is more inclusive and where technology has developed in ways that mean we have some really cool assistive technology to help us. I encourage you to dream up and write about futures that are more inclusive, both to disabled people and all other marginalised groups. Remember, that all those other groups have disabled members. Have fun inventing technology that will help us. But please, do not think that we should not be included in your story because we won’t exist. Please do not cure us all with medicine or technology. Because that is extremely unrealistic and insulting.
Instead, write an inclusive future. I would love to see some really cool futuristic assistive technology. I would love to see a world where equality is taken more seriously in practise than it is now.
If you would like to find out some ways to positively include disability in science fiction, I highly recommend Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction. It’s a recent special issue of Uncanny Magazine, written and edited by disabled people.