“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how.’” – Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Humans are animals. That is, rather than being plants or bacteria or rocks, we are animals with animal bodies. Sometimes those bodies are shaped in ways that are surprising or function in ways that are not typical. This is where assistive technology comes in. Whether we are talking about a laptop screen reader, a reaching stick or a Quantum® Edge® 3 Power Wheelchair with iLevel® technology (what I use to get around), assistive devices help us supplement the ways in which we function so we can move through a world that isn’t expecting someone with a body like ours to show up.
We are also more than animals and more than bodies. We are deeply social. All human beings, no matter their ability or disability, need the company of others. The relationships we form with others gives life its meaning and value. There is no single kind of relationship that is necessary for someone to have in order to live well. People can be happy in romantic partnerships or living the single life. They can be happy as parents, siblings or friends. The variety of relationships we form is astounding and they can all bring unique joy to our lives. Our relationships give us reasons for living.
To me, the most interesting and important thing about assistive technology is not how it enhances our animal bodies, but how it supports our human relationships. Literally nothing is more essential to my ability to form and maintain meaningful relationships than my power wheelchair. Without it, I’d have spent my life stuck in bed. With my power wheelchair, I can be a spouse, a father, a teacher, a scholar, a friend, a son, a sibling, a mentor, an activist and anything else I can dream up.
The social function of my electric wheelchair is what makes it so critical to my life. Sometimes, people misunderstand assistive technology as a barrier to social activities. They see the stigma of an electric wheelchair and can’t imagine how it actually helps a person form relationships, rather than hinder them.
During the pandemic, my social world has shrunk down to just a small handful of people. Yet, my electric wheelchair has become even more important for enhancing these vital relationships. I can hang grocery bags from the push handles to share the load with my spouse. I can act as a human stroller for my two young kids. iLevel technology is particularly handy as a parent. I have raised the seat of my wheelchair to do everything from providing a boost to a four-year-old climbing into the branches of a tree to reaching the best box of cereal on the grocery shelf.
Human beings are more than our animal bodies and assistive devices do more than just rehabilitate us. They empower us to have the relationships that give our lives meaning.
About Joe Stramondo: Joe is an assistant professor at San Diego University and is extremely active in the disability community. In his spare time, Joe strives to be the best father he can to his children. Click here to learn more about Joe.