Bionic limbs. Exoskeletons. Stair-climbing wheelchairs. Eye-tracking. Lomak. Sip and puff. Walking-navigation apps. All these, some of whose names and workings are still strange to us, and many others that are perhaps a little more familiar, are part of a swiftly developing and creative branch of what is known as assistive technology, or AT – technology intended to revolutionise the capacity, and therefore actualise the potential, of people with disabilities. And this revolution is of course part of the wider, all pervasive Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) which is changing the lives of individuals and society globally. The issue is – how can we ensure that it changes everyone’s lives equally.
AT is all about enabling people with various disabilities, be they physical or cognitive, to live their lives with less discomfort, pain and distress, and to have increased capacity to fulfil their dreams, unlock benefits and open doors in endeavours ranging from sports and careers to education. It’s a field of intriguing and exciting ideas – ideas that have made previously science-fiction concepts a reality that has the power to provide opportunities that before, for many, could only be dreamed of.
And the question is, how can we best guide these technologies so that their impact, potential and effect is maximised to everyone’s benefit. And the University of Johannesburg (UJ), as a leader of challenging and innovative academic thought on the continent, is asking this question, as part of its innovative Cloudebate programme to interrogate the effects and demands of 4IR.
The fourth Cloudebate of the year, addressing two aspects of this question, will be held on the 8th of October, and everyone’s invited. The first aspect is the more general one of inclusivity and opportunity for people with disabilities, and the kinds of revolutionary tools that are becoming available to enable them to participate more fully and more comfortably in the life that most people simply take for granted. There are many facets to this, not the least being that of general societal consciousness and awareness, as well as issues for affected people, of employment, sport, culture, government and – critically – education.
Education is of course central to what UJ does. That’s why the second part of the Cloudebate discussion on the 8th of October will focus specifically on the ever-expanding opportunities in the classroom for people with disabilities.
Our societies must wholehearted embrace the best ways to create opportunities for universal progress. Our continent needs to be fully committed to a truly inclusive vision and to address 4IR developments in all their aspects, and for everyone. We need to rigorously examine our ability, willingness and determination to offer equal opportunity physically, educationally and economically to all who live in Africa. And a key part of this is the necessity of examining the full extent of technological breakthroughs for those of us who face greater challenges.
That’s why, if you’re affected in any way by disability of any kind, or have an interest in the potential of AT, or if you believe in the ethical issues at the heart of this question, then you should join UJ in investigating the questions, the solutions and the possibilities, and click into the Cloudebate that the university is holding on the subject technology and disability on the 8th of October at www.uj.ac.za/4IR.
It’s only through this kind of informed debate that we can all contribute to the future we want to see for our children. In fostering curiosity, focusing on challenges, and exchanging ideas on its Cloudebate platform, UJ continues to demonstrate its passionate commitment to creating tomorrow.
This post is sponsored and provided by the University of Johannesburg.