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ThisAbility #3: Somewhere Stephen Hawking is drooling (on purpose) right now

This Magazine Staff

brainNow for those of you who are actually paying attention: Last week, I promised that I would talk about a distinctly able-bodied affliction I’ve noticed called the “Sorry Syndrome”. Well, I’m going to make like the government and put that disability issue on the back burner in favor of something I arbitrarily deem more important and more worthy of my resources.
At the beginning of our ThisAbility experiment, I told you I would interrupt my regular focus on attitudinal barriers to bring you transformative news that directly affects the disabled community at large. This is one of those times. It comes to us via the non-stop ticking of CBS’s 60 Minutes. The story was called Harnessing the Power of the Brain and it focuses on a technological breakthrough worthy of Professor Charles Xavier and his Cerebro device from the pages of X-Men. The story centers on a technological marvel called the Brain-Computer Interface System: it’s a skull cap peppered with electrodes that feed directly into a PC, allowing engaged minds trapped within useless bodies to control their world independently using only their thoughts.

This isn’t mind control. You can’t make your support worker’s head explode just by focusing intensely enough, but you can type a word, letter by letter, just by consciously thinking about it. Every time you select a letter with your thoughts, your brain sends a signal to the computer and the word is written before your eyes. Another piece of technology,Braingate, negates the skull cap and implants electrodes directly into the brain. The first group who signed up for the clinical trials, can now pilot a wheelchair from afar using their minds (it’s not yet safe enough to sit in the chair while thinking your way around the room). Braingate technology is also being used to develop hyper-realistic prosthetics that can be controlled within the brain, as if they were real limbs.
Of course, this is all great news, giving people who were formerly trapped inside themselves their lives back. Now they can communicate and go back to their old jobs as if they just went on vacation, instead of rehab. People with spinal cord injuries could get back on their feet again faster than Lee Majors ever did in The Six Million Dollar Man. A few more tests in the lab and they can rebuild people: they do have the technology. But who’s to say that everybody wants to be rebuilt? Who’s to say everyone wants to take the blue pill? Even if you want the “Super Soldier Serum” this neuron-powered technology provides, it has yet to be ascribed a price tag or wide release. When it is, it will most definitely be tough to afford on a disability pension, potentially shutting out those who could get the best use out of it. Maybe that’s the problem with stories about futuristic, life saving technology. Shows like 60 Minutes dangle the carrot, only to have it yanked away by bureaucratic red tape when it’s finally ready for public usage. It wouldn’t be the first piece of medical technology marred by squandered potential.
broverman_a.jpgAaron is a freelance journalist living in Toronto. His work has appeared in Financial Post Business, Investment Executive Newspaper, and TV Week Magazine, along with He is a regular contributor to Abilities Magazine and is currently plotting a weekly web comic called GIMP, with artist Jon Duguay, about a handicap school bus driver who wakes up after a crash to find he’s the last able-bodied person on earth — and he’s being hunted.

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