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Sunday, January 1, 2012

Exoskeleton: A Cranky New Year

Anyone who has glanced at this blog knows I do not like the exoskeleton. About once a month I get an email from exoskeleton fans who characterize me as bitter. I don't get this--I am quite happy rather than bitter. I really like my wheelchair and think I have led and will continue to lead a rich and rewarding life. I see no use for the exoskeleton in my life and likely about 95% of those who are paralyzed. I remain troubled by the huge sums of money spent on the development of the exoskeleton to the detriment of mundane and important technology such as wheelchairs. I have often felt like a lone voice of dissent. It is as though I am the cranky sober guy at a wild party who ruins the fun for everyone else. But I am not alone. I just read a post by Mike Ervin at his blog smartasscripple. Ervin is a very funny columnist and I loved his December 20, 2011 post "Mandatory Exoskeletons".

Ervin wrote:

I’m pretty fucking depressed these days. It seems like my nightmare, dystopian vision of the future for cripples is rapidly becoming reality. And there’s nothing I can do to stop it.

"All over the world, evil, mad scientists are working with feverish, sadistic glee developing robotic exoskeletons. Check it out. Google up some exoskeletons and you’ll see what I mean. A lot of these scientists are pursuing this research in the name of using exoskeletons to enable cripples to move their limbs again. They’re making tremendous progress and it’s pretty damn scary. Because soon those super-charged exoskeletons like the one that guy flies around in in the movie “Iron Man” will be an everyday reality. And as soon as that happens, every cripple will be required by the state to have one.

When you look at it from a cold, bureaucratic bean-counter’s perspective, it makes perfect sense. Why should the public trough pay for cripples to have human assistants accompany them all day and help them do stuff when you can make those same cripples wear exoskeletons and suddenly they can move everything they couldn't move before and do stuff for themselves? The more crippled the person, the more of an exoskeleton they’ll need. Like a single amputee would just get a corresponding bionic arm or leg and they’re off to the races. But someone who’s really really crippled, like me or Christopher Reeve, if we’re supposed to do everything for ourselves we’ll have to be assigned a full-body exoskeleton like the “Iron Man” guy’s."

Acerbic. Ervin has a razor sharp wit and I am glad he too has poked fun and railed against the exoskeleton. What a waste of resources. Any facility or person that purchases a exoskeleton is on my shit list. I simply cannot respect anyone that buys into the hype of such a device. Let the popular press wax poetic about the virtues of the exoskeleton and walking but at least spare paralyzed people from such empty rhetoric. I really have too much to do. My life is too good and I am too happy. My wish for 2012 is simple--I hope the exoskeleton falls victim to the long predicted apocalypse.


Phil Dzialo said...

And will the plastic and metal of a contrived exoskeleton, provide the loving, unconditional support systems which the disabled desperately need.? Will an exoskeleton really provide freedom from an experience that people perhaps accept and thrive in? Better spending the millions in services which provide human support, contact, communication and care. Aerodynamic plastic, metals and hydraulic rods fail in this area, Blessing for the new year!

william Peace said...

Phil, The exoskeleton is a very American response to paralysis. Ignore well established effective technology, a wheelchair, and invest heavily in technology that is expensive, has a high profit margin and is completely impractical but perceived to be cool. And you are correct, the answer to disabling conditions requires an investment of social capital.

Liz said...

I think much of the exoskeleton hype is also fueled by the defense industry. They are actually being developed for soldiers to wear in combat to make them super strong and able to walk carrying heavier burdens and weapons. I worry that the part about physical therapy and "helping" people with disabilities or injuries is a sleight of hand to distract the real area of profit here.

yanub said...

I don't think the exoskeleton is ultimately for people with paralysis as much as it is for people with arthritic and connective tissue conditions. For those of us who already wear braces and orthosis, this is just another design. May I say that I prefer the idea of an external device to the internal ones offered via joint replacement surgery? That exoskeletons for mobility are talked about so much in reference to people with paralysis seems to be reflective of the social tendency to equate all disability with wheelchair use, especially wheelchair use due to paralysis. Since we all have very different needs, it makes sense to have a broad spectrum of very different devices.

william Peace said...

Liz, Funding from the military insures the idea will never die. The high profit margin to the cure industry and perceived cool factor only make exoskeleton likely to be widely used in rehab centers. Ugh, sends newly paralyzed people a bad message, glorification of walking.

Yanub, Interesting point r.e. internal versus external device. Joint replacement is a measure of last resort. I am sure you are aware of disasterous metal on metal hip joints that fail.