“Did you read that story in the Stanford Report about the affordable ‘smart cane’ that uses robotics? Wasn’t it cool?” Whenever articles about disability technology come out, I’m asked for my thoughts and feelings on the innovation at hand. People expect me — a blind person — to share their excitement. Most therefore find my frustration and lack of enthusiasm perplexing. They don’t understand that in the midst of the excitement that comes with applying technology to the disability community, the true harm — ableism — is often overlooked.
This “smart cane” is a good example of technology ignoring ableism. The developers intend to help the blind community. However, this product is not necessary for blind people to live and work successfully. In fact, this product can ultimately be harmful. Canes tell blind people what obstacles are in our walking paths and what terrains we’re walking on. The heavier weight of the “smart cane” puts undue stress on users’ wrists and arms. Canes like mine weigh significantly less than a single pound, whereas according to the article, this “smart cane” weighs a whopping three pounds. Repetitive stress injuries and carpal tunnel syndrome often result from muscle fatigue and repetitive motion. Using a cane that heavy every day could be catastrophic.
This article emphasizes the “affordability” of the “smart cane,” saying that similar products cost $6,000, and this one only costs $400. Perhaps they don’t realize that blind people can get canes for free here — it doesn’t get much more affordable than that. Almost 10 million Americans received Social Security disability benefits in 2019; that’s the only income that a lot of us get. Many disabled Americans live at home or with caretakers, or they work for subminimum wages or in sheltered workshops. They don’t have $400 to spare, and I don’t find $400 easy to part with, either. I would rather save that money to help with post-graduation moving expenses, donate it to a philanthropic organization or save it for my hypothetical children’s college education.
People get caught up in the “smart” aspect of technology like the “smart cane”. My cane isn’t smart, but I don’t need it to be. The article and accompanying video talk about a wheel that pulls the user around obstacles, and while I certainly don’t like running into things, it’s nice to know that those things are there. I don’t want to be skating along sidewalks without knowing where those tables outside Old Union are, for example. Maybe I’m trying to meet a friend, or …….