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Journal Issue: Children with Disabilities Volume 22 Number 1 Spring 2012

Emerging Technologies and Their Impact on Disability
Paul H. Wise


Technology has long been recognized as a potential way to help ensure that children with disabilities will have optimal opportunity for a long, healthy, and socially engaged life. Traditionally, technology and other interventions designed for children with disabilities were focused on strategies aimed at correcting a child's specific impairment or deficit. New scholarship and decades of disability advocacy have expanded this purview to include a wide variety of environmental and societal factors that are now recognized to be essential in optimizing health, development, and social engagement for children with disabilities. This more comprehensive understanding emphasizes the dynamic interaction between the physical environment and the technological and social forces that can reshape it.

Today the prevention and treatment of disability in childhood are being recast by unprecedented technological innovation. In essence, the nature and cadence of this innovation are transforming the prevalence and functional impact of child disability, the scale of social disparities in child disability, and perhaps the essential meaning of disability in an increasingly technology-dominated world. This article investigates several specific facets of this transformation: the influence of technological change on the definition of disability, the impact of preventive and therapeutic interventions on disabilities in childhood, and the ability of the current delivery system to afford access to emerging technologies designed to prevent and reduce the impact of disabling conditions in children. The article also discusses the interaction of technical innovation and the social determinants of health in shaping patterns of childhood disability as well as the interaction between the diffusion of science and technology design and disparities in child health. Understanding these issues and interactions is helpful in designing the health care delivery systems, programs, and public policies that will ultimately prove most effective in addressing childhood disabilities in the years to come.