How to turn technical aids into social mediators?

Friday, November 1, 2013
First author:
Hoogsteyns M.
Adapting the Environment I

Dep. Medical ethics, Amsterdam Medical Centre, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

All authors:

Maartje Hoogsteyns, Hilje van der Horst

Empowerment & Environment


In the last few years, the definition in medical anthropology and philosophy, but also in public discourse, of what is ‘good care’ has been changing. Partly as a result of the increase in people with chronic diseases, it is shifting away from a focus on ‘curing the individual body’ towards the more contextual and socially embedded notion of ‘how to have a good life with an impairment’. In congruence, the dominance of the concept of autonomy is more and more questioned, as people realize that we are all dependent on others for having that good life (having an impairment or not).

The field of technical aids is dramatically lurking behind. Technical aids are still, also in disability studies, predominantly understood in medical-model-terms: they are supposed to ‘repair’ or compensate for a persons individual impairment, adding to their autonomy. In a future research project we would like to explore how to redefine (and revalue) technical aids from the idea that having an impairment is something that we deal with and experience in relation to important others (people and things).


In this paper, we will first look at the results of 27 biographic interviews with people using arm prosthesis, hearing aids and incontinence pads. What impact did the arrival of this particular aid have on a person’s intimate social environment? Secondly, we will discuss the Belgium project ‘Design for [every]ONE’ in which students Industrial design and occupational therapy work together with a person and his/her family members/care-givers. Jointly they try to build a (costless) everyday assistive tool. How does this co-creation enfold?

Results and conclusions

This project is in a proposal-state, so there are no results and conclusions yet to present. However, based on the 27 interviews, we can already infer that the arrival of a technical aid in a home setting can dramatically change relations between family members as well as the definitions and experience of (dis)ability and care. This underlines the importance of revaluing technical aids from an ethics-of-care perspective.