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New Materialism acknowledges agency in all facets of disability: material embodiment, lived experience, discourse, and social barriers to participation. New Materialism facilitates vision impaired researchers’ immersion in our research, acknowledging the varied reality of our non-normative modes of seeing and experiencing the world.
My research examines representations of albinism in speculative fiction. Speculative fiction tends to omit vision impairment as part of albinism and, therefore, usually omits existing disability access technologies or misrepresents these technologies. Side-effects of these representations include reinforcing misconceptions while failing to educate the public about vision impairment, the capabilities of vision impaired people and existing disability access.
When speculative fiction and current technological advances engage with vision impairment, these representative events inspire interesting and, often, unrealistic ideas in the public. These ideas are often based on disability academic David Bolt’s ‘ocularcentric social aesthetic’ (sight is considered the primary and essential sense) or on the infallibility of science (e.g. ‘Why don’t you have surgery to fix your eyesight/get bionic eyes/use echolocation?’). Publicity around current developments of bionic eyes seems to have inspired the public to believe Jordi La Forge’s (a character in Star Trek: The Next Generation) bionic eyes have arrived, and Daredevil implies that vision impaired people can use echolocation for parkour without peril.
Vision impaired people are neither as super-powered as Daredevil nor as incompetent as the ocularcentric social aesthetic assumes. Disability access exists, facilitating our participation in education, employment and society, but it is more complicated than ‘normative’ knowledge aggregates allow.