Disability and Cyberpunk

Eddy Webb
Eddy Webb
Jul 25 · 2 min read

(Originally posted on my blog: February 21, 2019)

Taken in the recovery room of the hospital, hence the lovely iodine tan I have here.

Earlier this week I got a hole in my head. And I couldn’t be happier.

See, for a year I’ve been fighting with my insurance to sort out coverage to get a bone-anchored hearing aid (BAHA). I get chronic ear infections due to my current over-the-ear hearing aids, so this is the best solution. I finally got the green light earlier this month, and Monday the procedure was done. I spent a couple of days resting and napping, and now I’m active but still healing. I should get to use the actual device in a few weeks.

Naturally, most of my friends have been making Shadowrun and Cyberpunk jokes, because seriously, putting a titanium stud in your skull so you can stick a Bluetooth-enabled computer to your head is just about the most cyberpunk thing ever. However, by chance, I got back from my surgery to a question from someone asking about disability erasure in cyberpunk fiction. The argument from the asker was that cyberware erases disability, and they want to avoid that. I disagreed. Here’s what I wrote back:

Cyberware is essentially another form of medical aid, like hearing aids, glasses, and prosthetic limbs. But no matter how advanced the prosthetic is, it’s not the same as being abled. For example, [once my BAHA abutment is] healed, I’ll be able to do cool stuff like stream audio to my head so I can listen to podcasts and take phone calls without using headphones! But I also need to keep it clean, keep it out of the rain, and avoid hairdryers. And even with the improvements I’ll get, I won’t have the same abilities as abled people, like being able to tell where a sound is located — the best I can usually sort out is “nothing is obviously causing that sound in front of me, so it must be behind me.” So even though I can hear again, my disability isn’t removed.

So, as long as characters recognize that prosthetics do not create ability (and thus erase disability) but rather create the approximation of ability while bringing new features and challenges, I think you’ll be able to present disabled folks authentically without erasure.

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