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Disability is often an engine of innovation

Disability is often an engine of innovation Disability is often an engine of innovation
Source: Artist unknow via Pinterest
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You sit at the end of a long line of inventions that might never have existed but for people with disabilities: the keyboard on your phone, the telecommunication lines it connects with, the inner workings of email. In 1808, Pellegrino Turri built the first typewriter so that his blind lover, Countess Carolina Fantoni da Fivizzano, could write letters more legibly. In 1872, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone to support his work helping the deaf. And in 1972, Vint Cerf programmed the first email protocols for the nascent internet. He believed fervently in the power of electronic letters, because electronic messaging was the best way to communicate with his wife, who was deaf, while he was at work.

Perhaps one day someone will write a history of the internet in which that great series of tubes will emerge not as some miracle of technical progress meant to connect people faster but rather a chain of inventions each meant to help more and more types of people to better communicate. Disability is so often an engine of innovation, [which] may sound suspiciously close to the cliché that necessity breeds invention. But a more accurate interpretation is that each of those inventors, by empathizing with someone whose problems they had become intimately familiar with, was able to create things they might never have created for themselves. They were finding the expertise and ingenuity that arises naturally when people are forced to live a life different from most. Their empathy allowed them to see past the specifics of what they knew, [and] somehow, in solving problems for someone at the edges of experience, they created products that turned out to be useful to everyone.

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