Editor's Introduction to the IJDCR Special Issue on Nanotechnology, Disability, Community and Rehabilitation

Guest Editor, Gregor Wolbring

Throughout history, science and technology have had profound impacts, positive and negative, on humankind, other species and the environment. Nanoscale and nanoscale-enabled science and technology is and will not be an exception. Various definitions of nanotechnology are employed by different people. The definition used by the International Organization for Standardization Technical Committee 229 on Nanotechnology (ISO/TC229)(International Organization for Standardization (ISO), 2008) is based on the concept of nanoscale and covers a) many different nanoscale science and technology products and processes, b) any science and technology fields with nanoscale aspects and c) nanoscale-enabled science and technology fields, product and processes. The definition is:

1. Understanding and control of matter and processes at the nanoscale, typically, but not exclusively, below 100 nanometres in one or more dimensions where the onset of size-dependent phenomena usually enables novel applications, where one nanometre is one thousand millionth of a metre,

2. Utilizing the properties of nanoscale materials that differ from the properties of individual atoms, molecules, and bulk matter, to create improved materials, devices, and systems that exploit these new

Nanoscale science and technologies are expected to be part of various science and technology fields such as physics, chemistry, material sciences, biotechnology, biology, genetics, synthetic biology, information and communication technology, cognitive sciences and neuro-engineering, bioengineering, geo-engineering and others. Applications and products are envisioned in areas such as the environment, energy, water, military applications, globalization, agriculture, health and others. Social groups such as transhumanists who believe that the human body should be enhanced beyond its species-typical boundaries (World Transhumanist Association, 2003) believe that nanoscale and nanoscale-enabled science and technology will increasingly generate tools one can use for this end. Cientifica, a long time and very influential nanotechnology consulting group, predicts that ".... some 80% of the 2015 US$ 1.5 trillion market will be accounted for by applications of nanotechnologies in the pharmaceuticals and healthcare sectors (Cientifica Ltd, 2007)

Disabled people are often highlighted as the beneficiaries of nanoscale or nanoscale-enabled science and technology products and processes. Nanoscale or nanoscale-enabled science and technology products and processes can have an impact on disabled people in at least four main ways (Wolbring, 2006) . 1. Nanoscale or nanoscale-enabled science and technology products and processes may develop tools to adapt the environment in which disabled people live and to give disabled people tools that would allow them to deal with environmental challenges. This side of S&T could make the life of disabled people more livable without changing the identity and biological reality of the disabled person. 2. Nanoscale or nanoscale-enabled science and technology products and processes may develop tools that would diagnose the part of disabled people's biological reality seen by others as deficient, defect, impaired and 'disabled' thus allowing for preventative measures. 3. Nanoscale or nanoscale-enabled science and technology products and processes may develop tools that would eliminate that portion of disabled people's biological reality seen by others as deficient, defect, impaired and 'disabled'. 4. Nanoscale or nanoscale-enabled science and technology products and processes may be a target for-- and an influence upon-- the discourses, concepts, trends and areas of action that impact disabled persons.

Despite such claims, and their controversial nature, so far little has been written about the impact of nanoscale and nanoscale-enabled science and technology on disability, community and rehabilitation. The call for papers for this special issue of the International Journal on Disability, Community & Rehabilitation (IJDCR) intended to generate knowledge and debate in this area. Michele Robitaille writes about representations of the human body and the human-machine relationship. She argues that they pivot around three main axes: the human body constructed as being a) informational, b) technologically perfectible and c) obsolete. She argues that these three aspects of the human body discourse leads to a new social construction of suffering and well-being the development of new biomedical norms and practices and the likely production of new inequalities. Helen Bradshaw's piece covers the concept of morphological freedom or the right to freely choose one's body form, a term coined by Anders Sandberg a person linked to the transhumanist movement and who is a James Martin Research Fellow at the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University (Anders Sandberg, 2001). Bradshaw sees it as a key tenet of transhumanist thinking around enhancing the human body and investigated further the consequences of and status of the discourse around morphological freedom. She highlights that the concept of morphological freedom has its promises, but that today's reality reflects more the concept of morphological judgments which sees disabled people bodies judged in a negative way (including by transhumanists). Morphological freedom in general and linked to enhancement technologies in particular can only be of use to people if people who are not 'enhanced' which includes so called disabled people are accepted and supported for who they are which is today not a given among the general public and among transhumanists. The third author, Laura Cabrera discusses how nanotechnology has the potential to challenge the current disability paradigm and argues that nanotechnology should be used to help people with impairments to achieve an effective participation in society, rather than focusing on eliminating impairments as such.

The intent of this call for papers was to add to the body of knowledge around and debate on the area of nanotechnology as it bears on disability, community and rehabilitation, consistent with the Journal's commitment to valuing positively the contributions of disabled people to and participation in society. These three papers only address a few issues. Many other legal, social, ethical economic and policy issues exist. More analyses are needed. This journal welcomes other submissions that focus on nanoscale and nanoscale-enabled science and technology as it impacts on disabled people and the broader community and the role of rehabilitation professionals, family members and others.


Anders Sandberg (2001). Morphological Freedom -- Why We not just Want it, but Need it. Anders Sandberg Webpage Retrieved 22 03 2009 from http://www.nada.kth.se/~asa/Texts/MorphologicalFreedom.htm

Cientifica Ltd (2007). Half Way to the Trillion Dollar Market? A Critical Review of the Diffusion of Nanotechnologies, Cientifica Ltd. webpage Retrieved 22 03 2009 from http://www.cientifica.eu/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=68&Itemid=111 http://www.cientifica.eu/files/Whitepapers/A%20Reassessment%20of%20the%20Trillion%20WP.pdf

International Organization for Standardization (ISO) (2008). Business Plan ISO/TC 229 Nanotechnologies. International Organization for Standardization (ISO) webpage Retrieved 22 03 2009 from http://isotc.iso.org/livelink/livelink/fetch/2000/2122/ 4191900/4192161/TC_229_BP_2007-2008.pdf?nodeid=6356960&vernum=0

Wolbring, G. (2006). Scoping paper on Nanotechnology and disabled people. Center for Nanotechnology in Society Arizona State University Retrieved 22 03 2009 from http://cns.asu.edu/cns-library/documents/wolbring-scoping%20CD%20final%20edit.doc

World Transhumanist Association (2003). The Transhumanist FAQ - A General Introduction - Version 2.1 . World Transhumanist Association Webpage Retrieved 22 03 2009 from http://www.transhumanism.org/index.php/WTA/faq21/46/

Guest Editor:

Dr. Gregor Wolbring
Assistant Professor, University of Calgary
Community Rehabilitation and Disability Studies Program
Webpage: http://www.bioethicsanddisability.org

Email: gwolbrin@ucalgary.ca


International Journal of Disability, Community & Rehabilitation
Volume 8, No. 2
ISSN 1703-3381