Film Exposes Audience to Human Enhancement Concepts

Student Disability Services Director Lisa Meeks introduces the panelists at the FIXED film screening.

A crowd of students, nurses, doctors, and medical providers packed the film screening and panel discussion of FIXED: The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement.” The event, sponsored by the UCSF Committee on Disability Issues as part of 2014 Diversity Month events, took a close look at the drive to be “better than human.”

Bruce Flynn, committee chair and director of the UCSF Risk Management and Insurance Services, welcomed participants and introduced the film, which proposed radical technological innovations and presented a myriad of perspectives ranging from prenatal screening to ability augmenting. This set the stage for a lively panel discussion.

Panelists included Ingrid Tischer, development director of Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, Ernesto Diaz-Flores, PhD, assistant adjunct professor in the UCSF Department of Pediatrics, and Matthew Garibaldi, assistant clinical professor in the UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and director of the Orthotic and Prosthetic Centers.

Moderating the discussion, Lisa Meeks, PhD, director of UCSF Student Disability Services, took questions from the group of mostly physical therapy students who were eager to hear from the panelists regarding priorities for device innovation, issues of affordability and access, as well as insights into patient expectation setting.

The film asks the audience to consider ableism as a concept and our obsession with certain abilities, as well as associated negative treatment to those who do not have those abilities. Panelist Ingrid Tischer, who has almost fifty years of experience in neuromuscular clinics, offered critical advice to both avoid the “cure” mentality and assuage the disability stigma. Thanking the group, she asserted that her most positive experiences have occurred with students, who tend to be at their most eager and attentive stage of practice.

From a research perspective, Diaz-Flores described how an experience with a broken foot while attempting to conduct his research brought him to a poignant awareness of how our world is “one broken foot away from being stable.” His work now includes a prototype for an improved wheelchair design.

Completing the panelists from a provider perspective, Garibaldi reflected on the most significant change he’s seen in patients—the patient perspective toward technology in the prosthetic industry. He said that the mechanical beauty as well an overall eroding superficiality has lent to technology’s “coolness” factor. From his perspective, people are more settled into the fact that technology will be a part of our lives—part of everyday culture.

The audience of aspiring professionals considered the concerns of affordability and access vis-à-vis the drive toward disruptive technology and innovation. Tischer said that we must be mindful that we are not “creating couture for (a retail) world.” On this topic in particular, the film generated a plethora of reactions. One attendee asserted that “crawling is in; walking is out.” Another said that what’s most important is “a reliable way to get [their] wheelchair fixed.” The film helped evolve its audience’s understanding of what a solution might be for a given individual.

The movie is part of a larger film series in the Bay Area called the ReelAbilities Film Festival, which is happening now in San Francisco and fifteen cities across the country. The ReelAbilities Film Festival is hosted in the Bay Area by the Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland, whose mission is to support adult artists with disabilities.

Flynn closed the event with thanks to Toni Conrad and Paul Day from the Office of Diversity and Outreach as well as Elisa Laird-Metke from the Student Disability Services for their support of the event. Additionally, University Development and Alumni Relations generously provided gift bags to audience members.

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