Impact of technology on jobs for the mentally disabled

After watching the Debate about technology and jobs between Andrew Keen and Jonathan Zittrain, there were a number of topics that peeked my curiosity in this 60 minute video.  One, in particular, was this idea around how technology is taking over a number of different jobs within our society.  One thing Zittrain came across in his own research was the idea of: if a robot could do something a human could do, than ultimately it was beneath a human’s capacity to do that work.

But is it?  One of the things Zittrain noted was that if technology does impact a person’s role, it is also important that there is meaningful work for people.  But what if this is meaningful work for some?

mental impairment1

I have an uncle who has down syndrome (DS), which is a type of physical and mental impairment.  Although the developmental delays vary significantly between individuals with DS, it can hinder their capacity of “contributing” to society.  My uncle, for example, has the development that an 8-year-old would have.  Nonetheless he is able to work.  I would say, however, that type of work while meaningful to him could potentially at any point be performed by technology.

So what happen to the dissemination of unskilled labor then?  If we take that away and replace unskilled labor with technology, do we take jobs away from individuals who are elderly or have mental disabilities?  In their article on Technology, Society and Mental Illness, Harvey and Keefe found that technology does in fact have an impact on populations that include the elderly, those with mental illnesses and disabilities.


But, can individuals with mental illness (or even the elderly) strive in this “human+machine” culture that Longo refers to (in Digital Literacy) – against the claims made by Harvey and Keefe?    One of the most fascinating things about my uncle is his own ability to use and adapt to technology.  He can play Wii games and find his way through levels upon levels.  Does he struggle with some things?  Sure – but if he were living in this digital culture would his online counter parts know he was mentally disabled?

In fact, in her article titled, What effect has the internet had on disability, Aleks Krotoski argues that physical impairments become non-existent in the virtual world.  Without having the stigma assigned to them, those with disabilities have the opportunity to flourish online.

This idea aligns well with the information the Longo provided in her chapter on Human+Machine and the importance of investigating and understanding how this human and machine culture works and how it is not equal to the “human+human culture”.  In a human to human culture, as Krotoski found, those with mental or physical impairments are chastised, but in an online virtual environment – when it comes down to humans plus machines – those individuals have the opportunity to participate in society without human barriers.

How do you feel the Human+Machine culture might impact the elderly or mentally disabled populations?  As technical communicators, how do we account for communication to these audiences if they were in fact online participants?

Posted on October 31, 2015, in Digital, Literacy, Workplace and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Chelsea, great points!

    I do think that the virtual world allows for many people to live a freer life. The human-to-human world is not always all it’s “cracked up to be.” Being around actual people, is not always that great. While some think the internet diminishes our human-ness and interactions with others, for some populations it allows them more human contact than they ever could have experienced in life before the internet.

    The disabled population is a great example! We all deserve to be accepted. Ideally, the world would embrace the disabled, but we know that the world isn’t full of nice, patient, understanding people. When my daughter was medically needy, the internet gave me a place to “be” with others, when physically being around them wasn’t always possible. I have had a few other occasions where the digital world was a refuge. I have known people who were struggling with depression or anxiety, who found the internet was their only way to connect with others.

    My personal experience is that the digital world can be a place to feel safe and connected when life isn’t making it possible to find that in the outside world. I don’t feel disconnected the way that some people describe. The internet has been a God-send for me during certain points in my life. The disabled, the elderly, just about anyone who doesn’t feel accepted or isn’t able to get into the outside world, can find a connection in the digital world.

    • Chelsea Dowling

      Hey Rebecca! That is a great thought. As I thought about your comment, one of the things that came up for me was the dichotomy of the online environment as it relates to the the idea of feeling safe online. I was thinking about a specific Lifetime Movie Network movie called “Odd Girl Out” (, about a high school girl who is bullied online. So while the internet can seem to provide a safe haven for some individuals it is also important to note how it can be destructible for some who are so deeply rooted into using it.


      • Another good point, Chelsea! I am super paranoid about children ever bullying my daughter. In fact, the other day, I was talking about schooling options for my child with a friend. I said I wasn’t comfortable with traditional public school because of how gentle she is and my fears that children may not be gentle in return. My friend assured me that the anti-bullying campaigns have “cured” schools of cruel children. I even brought up the cyber bullying issues that have been in the media the last few years. I didn’t really think about how contrary issues like that are to my personal relationship with the internet. Thanks for the eye opener!

        • Chelsea Dowling

          Spot on Rebecca. Schools might be open to protecting children against bullying but technology is not. I’m afraid that can of worms will be a hard one to wrangle in. Unfortunately, beyond my Lifetime Movie experiences childcare and bullying is only what I can relate to with my dog (who is also very gentle and kind-hearted). I’m told it’s not the same as having children, but when my boyfriend’s-evil-cat-that-I-told-him-to-get swat’s at him (the dog, not the boyfriend)… that is bullying. And it pains me. Nonetheless, I think it is and will be interesting to see how cyber-bullying is treated now and in the future.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.