Disabled People in Space – Becoming Interplanetary

A note: I had the great pleasure of participating in a panel discussion as part of the Becoming Interplanetary Event at the Kluge Center of the Library of Congress I’m still buzzing from the amazing range of new ideas and cool stuff that this meant. The event consisted of 3 panels and 3 performances. The amazing Lucianne Walkowicz organized the event – an event that’s even hard to describe. Below, I’m adding some notes – marked up with links out – that I brought with me to the panel. “The Right Stuff” asked (well, Lucianne actually did the asking!) panelists Brenda Child, Brian Nord, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, and I about who has the right stuff for becoming interplanetary, how narratives shape these ideas about space, and how the meaning of what stuff is right is evolving or being challenged. (I will link here when the captioned session hits the interwebs.)

Personal Background: I work on narratives from the disability community that challenge our usual notions about technology and body – specifically I am interested in the idea of technoableism. (I have written a bit on this topic of Logic Magazine earlier this year.)

Technoableism is the idea that our narratives about technology and disability often reinforce ableism, though they are often dressed up in the language of empowerment. We talk about fixing people and giving them (disabled people) new powers with technology – often in the absence of consulting those same folks about what they might actually want and how they think about their bodies.

Specific to thinking about The Right Stuff and participating in this panel, I’ve been thinking in 3 different veins, though I didn’t list them this way at the panel:

  1. Historical Prelude: Including disabled and Deaf people in space research has already happened – but with our bodies being seen as useful for research purpose only without considering people in our communities as candidates with “the right stuff.”
    • Read about the Gallaudet 11: Deaf men were recruited by NASA from Gallaudet University for training around motion sickness in space since some types of deafness correspond to difference in the feeling of motion sickness. Despite superior performance when it comes to not getting motion sick, these research subjects weren’t recruits for actual space travel. They were as a reference class to get findings to help hearing people go to space.
  2. Contemporary Artistic Reflection: Artistic and creative work on #CripsInSpace in the Deaf Poets Society and other disability narratives, poems, and memoir that reflect on space offer reasons to think that the adaptability, creativity, and spatial and planning prep that disabled people already engage in could provide good reason for opening space exploration to us. Here are some links related to #CripsInSpace
  3. Everyone in space will be disabled, if they are not yet already. And people might want to be disabled to be in space. Examples include:
    • Wheelchair Users & Movement in Space: CripsInSpace and Sam de Leve have pointed out how wheelchair users and other mobility device users are often use to figuring out how to navigate spaces in a more creative way that involves a lot of pushing off in ways that nondisabled people rarely experience. (As a person who loves her rollator, I can confirm that the beauty of pushing off an moving in this way is wonderful – and something you get better at doing the more time you spend on wheels.)
    • Some medical conditions being better: People with certain medical conditions might make better space travellers under particular conditions, either because they’d do better in lower gravity or because their bodies can tolerate high g’s. For instance, people with hearts closer to their brains are less likely to pass out in high g’s since blood can make it to the brain faster. People with some bone conditions might do better where their skeleton is less compressed by gravity over time. (In individual conversations with folks, it’s always surprising to me how many people have thought about how their bodies would do in space!)
    • It’s not just physical disability, though: Mental health in space: We already know that Seasonal Affective Disorder has higher incidence in places where people get less light from the sun. Imagine the high incidence of SAD we might see from people travelling away from the Earth. It might make sense to send people who have already learned how to manage their mental health here on Earth if we hope for good space travellers who have a track record of learning and adapting to various conditions already.
    • Cyborgs/Cripborgs* wanted — there are many examples of people who have medical devices and monitors installed that would make it easier to do some things in space. My fave example is from my pal Mallory Kay Nelson: people with ostomy bags will have a much easier time with the current pooping in lower gravity situation. Read about the history of pooping in space while you consider this.
    • Even if we aren’t sending disabled people out, we’ll be bringing disabled people home or sending them further out. We’ll have new disabilities in space, and people who are nondisabled here will become disabled through the environmental changes in space – gravity and radiation being the two most anticipated, but in other ways too. 

I want to add that it’s discriminatory + ridiculous to populate our ideas about space and who has “the right stuff” with only nondisabled people. The fact is that some disabled people may have an edge as space travellers — and what our bodies will need to do and become in space is far from the niche requirements set here on Earth. Even if we start out nondisabled and recruit for peak abledness, the toll of space on human bodies will bring about disabilities we have yet to imagine. Considering the future of space travel in any serious way requires thinking about being and becoming disabled, about accepting disability as a normal part of life – one that will follow us to the stars.


*’Cripborgs’ is a great term used by Bethany Stevens. Mallory Kay Nelson, Bethany Stevens, and I have a publication talking about that term (and others) that will come out Spring 2019 in Catalyst.

Tech & Dis research in the news

Virginia Tech’s College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences has featured a story about the NSF CAREER grant associated with Tech & Dis on their website this week:

Headline: NSF Award into Research into Technologies for Disability Community

So happy to have this shared with the community. Over the next 5 years, I will have a rotating group of student researchers engaged in work on disability narrative, tech pedagogy, and telling better stories about technology and disability.

OpEd – The Importance of Gaining Proper Sex Education for People with Disabilities

by Maggie Rudnicki

Sex education is an incredibly important part of any child’s education and will shape their beliefs and experiences going into sexual maturity. The urge to reproduce is one of our most basic biological imperatives that goes back to Darwinian evolution – we are driven to survive and reproduce. It is, therefore, of great importance for everyone to understand how their bodies work and how to take care of them. Sex education should be place for young people to learn about puberty, reproduction, gender, sexuality, sex, the benefits and risks of sex, reproductive health, and interpersonal relationships. Unfortunately, many people across the country do not have access to comprehensive sex education. Individuals with disabilities are particularly affected by this. Society has trouble viewing people with disabilities as sexual and thus excludes them from sex education. When people with disabilities do receive sex education it is often an inaccessible curriculum that doesn’t fit their learning style or body. Better sex education for people with disabilities can have numerous benefits such as protection from sexual assault; better hygiene, social skills, and body positivity; and a more fulfilling sex life.

Continue reading “OpEd – The Importance of Gaining Proper Sex Education for People with Disabilities”

Gastrointestinal Health Technologies

by Owen Baylosis

What is an Ostomy?

An ostomy is a surgery performed to redirect stool or urine  out of the body

  • Reasons
    • Rectum/ Colon cancer
    • Intestinal injury
    • Inflammatory bowel disease
    • Obstruction
    • Diverticulitis
  • Through this surgery, part of the intestine is rerouted through the abdominal wall to create a stoma
    • A stoma is a piece  of intestine that protrudes through the abdominal wall and is used to release waste
    • People with an ostomy will wear an ostomy pouch on the stoma to collect intestinal contents
    • Stomas do not have muscles, so intestinal contents pass into the pouch


Skin barrier being removed from a stoma. The stoma is bright red and roughly the size of a bottle cap. It is right to the left of the ostomate’s naval.

Photo of a healthy stoma. It is bright red and roughly the diameter of a quarter. The ostomate is caucasian.

Types of Ostomies

  • ColostomyDiagram of colostomy in human abdomen; "transverse colon", "descending colon", "ascending colon", "ileum", "end colostomy", "caecum", "sigmoid colon", "rectum", "anus" are labeled
    • Stoma is made from large intestine(colon)
    • May be temporary or permanent
    • May be performed for rectal cancer, diverticulitis, or fecal incontinence


Diagram of where an ileostomy is placed. The ileum and ileostomy are labeled

  • Ileostomy
    • Stoma is made from small intestine(ileum)
    • May be temporary or permanent
    • May be used to treat inflammatory bowel disease or rectal cancer


  • UrostomyDiagram of urostomy in human abdomen; "urostomy" and "piece of ileium used to fashion urostomy" labelled.
    • Ureters are redirected to stoma made from small intestine(ileal conduit)
    • Permanent
    • May be used to treat bladder cancer or urinary incontinence

Non-pouch Procedures

  • Ileoanal Reservoir(J Pouch)Diagram indicates that colon has been removed; ileum(labeled) has been stitched near the anus(labeled) to create an ileoanal reservoir(labeled)Colon and rectum are removed
    • Ileum is connected directly to anus, and reservoir collects stool
    • Used to treat polyps in the colon



  • Continent Ileostomy(Kock Pouch)Diagram shows the colon(labeled) and rectum(labeled) have been removed. The ileum(labeled) is connect to an internal kock pouch(labeled) which is directed to an external stoma(labeled)Internal reservoir made in ileum
    • Drained via catheter, no bag necessary
    • Very delicate procedure, not common
    • For candidates who aren’t good candidates for ileoanal reservoir or don’t want a pouch

Pouching Systems

  • Main pieces are the skin barrier and the pouchFront and back view of a white ostomy pouch with a yellow skin barrier.
    • Skin barrier is adhesive portion attached to the skin
      • Protects skin and holds pouch in place
    • Pouch holds waste
      • Pouches for Ileostomies and Colostomies can be drainable(washed and reused, changed every 3-5 days)
      • Pouches for Colostomies can also be closed, meaning they need to be removed and disposed of(changed after every empty)


  • Many other options as wellShows skin barrier being applied by a latex gloved hand to a white abdomen around a bright red stoma
    • Filters-to prevent gas buildup, but without odor
    • Material variety-opaque or transparent/soft covers
    • Closure systems-clamps or integrated closure
      • Urostomy bags have a spout as opposed to a closable mouth
    • Skin barrier-can vary in flexibility, shape, adhesive

TIES® System

  • OstomyCure, a  company based in Oslo, Norway, claims to have a new technology Peach colored cap next to a titanium mesh tube insert that goes inside the stoma.for ileostomates that removes the need for a bag



Ostomate Lifestyle

  • Diet
    • Chew thoroughly
    • Reduce high fiber foods
    • Dehydration is a side effect, so drink regularly
    • May have to avoid foods such as popcorn and nuts
    • Everyone’s body is different
  • 750,000 to 1 million  Americans have an ostomy
  • While ostomates don’t directly qualify for disability benefits,  according to Social Security Administration, conditions such as IBD do qualify
    • Accessible bathrooms
  • United Ostomy Associations of America

Apps used for Gastrointestinal Health

  • Apps that track the symptoms of users with digestive disorders
    • GI BodyGuard
    • MyGIHealth
    • Apps that are specific to Inflammatory Bowel Disease
      • GI Buddy
      • myIBD
  • PoopMD
    • Allows parents to learn the meanings of their infants’ poop and detect signs of gastrointestinal disorders
    • Can take photos of diapers and analyze color



Autistic Activism

by Cara Boim and Hannah Ridings

This presentation discusses the shift in definition of autism to a biologically rooted disorder and an “epidemic” through the lens of autistic activism, hypothesizing causes for and pointing out issues inherent in this discourse.  The role of Autism Speaks in contributing to a pathologizing narrative is discussed, using the example of the 2009 “I Am Autism” video.  Social versus medical models of disability are compared, and the work of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) in response to the 2007 “Ransom Notes” campaign is discussed as an example of autistic activism.

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