Wellcome funding for itDF: Imagining technology for Disability Futures

November 2021
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itDf is a five-year project, sponsored by the Wellcome Trust, that will run until 2025. The project explores what ideas of body and personhood are at stake in technological processes that promise change to the future of health – technology such as prosthetic limbs and exoskeletons that can aid in recovery from physical injury, to smart drugs that will help preserve memory in old age, and companion robots that will serve as carers. How are hopes and fears about our bodies and minds expressed in the ideas we create, the stories we tell ourselves, and the products we design, when we imagine our interactions with technology?

The project is the first to combine expertise in arts and humanities, design, robotics and users of assistive technologies to increase understanding of how disability and embodiment are currently represented and used, and the ways in which technology can enhance lives in the future. It brings together researchers in Literary and Cultural Studies and Mechanical Engineering at the University of Leeds, Philosophy at the University of Exeter, Disability Design at the University of Dundee, and Robotics at the University of Sheffield. It aims to develop new work not only in these disciplines, but also in the broad interdisciplinary area of Critical Medical Humanities. Project partners work in Cultural Theory, Ethics, and Engineering and Robotics at universities in the US, Japan, Scandinavia and the Netherlands.

The project has received two new research enrichment awards from the Wellcome Trust that will allow us to further embed diversity and inclusion in our work and to communicate it to a wider public. The Public Engagement award will support an interactive exhibit that explores the role of technology in disability futures (touring major UK science festivals between 2022-2024) and present a dedicated programme at the Leeds International Film Festival. The award will also support the commission of a moving-image artwork/essay-film by artist Sarah Browne. Sarah’s work will test and perform findings from the project’s different research strands, engaging especially with our work on Augmentative and Alternative Communication and companion robots. Her film will be developed through a series of workshops/creative engagements with members of the research team.