How to Avoid Obliteration: Disability as a Model for First Contact

25 September at 10:00 am PDT / 1:00 pm EDT / 7:00 pm CEST
Duration: 60min

Because humanity is a young (and presumably vulnerable) technological species, many of the models we use for first contact are decidedly grim. Our most prevalent examples of conflict between civilizations with different military/economic/technological force are the horribly destructive historical encounters between the 'old' and 'new' worlds. Drawing from these examples, it is easy to imagine how humanity will dwindle (if not completely cease to exist) under even the theoretically most benevolent advanced interstellar civilization. There is, however, an existing Earth example for sustained contact between a powerful and a less powerful community on Earth today.

Disabled people are more vulnerable, more divided, and have dramatically less economic and social power than our abled fellows, and although we have experienced intermittent attempts at obliteration, we persist. This is not because we are stronger or more resilient. It is also not because abled people are either kind or empathic. The key to our survival lies in the models of disability that implicitly guide the interactions between the two groups.

This presentation explores these models, how they harm and how they could uplift disabled and abled people, and what might befall humanity if a potential ET decides to adopt one or more of them in a first contact scenario.


Sheri Wells-Jensen

Sheri Wells-Jensen, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the Department of English and Co-Director of the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) Program at Bowling Green State University (BGSU).

She also coordinates BGSU's minor in Linguistics. Dr. Wells-Jensen is a linguist whose research interests are in psycholinguistics (especially errors in speech), language preservation, braille, phonetics, and xenolinguistics.

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