Bioethics Blogs

“The Chair is Our Feet:” Imagining Habitable Worlds in Highland Ecuador by Nicholas Rattray

On an evening in the summer of 2009, I was picked up by Norberto, a friend I had met during ethnographic fieldwork in Cuenca, Ecuador. Since it was my first time in his truck, Norberto showed me how he drove solely with his hands by braking and accelerating with his thumbs through the steering wheel. “Mira (Look), I don’t need my legs at all,” he laughed. When we arrived at the Coliseo Jefferson Perez, the main indoor arena in Cuenca, for his basketball practice, Norberto greeted several men who joked around as they lifted themselves out of their vehicles and into their wheelchairs that were stored in back seats or truck beds. A taxi pulled up to the front entrance and out came Enrique, a well-known panhandler in downtown Cuenca who was born without feet. He maneuvered his way into his chair and rolled alongside his teammates. Norberto ushered me toward the front entrance of the building. “Achachay,” he said, noting the damp chill. Achachay is a Kichwa term Cuencanos reflexively utter when the sun dips below the mountains.

Through my observations and participation in this weekly wheelchair basketball practice, I gained insight into how technology becomes deeply intertwined with everyday embodied experience among people with physical disabilities in highland Ecuador. While these athletes came from different socioeconomic and professional backgrounds—they were an appliance factory technician, a photo store owner, a fast food worker, a street entrepreneur, for example—the camaraderie they shared as competitive athletes following recovery from a serious injury cut across ethnic and class boundaries.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.