Date: Wednesday May 6th, 11:00am-12:30pm

Venue: Pavilion 4, Level 10, Building 100 (Design Hub) – cnr of Swanston and Victoria Streets, RMIT City Campus


Decades in the making, in recent years 3D printing has emerged on the scene as a sought after and transformational technology. Praised for its versatility and capacity to design and make a wide range of objects, 3D printing has been talked about, and talked up, for its potential to revolutionize manufacturing, logistics, and everyday ‘making’. A common way that 3D printing is represented and talked about involves disability — but as yet it has received little critical attention.

When it comes to 3D printing, what’s still newsworthy — in the tech press blogs, tech lifestyle coverage, as well as in general public affairs — are stories of people (often children) printing their own artificial limbs or hands. Forbes’s T. J. McCue dubs this phenomenon as ‘prosthetics meets printers’ (McCue, 2014). New initiatives have been established to harness the power of online communities, open source designs, distributed 3D printers, and crowd funding to make and distribute prostheses.

3D printing promises to dramatically cut costs of prostheses, a focus of many individual and group efforts, including the Open Hand project ( Other examples include the e-NABLE community (, and 3D Mechanical Hand-Maker Movement, giving away 3D-printed hands and fingers to children in third world countries. 3D printing also features prominently in new directions in disability and technology, such as the exoskeleton, acclaimed in its trials for helping people ‘walk again’. The ‘maker revolution’ often comes with strong claims of broadening and democratising the means of production — redolent of the utopian claims associated with digital technology generally. Such ideas resonate with disability also, including the argument that 3D printing has potential to make ‘making’ accessible (Hurst & Kane 2013). Add to which 3D printing has great scope to customise and personalise disability technology, delivering on the promise that ‘each leg needs to be as unique as its owner’ as US designer William Roots puts it (Flaherty, 2015).

Against this backdrop, how might we recognise and understand the links between 3D printing and disability? Does 3D printing help ‘disability justice’, or just create a smoke screen with ‘cyborg fantasies’ (Beitiks, 2011) — implicated in the creation and policing of narrow notions of normalcy, and different bodies and identities? What are the realities and materialities of people with disabilities’ participation in the new maker cultures of 3D disability (something increasingly raised in relation to gender, race, and class in digital technology and maker movements)? What does 3D disability have us to tell about about the politics and cultures of additive manufacturing that have emerging? How can we find better theories of technology to account for the complexities of disability and culture? How can 3D printing be a resource in imagining disability — and society — differently, given that technology and design is so pivotal to contemporary social life and belonging? And what kind of research — including digital ethnographies — might we articulate and activate for such socio- technical transformations?

Gerard Goggin is Professor of Media and Communications, the University of Sydney (gerard.; @ggoggin). He is also an Australian Research Council Future Fellow, studying disability, digital technology, and human rights. Gerard is widely published on digital technology, including Locative Media (with Rowan Wilken) (2015), Routledge Companion to Mobile Media (2014), Global Mobile Media (2011), and Cell Phone Culture (2006). Gerard has a longstanding interest in disability and media, with books including Disability and the Media (2015; with Katie Ellis), and, with the late Christopher Newell, Disability in Australia (2005), and Digital Disability (2003). With Katie Ellis and Beth Haller, Gerard is editing the Routledge Companion to Disability and Media (2017).

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