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A Positive Narrative of Disability: Neil Harbisson - Cyborg

Updated: Apr 29, 2021

Neil Harbisson was born with a rare genetic condition called Achromatopsia, which results in

complete colour-blindness. His condition has led him on a journey to discover colour and how he might gain the ability to see it. He writes:

“Although I have never seen colour, colours have always been a part of my life.”

They are omnipresent in our everyday life, and they have permeated language:

yellow pages, Green Peace, the Red Cross, oranges, Bluetooth, Pink Panther, the Yellow Submarine,”Harbisson’s condition does not affect his eyes, they are in perfect working order. The issue for Harbisson is that his brain does not process the colours he overcome this has created an processor that transforms colour into sound. This processor is osseo-integrated, which means it is permanently implanted into his head and the bones of his skull have grown around it.

This antenna picks up on the frequency of colours in front of it and sends them to Harbissons brain as sound vibrations, so in effect he “hears colour”. This new sense of seeing colour also enables him to see other sounds as colour.

He creates artwork based on the sound of different songs and how they sound in terms of colour. Harbisson identifies as a cyborg and has plans to implant more hardware into his body. He feels that he is able to

“redesign his perception of reality, and that is an art in itself”.

He has a new implant in his knee that allows him to sense where magnetic north is at all times and he is developing a chip that will allow him to feel the passage of time.

What is interesting about how Harbisson has embraced his way of seeing the world, is that it has given him an additional ability that not many people seem to have. Because he has created his own version of colour he now has an objective view of the senses and he can critically analyse how defective our human senses are, adding onto himself so that he now has more senses than neurotypical people. It creates a discussion around the definitions of disability. Is he still disabled now that he can see colour and has an extra sense than neurotypicals? Or is he still disabled because the way in which he sees colour is different to the rest of the world?

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