Found in Translation
by Faye Ginsburg — New York University
March 28, 2007 – 09:00
In January 2007, Amanda Baggs, a 26 year old autistic woman and a neurodiversity activist, launched her video, In My Language, on YouTube, which made riveting use of the medium, immersing the viewer virtually into how she experiences the world in a way different from "neurotypicals". Explaining her work, Baggs writes: "The first part is in my ‘native language,’ and then the second part provides a translation, or at least an explanation. This is not a look-at-the-autie gawking freakshow as much as it is a statement about what gets considered thought, intelligence, personhood, language, and communication, and what does not." (Baggs’ video provoked considerable response on the web, such that by the end of February CNN ran a story on her. She guest-blogged with Anderson Cooper, and the show’s medical expert, Dr. Sanjay Gupta visited Ms. Baggs at her Vermont home. In My Language also makes stunningly clear how interactive technologies can provide more inclusive arenas for those with disabilities. As Baggs clarified in an NPR interview last June, "A lot of us have trouble with spoken language, and so find it easier to write on the Internet than to talk in person. There’s a lot of us where we might not be able to meet anywhere else but online, and so that’s been a lot of where we’ve organized." Amanda Baggs uses computer-mediated communication (CMC) in multiple ways: through her augmented communication device — she types and the computer speaks — as well as through her video and her blog, which is simultaneously witty, illuminating, and unexpected. A recent entry (March 17, 2006), entitled How to make a phone call, in 70 easy steps, is exemplary. Clearly, as she has declared via a t-shirt, not being able to speak is not the same as not having anything to say.