Bound to Be 'Normal': Assistive Technology, Fair Opportunity, and Athletic Excellence


Objections to the use of assistive technologies (such as prosthesis) in elite sports are generally raised when the technology in question is perceived to afford the user a potentially "unfair advantage," when it is perceived as a threat to the purity of the sport, and/or when it is perceived as a precursor to a slippery slope toward undesirable changes in the sport. These objections rely on being able to quantify standards of "normal" within a sport so that changes attributed to the use of assistive technology can be judged as causing a significant deviation from our understanding of "fair" advantage, purity, and status quo. These three objections hold athletes using assistive technologies accountable to standards that restrict their opportunities to achieve greatness, while athletes who do not use assistive technologies are able to push beyond the boundaries of these standards without moral scrutiny. This paper explores how constructions of fairness and "normality" impact elite athletes who use assistive technology to compete in a sporting venue traditionally populated with "able-bodied" competitors.

Meeting Name

IEEE 2014 International Symposium on Ethics in Engineering, Science, and Technology (2014: May 23-24, Chicago, IL)


Psychological Science

Keywords and Phrases

Assistive Technology; Disabilities; Athletics; Fairness; Prosthetic; Olympics

International Standard Book Number (ISBN)


Document Type

Article - Conference proceedings

Document Version


File Type





© 2014 IEEE Press, All rights reserved.

Publication Date

01 May 2014