Accessible America: A History of Disability and Design (Crip)

October 31, 2020
Accessible America: A History of Disability and Design (Crip)

A history of design that is often overlooked—until weneed itHave you ever hit the big blue button to activate automaticdoors? Have you ever used an ergonomic kitchen tool? Have you everused curb cuts to roll a stroller across an intersection? If youhave, then you've benefited from accessible design—design forpeople with physical, sensory, and cognitive disabilities. Theseubiquitous touchstones of modern life were once anything but.Disability advocates fought tirelessly to ensure that the needs ofpeople with disabilities became a standard part of public designthinking. That fight took many forms worldwide, but in the UnitedStates it became a civil rights issue; activists used design tomake an argument about the place of people with disabilities inpublic life.In the aftermath of World War II, with injured veteransreturning home and the polio epidemic reaching the Oval Office, theneeds of people with disabilities came forcibly into the public eyeas they never had before. The U.S. became the first country toenact federal accessibility laws, beginning with the ArchitecturalBarriers Act in 1968 and continuing through the landmark Americanswith Disabilities Act in 1990, bringing about a wholesalerethinking of our built environment. This progression wasn'tstraightforward or easy. Early legislation and design efforts wereoften haphazard or poorly implemented, with decidedly mixedresults. Political resistance to accommodating the needs of peoplewith disabilities was strong; so, too, was resistance amongarchitectural and industrial designers, for whom accessible designwasn't "real" design.Williamson provides an extraordinary look at everyday design,marrying accessibility with aesthetic, to provide an insight into aworld in which we are all active participants, but often passiveonlookers. Richly detailed, with stories of politics andinnovation, Bess Williamson's Accessible America takes us throughthis important history, showing how American ideas of individualismand rights came to shape the material world, often with unexpectedconsequences.