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Deaf scholars and activists define Deafness as a positive culture, and most often see Deaf people as a linguistic minority not a disabled category. Part of the associated scholarship and activism has centred on the concept of DeafSpace, which starts from the spaces that creatively support signing.
“Deaf Gain: an introduction” in H-Dirksen L. Bauman and Joseph J. Murray, ed., (2014) Deaf Gain: Raising the Stakes for Human Diversity University of Minnesota Press. Download the PDF here.
Todd Byrd ‘Deaf Space’ Reprinted from Gallaudet Today: the Magazine, Spring 2007. Download the PDF here.
Hansel Bauman: Deaf Space – A New Architecture for a More Liveable and Sustainable World. Watch his TED talk at Galluadet University CAN WE EMBED?
Deaf Space design guidelines (by DangermondKeane). Download here.
Disability Studies scholar Tobin Siebers coined the phrase disability aesthetics in his seminal book published in 2010. This was the first attempt to theorize the representation of disability in modern art and visual culture. He argued that the modern in art is perceived as disability, and that disability is evolving into an aesthetic value in itself. This allows him to critically engage with American culture wars in the late twentieth century that involved the rejection of disability both by targeting certain artworks as “sick” and by characterizing these artworks as representative of a sick culture.
Most crucially though, Siebers’ work explores ideas of what constitutes beauty and ugliness in art through time and place, and how important ideas about the disabled mind and body have played in the evolution of modern aesthetics.
Tobin Siebers (2010) “Introducing Disability Aesthetics” in Disability Aesthetics University of Michigan Press. Download chapter here.
Amanda Cachia (2016) “Disabling Surrealism: Reconstituting Surrealist Tropes in Contemporary Art” in Ann Millett-Gallant and Elizabeth Howie (Eds) Disability and Art History Routledge. Download essay here.
Susan Schweik (2009) The Ugly Laws: Disability in Public NYU Books. Read the introduction here.
Disability Studies: key reading
Whilst readers and anthologies already exist that explore architecture and other identities of difference– such as gender, sexuality and race– disability as a concept, and disabled people as a constituency, continue to be assumed as completely separate from social or cultural politics: as merely a functional category to be ‘solved’ with technical modifications to designed spaces. This is in despite of the fact that a rich seam of theoretical and critical thought already exists, but which seems to have had almost no impact on architectural and related discourses, a huge gap for the subject. This is the developing field of disability studies, where a critical and creative engagement with access and inclusion is producing some vitally important resources.
Jos Boys (2014) Introduction to Doing Disability Differently: an alternative handbook on architecture, dis/ability and designing for everyday life Routledge
Jos Boys (2017) (Ed.) Disability, Space, Architecture: A Reader Routledge
Eli Clare ( 2017) Brilliant Imperfection: Grappling with Cure Duke University Press. Available here.
Lennard J. Davis (2016) (Ed.) The Disability Studies Reader (5th Edition) Routledge
Aimi Hamraie (2017) Building Access. Universal Design and the Politics of Disability University of Minnesota Press
Elizabeth Guffey (2017) Designing Disability: Symbols, Space and Society Bloomsbury
Elizabeth Guffey and Bess Williamson (eds) (2019) Making Disability Modern: Design Histories Bloomsbury.
Alison Kafer (2013 ) Feminist, Queer, Crip Indiana University Press
Rod Michalko (2002) The Difference That Disability Makes Temple University Press
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (2018) Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice Arsenal Pulp Press
David Serlin (forthcoming) Window Shopping with Helen Keller: Architecture and Disability in Modern Culture. The University of Chicago Press.
Tobin Siebers ( 2008 ) Disability Theory University of Michigan Press
Tobin Siebers ( 2010) Disability Aesthetics University of Michigan Press
Sunaura Taylor (2017) Beasts of Burden. Animal and Disability Liberation The New Press
Tanya Titchkosky (2011) The Question of Access: Disability, Space, Meaning University of Toronto Press
Bess Williamson (2019) Accessible America: A History of Disability and Design New York University Press
Disability Arts and Activism
In the UK disabled artists have been central to activism around access and inclusion for many years. The active campaigning of many disabled people, fighting for the rights to independent living and to accessible and inclusive places and facilities still needs to be properly captured and valued; as is already happening through films such as Defiant Lives. At the same time, some artists incorporate aspects of disability into their own work as both a political and poetic creative source.
Amanda Cachia (2016 ) “Beautiful Progress to Somewhere? in The Incorrigibles: Perspectives on Disability Visual Arts in the 20th and 21st Centuries.” Read or download PDF from here.
Liz Crow – Roaring Girl Productions. “Figures” (mass-sculptural production 2015). Read about this project here.
Raquel Meseguer – Uncharted Collective The Resting Spaces Network.
Unlimited: Aaron Williamson Demonstrating the World. Read the review by Colin Hambrook here.
Sara Hendren ” The accessible icon project: notes on design activism.” Read about this project here.
Disability studies scholars are becoming increasingly engaged with the environmental humanities, that is, not just with sustainability but also with a broader coming together around environmental justice. Disability studies is critical of the extent to which concerns with the environment are still underpinned by assumptions of ‘natural’ and ‘healthy’ bodies, aligned with some ideal of a pure, beautiful and ‘natural’ world. At the same time, environmental degradation is central to the harming of bodies – both through environmental illnesses, and the disabling effects of discrimination, poverty, war and displacement. Scholars such as Alison Kafer, Mel Y. Chan and Eli Clare are also writing about the environment from an intersecting disability and queer perspective. These are valuable sources for architecture and built environment disciplines that often still treat environmental issues as merely rational and technical difficulties.
Eli Clare (1999) “ The Mountain” from Exile and Pride. Disability, Queerness and Liberation. Download from here.
Sunaura Taylor (2011 ) “Beasts of Burden: Disability Studies and Animal Rights” Qui Parle Vol 19/2. Download from here.
Sarah Jaquette Ray Jay Sibara (Eds) (2017) Disability Studies and the Environmental Humanities: Towards an Eco-Crip Theory University of Nebraska Press. Download contents page and introductory chapter here.
Mel Y Chan(2012) Animacies: Biopolitcs, Racial Mattering and Queer Affect Duke University Press. Read the introduction here.
Getting Around (Accessible Cities)
Access solutions often focus on increasing the physical mobility of wheelchair users. Whilst this is vital, it can also mean a lack of design imagination about the wide diversity of human bodies and minds, the considerable variety in how we get around, and little investigation into what ‘disables’ us in the process. I called an initial stab at outlining the complexities Having A Body in an attempt to explore how material spaces and practices interact with our many diverse ways of being in the world. In fact, investigating how we ‘get around’ (differentially as well as differently) can become a creative and critical design tool. And many disability artists and activists are exploring participatory approaches such as crowd-sourcing to begin to capture both the complexity of experiences and the kinds of rich knowledge that designers can build from.
Liz Crow (2013) “Lying Down Anyhow” *Reprinted from Swain, J, French, S, Barnes, C & Thomas, C (2013) Disabling Barriers – Enabling Environments, 3rd edition, Sage. Also available in Boys, J. (ed) (2017) Disability, Space, Architecture: A Reader Routledge. Read article here. See also her Bedding Out project.
Raquel Meseguer “I may be lying down but I’m not lazy” Arts Professional 25th January 2018. Read the article here.See also: A Crash Course in Cloud-Spotting (the subversive act of horizontality). and Dreams of Public Resting Spaces.
Rem Koolhaas (2014) “Ramp: Claude Parent” *Reprinted from Elements of Architecture Venice Biennale pp50-73. Download here.
Sara Hendren Slope: Intersect
Aimi Hamraie/Critical Design Lab Mapping Access
Histories and Narratives
There are now many stories of experiencing disability and impairment, through blogs, articles and publications. By making the multiplicity of disabled voices heard, the aim is to challenge ableist assumptions that label people in limiting and inaccurate ways. At the same time, we urgently need more histories that interrogate both disability and ability in the design of the built environment; not just to know more about what happened, but also to challenge the conventional ways in which stories are gathered and told.
- Disability Visibility Project
- New York Times: essays and opinion pieces on disability
- David Serlin (2012) “On Walkers and Wheelchairs: Disabling the Narratives of Urban Modernity” Radical History Review 2012.114. 19–28. Download the PDF here.
- Bess Williamson (2012) “Electric Moms and Quad Drivers: People with Disabilities Buying, Making, and Using Technology in Postwar America.” American Studies 52.1. 5–30. Reprinted in Jos Boys (ed) (2017) Disability, Space, Architecture: A Reader Routledge.Download the PDF here.
- David Gissen (2014) “The Path to the Acrolpolis: a reconstruction” Log Journal 31: The New Ancients. Download a PDF here.
- Rebecca Sanchez (2015) Deafening Modernism: Embodied Language and Visual Poetics in American Literature NYU Press.Download PDF of introduction here.
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