A Letter to the Chancellor of Syracuse University
6 months ago
A blog about universal and accessible design
Brandeis University’s Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections Department houses a wide array of material from the Walter E. Fernald Developmental Center’s Samuel Gridley Howe Library. This collection includes several hundred books from scholars and experts in the fields of science, medicine, and disabilities; the papers of Irving Kenneth Zola and of Rosemary and Gunnar Dybwad; and thousands of pamphlets, case studies, and journals on topics ranging from what were then called feeble-mindedness and cretinism to eugenics and crime.What follows is a lengthy article that details the evolution of the Massachusetts School for Idiotic and Feebleminded Youth (later called the Walter E. Fernald State School), reflecting changing social and medical attitudes about mental illness and intellectual disability. Looks like an impressive collection.
The material, which dates from the 1810s to the 1950s and is related primarily to North America and the United Kingdom, was compiled by the Howe Library from the school superintendent’s library as well as international libraries. It includes works from world-renowned doctors such as psychologists Alfred Binet and Edgar A. Doll, polymaths Francis Galton and his protégé Karl Pearson, Walter E. Fernald, Dorothea Dix (who championed for the rights of the indigent insane), Ellis Island medical officer Howard Knox, and eugenicists Charles B. Davenport and Henry H. Goddard, among hundreds of others. The Samuel G. Howe Library Collection’s academic scope is vast and will be of interest to historians of science and medicine, anthropologists, sociologists, and people with disabilities and their families.
Universal design rejects traditional "separate but equal" facilities for people with disabilities. The original principles of universal design grew out of a 1974-77 Department of Education grant to architect Ron Mace that involved extensive product and architectural analysis. That lead to a working group to develop core principles for universally-designed facilities, which would provide for equitable and flexible use; be simple and intuitive; present perceptible and sensory information; tolerate error; entail minimal physical effort; and be of an accessible size and orientation. Mace used a wheelchair as a result of contracting polio when he was a boy. His early engineering and design talent resulted in numerous gadgets and adaptations and eventually a career in dismantling architectural barriers.
We are, it seems, living in the age of the promissory “improved” body—yet that body is still stuck between the territories of production (politics), reproduction (material expense) and imagination (compulsory normativity).Kuusisto writes that this ideal of a mechanized world that alleviates or "eliminates" disability is not a neutral product of technological innovation - it is the result of particular processes of imagination, wrapped in political concerns (i.e. who plans, who pays, who decides who and what gets to be post-physical?). In other words,
[the post-physical ideal] evokes Bill Clinton’s remark: “If you see a turtle on a fence post you can bet he didn’t get there by accident.”2. Wheelchair Dancer on emergency plans - personal and administrative - for people with disabilities.
Katrina seems to have been a turning point in disaster planning for people with disabilities... Since then, I have seen numerous conference announcements, notices for research reports and lists of paper abstracts talking about disaster planning for people with disabilities. (An unfortunate side effect of all this good work is the now popular phrase "vulnerable populations.")(note: this is an issue that also came to mind for me at the time of the inauguration, when officials suggested people with disabilities stay at home)
In the 70s, we were told we design for a Caucasian, 40 years old, living on Long Island, with 2.3 kids. We didn’t even really design for women. And if you brought up the idea of designing for people with arthritis, for example, they would say, “We don’t design for those people!”Also related: giant NY Times magazine article about the aging "market."
The bricoleur looks into a box of things - stones, shells, an earring, a shard of a ceramic pot - and constructs stories. I liked thinking of how that applies to modern life, our funny tools and sounds and the stories and connections they help us make. I don't want to say bodies are objects but they are part of the picture.
Suddenly I was in "a happening"--a cognitive, inter-active jam session with four men and one woman, each with an electronic keyboard. Stories emerged about loneliness and about being misunderstood. (People with Autism can tell you things about childhood that will curl your hair.) But there were also many joys for this was a kind of autistic rock and roll session. (from Planet of the Blind)