A blog about universal and accessible design

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

new links

Ablegamers is a site about disability and gaming -- a niche I did not expect to be so interesting (being a total non-gamer)! Got to love extra nerdy stuff like an exploration of Dean Kamen's "Luke Arm" (a robotic prosthetic arm named after Luke Skywalker) as well as more serious content like discussions of connections between the female gaming community and disabled gamers.

"Art and Abilities" - an annual special exhibition/event at the University of Michigan.

Online slide show about web accessibility, by Ann McMeekin.

Cool thing: via Designing Well, a 1949 film clip of the "Step-Saving Kitchen," with a reminder of how many of these suggestions (standard postwar scientific management stuff) would be considered "universal design" today (music added by YouTube user and is not original):

Easy-to-reach shelves and storage, cookbook page holder, pull-out work surface to sit at, and a rolling cart. Not to sure about those drop-in cooking surfaces though...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

New Blog (feature): Accessibility Watch

Last week, Metropolis editor Horace Havemeyer III described going to an event at the Player's Club in New York, where he had a hard time ascending the stairs to the parlor floor where the event was happening -- Havemeyer uses forearm crutches, and given the Players' Club's landmark status they have been exempt from accessibility requirements. This week, Havemeyer announces that there will be regular "accessibility watch" columns on Metropolis' blog. He writes:

Some restaurants that lack elevators, or that have stairs without proper hand rails, train their staff to look out for the handicapped and help them enter. But, in my experience, most do not. I know of many clubs in wonderful older buildings, often ones that are landmarked, that have little or no access for any level of the disabled. I wonder if the general feeling is that a landmarked building is exempt from the ADA.

We are looking for comments and examples of accessibility issues from all who visit our site. Please remember that at any hour of any day, any of you could join us handicapped—temporarily, I hope—due to a sprained ankle, a bike injury, or other chance accident. Leave your public comments using the form below [here], or e-mail your examples to pov@metropolismag.com.

The call is for New York complaints, mainly -- but it would be interesting to see a central spot for accessibility watches. I wonder what the most common access issues are, in ADA compliant, noncompliant, and exempt spaces?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

I like this poster

Poster designed by three Delcastle, Delaware high school students for Disability History and Awareness Month. One of the team drew on her own disability experience in the design, which I find very clever. It must have been fun making up handwriting for all of those people! Read about it here.

Photo description: the poster reads "Don't Label Me As a Failure!" in block letters, with a lot of colorful "Hello, My Name Is ___" stickers below with the names of famous people with disabilities - ranging from Helen Keller (with a smiley face) to Jay Leno (dyslexia), Dan Ackroyd (Tourette's Syndrome) and Thomas Edison (Deaf).

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Access, info, technology

A few weeks ago a NY Times video/article on "Expanding Options for the Disabled" addressed the expense and difficult insurance issues around people with disabilities being able to access improved technological tools for speech, reading, etc. A lot of these fairly simple tools -- like speaking computer technologies -- are not standard on PCs and are not covered by insurance. The problem in many cases with assistive technology development is not designing or inventing them, it's making them available and accessible. One strategy is "universal" design as a marketing strategy, e.g. making something like touchscreens that are an appealing technology for anyone and also advance usability for people with disabilities. Another is low-tech, affordable tools that might be less technologically advanced but which people with disabilities have been making and adapting at home or in small production for many years.

In access hacker Liz Henry report on visiting Whirlwind Wheelchairs - a great review of the work Whirlwind does making wheelchairs for (and in) developing-world contexts - she describes conversations about sharing DIY tinkering/engineering info. One of the Whirlwind folks mentions having piles of plans and materials but no where to put them; they also discuss how many people have small technical solutions that could be shared with fairly simple instructions, but no easy way to distribute. Liz writes,

I ended up feeling like we were all talking about a similar vision and project. A central repository, managed by a trustable institution that won’t go away, with the information portable, translatable, and with room for comments and input and tagging. Phase 1 might be simply scanning rather a lot of information and sticking it up somewhere that it could be indexed by search engines. Metadata could be added and good OCR correction done on the PDFs, by people hired from a grant and/or by volunteers coordinated in the manner of open source software projects. Phase 3, probably at the same time as phase 2, would be builders and makers, trying some of the projects and posting feedback, which might just be a photo or two of the build or the result, with a paragraph of description. Phase 4 we can think of as the times people improve on an original design in their subsequent builds.

I think Liz really hits on one of the big issues in assistive technology development: information and access. My sense is that there are parts of the design world who are interested in simple instructions, easy DIY products (like ReadyMade, which publishes simple home/furnishing hacks as well as selling mail-order kits; and the whole Make/Instructables world). It really strikes me that this is what Graham Pullin's Design Meets Disability misses (though it raises other interesting issues) - the reality of how people get things, afford them, make them. I'd love to see more about groups like Whirlwind that operate outside of the giant medical technology company world. It doesn't seem like a coincidence that they are operating outside of the US health care system.


Exhibit Relates Architecture to the Body - Penn State hosts a program called Deviant Decoration: The Architectural Interior, which I have to say sounds like a weirdly/poorly titled show of works related to the body and disability, since the works don't seem to attack deviance so much as the lived experience of the body in architecture/space. Title, aside, interesting-sounding content: the exhibition Body Works features art/design models by Sarah Wigglesworth, an architect who presents work on a science classroom for blind students and an inclusive dance studio. As part of the program, disability scholar David Serlin also discussed his work on Hellen Keller's diaries, describing her travels and interactions with city and building space. Body Works will be on display Sept. 28 to Dec. 15.

Speaking of David Serlin, he is giving a talk called “Touching Histories: Personality and Disability in American Sex Studies of the 1930s” at U Penn next week, on October 6: info here.