A blog about universal and accessible design

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

olympic interlude, paralympic prelude

Peter Axelson (image via Disabled Sports USA), an inventor, promoter, and 7-time World Champion in monoskiing, will be one of the U.S.' official delegates to the Olympics closing ceremony on Sunday, Feb 28 (via). Axelson has designed sports equipment for people with disabilities since 1981, when he founded Beneficial Designs and produced his first monoski. Since then Beneficial Designs has produced equipment for alpine and cross-country skiing, surfing, and rowing - releasing each design for open-source use rather than patenting and limiting its availability.
(while looking up images for this post, btw, I came across this great article on the history of adaptive skiing on disaboom)

Then the Paralympics start shortly after the Olympic Games - March 21.
The Paralympics are unlikely to be on NBC - but there is an internet TV channel for them here.
This is a great preview of the Canadian sledge hockey team (they won gold in 2006):

If anyone reading this hasn't seen it, the 2005 documentary Murderball is a fantastic warm-up to the Paralympics.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

misc. links

I have just started a new fellowship at the Lemelson Center for the History of Invention & Innovation at the National Museum of American History. It's great to work here, partly because there are a bunch of people working on a Disability History exhibition coming up in the fall (I think) - great because I don't meet a lot of people who work on disability history in my everyday academic life. One of the staff pointed me to this video - from the Disability Rights Commission in the UK - which shows some of the common accessibility issues people with disabilities face through an funny imagined scenario... watch the full version here in 2 parts.

- Remarkable profile of Roger Ebert from Esquire, describing in moving and non-sappy detail his life since he lost his voice.

- Interesting project: DesigNYC (founded by Ed Schlossberg, student of Buckminster Fuller as well as husband of Caroline Kennedy) pairs designers with social causes: examples include an "Eating Healthy in Bed-Stuy" booklet for Bed-Stuy Farm Share; a safer, brighter winter lighting plan for the Broadway commercial district (60th-135th); and several interior/community spaces, including one for a housing project for people w/ mental illness. Article at Design Observer.

- Kansas City Star remembers Paul Levy, activist for accessibility and director of non-profits including The Whole Person Inc., Kansas City; the Coalition for Independence; and Universal Design Housing Network

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Other Disabilities

It's pretty rare to come across much writing/thinking about design for disabilities other than mobility and dexterity impairments: paralysis, arthritis, etc. Here on Design Observer (one of the best design commentary sites around), a reflection on design and OCD by Chappell Ellison, a designer based in New York. Not surprisingly, the essay won a 2009 AIGA Winterhouse Award for Design Writing & Criticism.

Mainly, the essay is a poignant memoir of difficult objects in Ellison's brother's life as he lives with OCD. Laundry baskets with endless holes to clean, restaurant tablecloths rife with germs. But the last few paragraphs address how and whether designers can respond to this particular disease. Universal Design, she (I think?) admits, may not be a useful paradigm, and ultimately it will never be possible to anticipate all of her brother's (let alone the other thousands/millions who have compulsive disorders) object-related concerns. I'm thinking that even Ellison's awareness of such compulsions probably makes her a better designer, aware of the unintended consequences of surface, texture, and form. As she writes,

As a designer, I know that it is impossible to consider every tiny percentage of each special interest group when creating a new product... To create an object for someone who fears tactility and physical interaction is the sort of assignment that turns a designer’s world upside down.

But maybe that is part of the point - design cannot address every variation in human bodies and experiences. Universal Design even has its problems for people with mobility issues - many blind people who use canes have a harder time determining the end of the sidewalk with a curb cut; some people prefer stairs to sloping walkways, etc. Disabilities that affect cognition and behavior are even harder to address and anticipate through design. But as this article suggests, the aim of acknowledging, if not "solving," disability in design might prove to be a fruitful one.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Dwell presents | The Bathroom Reinvented: Universal Design in Public Bathrooms | Part 1 | by Gary Nadeau from gary nadeau on Vimeo.

Nice video clip of Gary Nadeau (of Dwell magazine) visiting public bathrooms with Dan Formosa and Richard Whitehall of Smart Design (designers of, among other things, OXO Good Grips). They are a great odd couple on Universal Design.. Formosa gives the technical definition - its roots in barrier-free legislation - while Whitehall gives the larger meaning/context: Universal Design suggests the possibility of attending to human needs, including emotional, political, social.

Also maybe the best looking collection of people ever collected to expound on the experience of going to the bathroom.