A blog about universal and accessible design

Thursday, July 29, 2010

20th anniversary of the ADA, other news

I've been a bit slow on the blogging this summer (well, slow meaning fully stopped) - such is the state of dissertating, researching, traveling, and letting time pass, I guess. I have two longer posts in the works, but in the meantime, some bits and pieces:

- There were many celebrations and reflections this week in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act on July 26- the major civil rights act, passed in 1990, that barred discrimination against people with disabilities and mandated equal access to work, employment, and public spaces/services. The best stories, of course, avoided sappy "celebrations" of overcoming and cut to the chase: this Act has made a significant difference in many people's lives, but remains controversial and in many cases, its mandates are unfulfilled (with improvements seen in the 2007 ADA Restoration Act).

NPR's news shows had several stories, many of them authored by, or prominently featuring people with disabilities reflecting on the Act and their lives facing discrimination, like Ben Mattlin telling of how one job interviewer asked, "How would you make photocopies? I mean, you'd be here to help us, not for us to help you," and special education specialist Deborah Peters Goessling talking about the "one inch" that still often prevents her from participating in everyday life (interestingly, she is really touching on "visitability," i.e. being able to visit people's private homes, not covered under the ADA). In a story on the Act's effects on architecture, U. Penn professor Monica Ponce de Leon talked about the more widespread acceptance of the ideal of Universal Design. She described a project for the library at the Rhode Island School of Design, where her firm developed furniture and study space for a diversity of students:

[Robert] SIEGEL: So depending on one's individual needs, one's individual size, or for example if one used a wheelchair, you could find a space that would work for you in that.

Prof. PONCE DE LEON: Exactly. You're actually acknowledging that we all have different degrees of abilities. So at RISD, since you have a student body that is there for four or five years at a time, there was a great possibility that a student may find actually their favorite spot, maybe because their legs are longer than the average or maybe because their height is a little shorter. And it enabled us to embed different ranges of abilities within the design of the space.

- In remembrance of the 20th Anniversary of the ADA, the National Museum of American History's fantastic curator and disability historian, Katherine Ott, presented some objects out of storage on Monday the 26th. I saw the announcement too late (not in DC anyway), but we can all look forward to an exhibition on American disability history in the coming year from the Smithsonian; in the meantime, here are some old links to Katherine's excellent past exhibitions on Polio and the Disability Rights Movement.

- Various spots around the web remember the irreverent cartoonist John Callahan, who spurned the "pathetic" narrative of most disability discourse in pieces like this one:

Image via the New York Times: obituary for Callahan here. A fond and personal remembrance from Portland here (via SDS listserv).

Looking up some of Callahan's old cartoons and illustrations, I also liked this one, which accompanied an article in New Mobility on visitability in housing: