So we’ve talked quite a bit about how architecture and spaces treat (dis)ability as an afterthought, defining a norm and making often weak attempts to accommodate those who do not fit inside the normative box. But this doesn’t always have to be the case. There are some really smart designers who have flipped this script- collaborating with people of different abilities in order to come up with design that is beneficial to everyone.
Take for example the OXO Good Grips line of kitchen utensils. We’ve all seen them- peelers with really thick handles, unusually shaped can openers. Cool looking, but not the norm in utensil design. It turns out, this entire line was designed in consultation with arthritis sufferers, in order to create kitchen tools that they could easily and comfortably use at a reasonable price. Now, OXO Good Grips is one of the best selling brands of kitchen utensils around the world. A simple thought- making an easier to use potato peeler- leads to better design.
But what about architecture? How can it be impacted by collaboration across abilities? At DC’s Gallaudet University, which specializes in educating those with hearing impairments, new buildings are showing innovative design meant to help the deaf that could end up in your new office building or classroom. Walking and talking is one of the cornerstone experiences of college life- but this becomes a bit trickier when you’re speaking a language that is visually based. Buildings offer numerous obstacles to these conversations- narrow hallways, doors that have to be opened. Gallaudet is creating buildings with wider hallways and wider sliding doors to better accommodate students’ social life. Eye strain, again a common college problem exacerbated by needing to use your eyes to take in every second of classroom interaction, is dealt with by thinking of light sources and room color. Each innovation is driven by thinking of (dis)ability first, and each one something that could be valuable to the world at large.
Is this a next stage in industrial design? Instead of trying to make a product comply to Americans with Disabilities Act standards, should we instead focus on making products more inclusive from the start? It’s a bit of a rhetorical question, sure, but the real question is, why aren’t more people thinking this way?