UD, Gallaudet, and a new aesthetic (acknowledgements to H-Dirksen Bauman)

PLEASE NOTE: The link in this post has been corrected.

The principles of Universal Design (UD) emerged from the disabled people’s/disability rights movement at least as early as the late 1960s.  Initially, UD (or barrier-free design) was directed in large part to the development of architectural and infrastructural modifications such as curb-cuts which allow wheelchair users access to city streets, auditory beeping devices at traffic lights to inform blind pedestrians that lights have changed, and so on.  In order to counter facile cost-benefit analyses aimed at undermining such measures, disability activists and theorists have long argued that UD improves the lives of all sorts of people, not just disabled constituents: for instance, parents pushing strollers or pedestrians carrying groceries benefit from curb-cuts and ramps ostensibly designed for wheelchair users.  At one time directed toward reconfiguring the “built environment,” the principles of UD now underpin modifications in the design of ATMs, household appliances such as microwaves, computer software, and picture telephones so that universal access will one day be realized and not remain a mere slogan.

A “new aesthetic” of UD has been unfolding at Gallaudet University.  The refurbishing of Gallaudet is not only aimed at improving human interface with the physical, or “built” environment.  On the contrary, the new Gallaudet will be designed to accommodate a widening sense of deaf identity and the meaning of deafness.  An article which appeared on the front page of the Washington Post describes some of these changes.  Here is an excerpt:

 “Sidewalks wide enough to accommodate pedestrians using sign language. Rounded corners and strategically placed reflective glass so people who cannot hear can see who’s coming and who’s behind them. Glass elevators so passengers can communicate with outsiders in case of emergency.”  Read the full story here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/10/03/AR2008100303708.html

 

Review of Open Your Eyes: Deaf Studies Talking

Jackie Scully has written an interesting and provocative review of Open Your Eyes: Deaf Studies Talking , ed. H-Dirksen L. Bauman (University of Minnesota Press, 2008) for Metapsychology Online.  Here is an excerpt:

“Every now and again, something happens that creates a flurry of media interest in deafness. These days it’s often to do with biomedical technology and the response to it of the “culturally Deaf” — people with audiological deafness who consider themselves members of a cultural grouping rather than disabled. So we have the rejection (by some Deaf people but not all) of cochlear implants, or the use (by some Deaf people, but not all) of reproductive technologies to “select for” deafness. The resulting discussions might be described as dialogues of the deaf, if the pun were not so obvious and so bad, and in fact so wrong (most deaf people can dialogue with each other perfectly well. It’s dialogue between Deaf and hearing that can get problematic).”… 

Read the full review here: http://metapsychology.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_doc.php?type=book&id=4452