recentpopularlog in

robertogreco : ablerism   11

How To Transform a Traditional Class Into an Engaged One #fight4edu #engagedScholar | HASTAC
"You cannot counter structural inequality with good will.  You must design a new structure with equality at its core.

The banner for our new Group, "The Engaged Scholar," symbolizes our method: learning together, not top down, not with a pre-designed outcome, engaging all of the participants in the responsibilities, design, and direction of the learning in order that we can all have something better--ideally, a more just society--at the end of the process. Engaged, activist, student-centered learning reverses the production model of the Industrial Age university where the professor is essentially in the role of middle-management and the student is the passive consumer. Instead, all participants are actively understanding environment, impediments, desires, outcomes, and designing the best way to achieve those goals together, within the limits that exist, with the resources that exist--and always with an intention to be liberatory beyond prescribed limits and imagined possibilities currently available to the participants.

All of these ideals are embodied by this banner. It's a podium. Its design was led by artist-engineering professor-visionary Sara Hendren (abler.com) who teaches at Olin College, a liberal arts college for engineers, and it was designed and fabricated by students Morgan Bassford, Adriana Garties, Kate Maschan, and Mary Morse. And none of it would have happened without the co-design and inspiration, the desires and demands and wishes and ideas of curator and scholar Amanda Cachia.

The "Alterpodium"--and the people who built it in a visionary new kind of institution of higher education--is a perfect symbol of The Engaged Scholar.

****

Here's the backstory: I met Sara Hendren for the first time on December 1, 2015, at a conference on "Digging Deep: Ecosystems, Institutions, and Processes for Critical Making" on the materiality of culture, the cultural of materials, designed to take us (theoretically and practically) beyond "digital humanities" to really re-imagine a new pedagogy and a new world where we all were, together, creating better theories and practices. Professor Patrick Svensson of Umea University, brought us together at the Graduate Center, CUNY, for this excellent event.

I had the honor of helping to plan and brainstorm Olin College in around 2000 as a new kind of engineering school that is not just about building things but asking, always, the deep questions of why and for whom and for what purpose? One of Olin's mottos: "It's not just what students know. It's what they do with that knowledge." By its charter, Olin College takes as many female as male engineers. It emphasizes collaboration and project-based learning at its finest.

Prof Hendren's role is to teach engineers to rethink disability along with differently-abled people, many of whom have extraordinary abilities that far exceed those possessed by the so-called "able bodied." Her beautiful and smart keynote address at EYEO 2015 makes an excellent introduction to the basic principles of engaged scholarship in any field. The image in our banner symbolizes engagement: behind this object is a theory of learning, a theory of making, a theory of interdisciplinary collaboration, and a theory of expertise and, just as important, a theory of the kind of informed, critical thinking non-experts need to develop to ensure that expertise is deployed wisely. Expertise is not sufficient. The image is one of the objects that Prof Hendren and her students have designed together with its user: it is a lightweight, portable, foldable podium--of the kind that professors stand behind all the time.

This one is unique. It was designed by Olin College students with and for curator and scholar Amanda Cachia who is constantly on the road giving talks and who is constantly confronted with podiums, microphones, and other stage set ups designed for people far taller than her 4' 3" body. The new "Alterpodium" is made of the same high tech carbon fiber used in racing motorcycles and spacecraft. Ms. Cachia unfolds her Alterpodium, slides it behind the dysfunctional (for her) existing podium, and ascends to the right place on the stage.

Alterpodium is an apt metaphor for what teaching and learning should be: it should not be one-size-fits-all. And certainly it should not be one-size-fits-nobody. It should be a way of rethinking the conditions and obstacles that prevent us from doing what we need to do and offering us the means and possibilities to accomplish something more, better, higher.

That is what student-centered, progressive, constructivist, connected learning is. It only happens when learning is not one-direction but multi-directional, a collaboration of teacher and students, with exploration and learning and assessment of what one needs to know paired with the tools, methods, and partners that can help one to know it.

Prof Sara Hendren does this every day with her engineering students at Olin College who are rethinking everything about disability and ability--prostheses, handicap devices, handicap ramps (and skateboard ramps and the Venn diagram of the two), and even handicap signage--an activist project to remind us that disability does not mean we are not mobile, active, and interactive.

She and her students are asking why we start by thinking of "ability" as a norm and standardized and typically make devices that are mechanical substitutes and imitations of those standards? Why is the goal of the prosthetic some million dollar contraption that mimics the look and the movements of a biological part that may be missing or non-functioning rather than asking what a person really wants or needs to function better in whatever way "better" means for that person?

These are the questions that every educator, at every level, should be asking in every classroom. As Judith Butler and disability activist Sunaura Taylor ask in "Examined Life," a very beautiful video about our different abilities: don't we all need assistance of some kind or other? Aren't we all learners? Isn't that the fundamental question about life and society? Do we or do we not live in a world where we assist each other?

If we decide we do want to live in a world where we assist each other, we must get over the idea that "expertise" is a thing or a condition or an outcome and the prof has it and the student's job is to gain it through a series of trials resulting in a diploma. We need to realize, instead, that learning is lifelong. And that in every space--including in the classroom--there are different things about which different people are experts.

Prof Hendren notes that, at some point, as she is prodding her engineering students to ask harder and harder questions and produce more and more useful and sophisticated and innovative devices, they far exceed her knowledge and expertise. At that point, they have to trust her questions and she has to trust their answers--and their ability as responsible co-learners to, among themselves, apply the highest standards of excellence to their collective project. That only happens if, as students, they have taken on new responsibilities and have fully absorbed the mission of living in a world where we assist one another.

Sara Hendren calls this becoming a Public Amateur. It's something every professor should aspire to.

And it is not easy. Giving up expertise and the status of the expert is one of the most difficult things for anyone to do--especially for the successful person. And yet, once you do, you realize whole worlds open.

If you want to find out some easy ways how--we'll be working on more complicated ones next semester--join us on next week, onsite or online. The information is below. We look forward to seeing you! "
cathydavidson  sarahendren  pedagogy  engagement  2015  hastac  equality  inclusion  inclusivity  accessibility  access  alterpodium  sunaurataylor  judithbutler  astrataylor  ability  ablerism  olincollege  constructivism  learning  howweteach  amandacachia  activism  liberation 
december 2015 by robertogreco
Notes on Design Activism | The Accessible Icon Project
"What is design activism?

Design activism uses the language of design to create political debate. Instead of solving problems in the manner of industrial design, or organizing forms as in graphic design, activist design creates a series of questions or proposals using artifacts or media for unresolved ends: to provoke, or question, or experiment in search of new political conditions. The point of these artifacts is contestation, not a tidy fix.

We’re inspired by design activism like ACTUP, Kissing Doesn’t Kill, or any number of historical street art political campaigns.

Why do you think of this project as activism?

It’s easy to look at our icon and assume that it’s a graphic design project. We get a lot of questions about the features of the icon itself and why ours is “better” than any other. But the graphic is actually a very small fraction of the work. As we’ve said from the beginning, the icon has been informally redesigned many times. We weren’t the first to change it. Our project began precisely by noticing the differences among icons already in existence.

Our project is an activist work because we started as a street art campaign, knowing that the mildly transgressive action of altering public property would engage potential media coverage about the legal status of graffiti. We used that media interest in graffiti’s legality to then shape our interviews to our own agenda: the politics of disability, access, and inclusion. Like the artist/activist collective WochenKlausur, we’ve noticed that the most deserving “social goods” stories don’t get nearly the same press coverage as cultural projects (especially where audiences can debate the “cultural” merits of a work!). Disability is subject to the same political invisibility and echo chambers as that of other minority groups, and too much direct activist work around disability is targeted toward people who already think disability rights are important. We wanted ideas about disability to reach a wider public, to be a matter of debate that’s harder to ignore. And in the most successful cases, we got journalists to talk to self-advocates with disabilities who rarely get a microphone for their wishes.

The design of the first graphic itself was also activist in nature—not a new “solution,” at least at the beginning. We debated long and hard about what the icon should look like for the first street sign campaign, and we eventually arrived at the clear-back version, which shows both the old and new icons at once. We knew that it wouldn’t be enough to make a change to a “better” icon. Instead, we wanted to have a graphic that was an enigma, or a question. Sustaining that question—in the form of collaborations, events, writing, exhibitions, and more—has been the activist heartbeat of the project.

Well—? Is it street art? Or is it design?

It’s both. We started as a street art campaign, and that phase of the work is what got us on the radar of likeminded advocates. But eventually people started asking us for a formal new icon, one that would replace old icons wholesale and be a public signal about an organization/school/company’s wish to be inclusive in its practices. That’s why Tim Ferguson-Sauder brought our icon in line with other formal infrastructural symbols you’ll see in public spaces everywhere. Our design is in the public domain, so now it’s used far and wide, in places we’ve never seen or heard about.

When we talk about this work, we’re transparent about the fact that a single project can span a continuum between a new artifact and a new set of conditions. Between ordinary graphic design and design activism. Letting the work live along that continuum allows it to be both an ongoing, long-term activist work and a free artifact that’s useful for simple graphics.

Not everyone is a wheelchair athlete. What about people who don’t push their chairs with their own arms?

Right. We’ve talked about this at length in all of our interviews, and it almost never gets included in the final cut. The arm pushing a chair is symbolic—as all icons are symbols, not literal representations. Our symbol speaks to the general primacy of personhood, and to the notion that the person first decides how and why s/he will navigate the world, in the broadest literal and metaphorical terms. To us, this evokes the disability rights mantra that demands “nothing about us without us.”

I identify as disabled, but I don’t use a chair. Why should that symbol speak for all kinds of accessibility?

It’s certainly an interesting question to consider how other symbols might stand in for or supplement the International Symbol of Access. We’ve spoken to designers about taking up that challenge as a thought project.

But consider the importance of a highly standardized and internationally recognizable symbol. It guarantees that its use will signal the availability of similar accommodations wherever it appears, and its reliable color combination and scale make it easy to spot on a crowded city street, or in an airport. Icons are standardized, 2D, and high contrast for a reason: to make them readily visible to anyone, anywhere. There’s power in that.

It’s just an image. Isn’t this just political correctness? Or: shouldn’t you be using your efforts on something more worthwhile, like real change?

We get this question a lot. And we’re certainly sensitive to one of the pitfalls of design work: an excessive emphasis on the way things look, without attention to other material conditions. From the project’s beginning, we’ve been interested in political and cultural change in the way disability is understood by multiple publics. And we’re aware that many people have been agitating for disability rights through direct activism for many decades.

We see this work as a counterpart to that history of direct action. And we think that symbolic activism—creative practices that are also political—do a work that can be hard to quantify but that also makes a difference. History shows that the shape and form of what we see and hear does work on our cognitive understanding of the world, and hence the meaning we make of it. For good and for ill, governments and institutions and protestors and dictators and individual citizens have long been using the language of symbols to persuade, to question, to force. We want to be on the bottom-up, rights-expanding, power-re-balancing tradition of that history.

So what’s the goal here? Universal sign change?

We’re happy when people write to us that their town or city wants to formally adopt the icon, and from news that politicians officially endorse its use. But success for us isn’t really located in the ubiquity of the icon itself. We want to see the icon stand for funding, rights provisions and guarantees, policies, and overall better conditions for people with disabilities. And we want this web site to track and document the progress of those harder goals.

Don’t you worry that this will be shallow activism, like “sign-washing”?

Sure. This is a big worry for us. Our icon is in the public domain, and that status is important to us. So we can’t really control when it gets used as a shallow glad-handing exercise that has no real political traction. But we’re trying, with this site and the way we speak elsewhere about the work, to emphasize the substantive efforts of people who don’t make the news as easily as a shiny new symbol.

Do you identify as disabled? Are you an ally? Does it matter?

We’ve always had people on our team that identify as disabled, and others of us who are immediate family members or direct co-workers of people who identify as disabled. It matters, of course, that we do this work and any work in disability as a “nothing about us without us” effort. Having said that: allyship also matters, and this project should be seen as one among many efforts to make new connections among new audiences who’ve seen disability as ignorable or irrelevant. We know from experience that we need much, much larger cultural conversations about disability to happen, including among people whose lives it’s not yet politicized.

Wow, you’re opinionated. Anything else you want to say?

A wise adviser told us, some years into this project, that any effort to create new and different forms of access will necessarily close off access of other kinds. We know that a wheelchair icon doesn’t stand for all kinds of ability; we know that wheelchair access isn’t perfect. We know that our icon is being used in ways we don’t fully endorse. We know that this project’s birth in the US conditions our understanding in a way that’s culturally limited. And we know that we can’t control the journalistic treatment of this story. But the overwhelmingly positive response we’ve gotten from those of you who’ve reached out to us in the last five years is evidence that you see something in this work that you recognize. We hope that’s true for another five and beyond.

—Sara Hendren, 2015"
design  designactivism  activism  2015  sarahendren  disability  ablerism  actup  accessibility  disabilities 
july 2015 by robertogreco
Spinoza in a T-Shirt – The New Inquiry
"This is the social and ethical function of design standardization: to assign and put bodies in their “proper” place. Standardized design creates violent relations between bodies and environments. The intensity of violence the standard body brings to bear on an individual’s body is measured in that body’s difference and distance from the standard. A chair that is too high, a beam too low, a corridor too narrow acts on the body forcefully and with a force that is unevenly distributed. Bodies that are farther from the standard body bear the weight of these forces more heavily than those that are closer to the arbitrary standard. But to resolve this design problem does not mean that we need a more-inclusive approach to design. The very idea of inclusion, of opening up and expanding the conceptual parameters of human bodies, depends for its logic and operation on the existence of parameters in the first place. In other words, a more inclusive approach to design remains fundamentally exclusive in its logic.

If Spinoza’s critical question points us toward an understanding of what standardized design does wrong, it also indicates how to get it right. The works of fashion designer Rei Kawakubo and of the artists-architects Shusaku Arakawa and Madeline Gins are the result of materialist practices that reflect the Spinozist principle of not knowing what a body is. Their approach to design is based not so much on what the designers claim to know about the body, but instead on what they ignore. Their approaches refuse predetermined conceptualizations of what a body is and what a body can do. For instance, Kawakubo’s “bumpy” dresses (from the highly celebrated “Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body” Comme Des Garcons Spring/Summer 1997 collection) form a cloth+body assemblage that challenges preconceived ideas of the body and of beauty. At a larger scale, Arakawa and Gins’ Mitaka Lofts in Tokyo and Yoro Park in Gifu prefecture deny any predetermined category of the body in favor of a profound ignorance of what makes a body a body at all.

These designs can have profound sociopolitical effects. Momoyo Homma (the director of the architects’ Tokyo office) relates how her mother, who normally cannot walk without her cane, had no problems navigating the bumpy floor of the Mitaka Lofts. Homma’s mother’s experience does not mean that the Mitaka Lofts are a miraculous instrument that would resuscitate a septuagenarian’s ability to walk without a cane. It reveals that her body only needs a cane in environments designed for bodies that differ substantially from hers.

The cane, itself a designed object, is a clear marker of the differential (often antagonistic) relations that design produces between bodies and spaces/places, and between non-standard and standard bodies. As a prosthesis, the cane’s purpose is to “correct” the non-standard body so that its functions reflect as closely as possible a fidelity with the “normal” body. Arakawa and Gins’ architecture offers an environment where the non-standard body does not need a “corrective,” since the environment’s design is not structured around what they think a body is.

Spinoza’s question—what can a body do?—insists that we set aside preconceived and normative notions of what a body is. Arakawa and Gins’ architecture suggests a slight but significant revision: Rather than conceptualizing bodies from the position of not knowing what they are, we should begin from the position that we don’t know what bodies are not. The double-negative allows a crucial correction to the Spinozist account of the body.

Spinoza’s question delays conceptualizations of the body, but it still doesn’t do away with normative formulations of the body. Affirming an ignorance of something presupposes that what is ignored could be actually known. “We don’t know what a body is” implicitly suggests that a holistic knowledge of what a body is actually exists—we just don’t presume to know it (yet).

The position of “not presuming” is too close to the liberal stance of having tolerance for difference—a position of liberal multiculturalism we find suspicious. The problem with liberal tolerance is that it already assumes and takes up a position of power. The designer is in the privileged position of being tolerant of another, and of designating who is deserving of tolerance. Whether the presumption is to know or not know the body, it is either way an act of the designer’s agency since knowing/unknowing the body is realized exclusively in the design of the garment, room, chair, table, etc. The power of the designer remains intact either way.

Alternatively, to not know what a body isn’t does more than suspend or delay normalizing conceptualizations of the body. It refuses such total claims of body knowledge at all. Just as the double-negative construction becomes affirmative, not knowing what a body isn’t affirms all bodies by doing away with the ideal of the normative body altogether. To not know what a body isn’t means that the idea of the body is infinitely open, rather than just momentarily open. To not know what a body isn’t means that all bodies are equally valid modes and forms of embodiment. Nothing is “not a body” and so everything is a body. This is not a philosophical issue but a political problem. What is a body? What is a human body? These are philosophical treatises that do not address our concern with how built environments empower some bodies and disempower others according to a set of “universal” design presumptions and methods.

By shifting our focus from what a body is to what a body can do, we can begin to explore the political—sometimes violent—relations of bodies, objects, and environments that are produced and maintained through standard design practices and knowledge. How might a collaborative relation of body and environment create the potential for a more non-hierarchical architecture? How might it build one that frees all bodies from the abstract concept of a “normal” body?

As impressive and seductive as the designers named above are, they are not politically egalitarian even though their designs may be aesthetically radical. Kawakubo, Gins, and Arakawa’s built environments are among a highly rarified class of design, out of reach to all but a select few inhabitants/consumers. Although their design approaches are unconventional, they don’t disrupt the hierarchical relations that structure dominant paradigms of design. In fact, their work is greatly celebrated in establishment fashion and architecture design circles.

A design process and philosophy that doesn’t know what a body isn’t can be found in a decidedly more mundane built environment. The jersey knit cotton T-shirt—a product found across the entire price point spectrum—is accessible and inhabitable by a great number of people. Jersey knit cotton is one of the cheaper fabrics, pliable to a broad range of bodies. Jersey knit cotton T-shirts really don’t know what a body isn’t—to this T-shirt, all bodies are T-shirt-able, all bodies can inhabit the space of a T-shirt, though how they inhabit it will be largely determined by the individual body. How the t-shirt pulls or hangs loose (and by how much) will certainly vary across bodies and across time. Indeed, the T-shirt’s stretchy jersey knit cotton materializes precisely this principle of contingency.

Julie Wilkins’ designs are aimed at “extending the grammar of the T-shirt.” Stretching the T-shirt to new proportions, her Future Classics Dress collections (made entirely of jersey knit fabrics, though not necessarily knit from cotton) are even more adaptable and modifiable than the classic T-shirt, which is somewhat limited by its fundamental T shape. (“Somewhat limited,” because its T shape has not precluded the vast number and variety of bodies that do not conform to the T-shape from wearing T-shirts.) Wilkins’ design approach is unlike those that make up traditional tables, chairs, windows, and clothing that are designed and fabricated around standard body dimensions. Wilkins’ designs create built environments that are pliant, dynamic, modular, and mobile.

Wilkins’ Future Classics Dress designs are modifiable by and adaptable to an unspecified range of bodies; they are conditional architectures. As demonstrated on their website, one garment can be worn in many ways, on many bodies. How users inhabit the clothes depends on them as much as on the designer. Choosing how to wear a Future Classics garment can be an involved process. While the Future Classics Dress collections don’t give individuals total autonomy, they allow bodies more freedom than we’ve seen before."



"The idealized relationship of bodies and designed grounds is a predictive geometric one. It is widely accepted that a surface directly perpendicular to the body provides the best environment for bodies to function. As a result, the surfaces of designed grounds are overwhelmingly flat, and non-flat floors are marked as problems to be fixed. Yet even a cursory glance at any playground and its many and differently uneven grounds—“terrains” is a better word—trouble this taken-for-granted logic.

Children tend to have a particularly acute relation to their physical environment. Their small and unpracticed bodies almost never fit the overwhelmingly hard, flat surfaces of mainstream environments. In this way, all young children can be understood as having non-standard bodies. Their “unfitness” is measured in relation to normatively designed built environments. The image of any young child climbing a set of stairs illustrates the kind of unfitness we mean. By contrast, the playground’s dense rubbery foam floors, its flexible pathways (e.g, chain-linked bridges), and its integration of Parent and Virilio’s Oblique Function of various slopes and elevations, are surfaces that children’s bodies navigate capably, oftentimes with a level of ease that escapes adults… [more]
spinoza  design  arakawa  madelinegins  body  bodies  normal  normalization  standardization  variation  architecture  fashion  politics  inclusion  tolerance  inclusivity  adaptability  léopoldlambert  minh-hatpham  henrydreyfuss  reikawakubo  juliewilkins  paulvirilio  claudeparent  theobliquefunction  futureclassicsdress  modification  stretch  give  glvo  uniformproject  audiencesofone  philosophy  standards  canon  canes  ability  abilities  disability  variability  ablerism  ethics  textiles  personaluniforms  fabrics  clothing  clothes  inlcusivity  disabilities 
july 2015 by robertogreco
All Technology is Assistive — Backchannel — Medium
"You might imagine that “disability studies” is just one more category of identity research that’s been created primarily for political advocacy, interesting only to those directly affected by issues of accessibility, accommodation, or special rights. But “disabled-ness” is another matter altogether. There are at least two big reasons why disability concerns are everyone’s concerns.

First, it’s a false divide to make a we/them: either able-minded, able-bodied, or disabled. After all, how cultures define, think about, and treat those who currently have marked disabilities is how all its future citizens may well be perceived if and when those who are able-bodied become less abled than they are now: by age, degeneration, or some sudden — or gradual — change in physical or mental capacities. All people, over the course of their lives, traffic between times of relative independence and dependence. So the questions cultures ask, the technologies they invent, and how those technologies broadcast a message about their users — weakness and strength, agency and passivity — are critical ones. And they’re not just questions for scientists and policy-makers; they’re aesthetic questions too.

Second, in many cultures — and certainly in the US — a pervasive, near-obsession with averages and statistical norms about bodies and capacities has become a naturalized form of describing both individuals and populations. But this way of measuring people and populations is historically very recent, and worth reconsidering."



"Well — it’s worth saying again: All technology is assistive technology. Honestly — what technology are you using that’s not assistive? Your smartphone? Your eyeglasses? Headphones? And those three examples alone are assisting you in multiple registers: They’re enabling or augmenting a sensory experience, say, or providing navigational information. But they’re also allowing you to decide whether to be available for approach in public, or not; to check out or in on a conversation or meeting in a bunch of subtle ways; to identify, by your choice of brand or look, with one culture group and not another.

Making a persistent, overt distinction about “assistive tech” embodies the second-tier do-gooderism and banality that still dominate design work targeted toward “special needs.” “Assistive technology” implies a separate species of tools designed exclusively for those people with a rather narrow set of diagnostic “impairments” — impairments, in other words, that have been culturally designated as needing special attention, as being particularly, grossly abnormal. But are you sure your phone isn’t a crutch, as it were, for a whole lot of unexamined needs?"



"In the name of good friction, then, I want to suggest some possible dispositions for designers and artists taking a look at ability and disability.

1. Invisibility is overrated.



2. Rethink the default bodily experience.



3. Consider fine gradations of qualitative change.



4. Uncouple medical technologies from their diagnostic contexts.



5. Design for one.



6. And this is perhaps the most important: Let the tools you make ask questions, not just solve problems."

[Previous versions/references here:
https://pinboard.in/u:robertogreco/b:7cf533b38f8e
https://pinboard.in/u:robertogreco/b:cf3e53f397e3 (now gone) ]

[See also this exchange: https://twitter.com/quinnnorton/status/523744699983478784 ]
sarahendren  2014  technology  assistivetechnology  disability  ablerism  activism  design  audiencesofone  tolls  askingquestions  canon  experience  bodies  humans  norms  standards  standardization  individualization  personalization  bellcurve  normalcy  normalness  lennarddavis  ideal  dependence  independence  questionasking  disabilities  body 
october 2014 by robertogreco
studio : lab : workshop | Abler.
"I’ve been saying for some years now that my wish is to be as close to science-making as possible: that is, not merely teaching complementary art and design practices for young scientists in training, but to be in the formative stages of research and development much further upstream in the process. Asking collaboratively: What research questions are worthy questions? What populations and individuals hold stakes in these questions? Are there important queries that are forgotten? Could parallel questions be pursued in tandem—some quantitative, others qualitative? And how do we engage multiple publics in high-stakes research?"

To put it another way: What happens when extra-disciplinary inquiry lives alongside traditional forms of research—especially when those traditional forms occupy the disciplinarily privileged status of the STEM fields? Inviting both generalist and specialist approaches starts to hint at what a “both-and” disposition could look like. As here in David Gray’s formulation of specialists and generalists:

[image]

Breadth, he says, is the characteristic of the generalist, and depth the characteristic of the specialist. A thriving academic research program surely needs both: but not just in the forms of symposia, scholarly ethics, or data visualization to (once more) “complement” or even complicate the science. It’s the last note of Gray’s that I’m particularly paying attention to, because it’s what good critical design and hybrid arts practices often do best: They act as boundary objects.

Gray says those objects can be “documents, models, maps, vocabulary, or even physical environments” that mark these intersections of broad and deep ideas. Well, I’d say: especially physical environments and phenomena. At the scale of products or screens or architectural spaces, these objects can act as powerful mediators and conduits for ideas. They can become modes of discourse, opportunities for public debate, sites of disciplinary flows.

It’s these kinds of objects that I’d like to be a feature of the studio/lab/workshop I’ll bring to Olin: An ongoing pursuit of ideas-in-things that live at all the various points along a continuum between practical use, on the one hand, and symbolic or expressive power on the other. Two poles in the manner still most accessibly captured by Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby—both of which I’d like to be present.

And what does this mean for the habits of mind we cultivate? I return often to the ideas of Jack Miles in this essay—also about generalists and specialists, with a key useful heuristic: that specialists tend to embody the disposition of farmers, while generalists tend to embody the virtues of hunters. Both are necessary, and both need each other. The careful tending to a field whose needs are more or less known, protected, and nurtured further, on the one hand. And the more landscape-crossing, round-the-next-bend pursuit of the not yet known and its promised nourishment, on the other.

I want students to try out and value both operative modes, no matter where their own career paths take them. Knowing that others are also asking valuable questions in different disciplinary ways ideally breeds humility: a sense that what one has to offer could be enriched when conjoined in conversation with others whose expertise may not be immediately legible from within a silo.

And not just humility: I want students in engineering to know that their practices can be both private and public, that their status as citizens can be catalyzed through making things. Things that may be practical, performative, or both.

In practical terms, we’ll be looking at labs like Tom Bieling’s Design Abilities group in Berlin, Ryerson’s EDGE Lab, the Age and Ability Lab at RCA, and the newly-formed Ability Lab at NYU Poly. But we’ll also be looking methodologically at Kate Hartman’s Social Body Lab at OCAD, at the CREATE group at Carnegie Mellon, and of course Natalie Jeremijenko’s Environmental Health Clinic.

Possible paths to pursue: A “design for one” stream of prosthetic devices made for one user’s self-identified wish or need. An ongoing partnership with any of a number of schools or clinics in the Boston area where provisional and low-tech assistive devices could make education more responsive to children’s up-to-the-minute developmental needs. Short-term residencies and workshops with critical engineers and artists working with technology and public life. Public, investigative performances and installations that address issues of ability, dependence, and the body in the built environment.

These things will take time! I can’t wait to begin."
sarahendren  2014  olincollege  design  specialization  specialists  generalists  interdisciplinary  transdisciplinary  engineering  stem  davidgray  research  academia  extra-disciplinary  ability  dependence  audiencesofone  jackmiles  anthonydunne  fionaraby  dunne&raby  ablerism  events  nataliejeremijenko  tombieling  kateharman  prosthetics  abilities  disability  designcriticism  criticaldesign  speculativedesign  humility  crossdisciplinary  crosspollination  accessibility  assistivetechnology  discourse  conversation  openstudioproject  lcproject  howwelearn  howweteach  disabilities 
june 2014 by robertogreco
Creative Growth Art Center
"Creative Growth Art Center serves adult artists with developmental, mental and physical disabilities, providing a professional studio environment for artistic development, gallery exhibition and representation and a social atmosphere among peers."
art  autism  oakland  disability  ablerism  disabilities 
june 2014 by robertogreco
Reaching My Autistic Son Through Disney - NYTimes.com
[Don't read this here, go read the entire article.]
[Update (20 Sept 2014): Now Radio Lab has done a story. http://www.radiolab.org/story/juicervose/ ]

"Owen’s chosen affinity clearly opened a window to myth, fable and legend that Disney lifted and retooled, just as the Grimm Brothers did, from a vast repository of folklore. Countless cultures have told versions of “Beauty and the Beast,” which dates back 2,000 years to the Latin “Cupid and Psyche” and certainly beyond that. These are stories human beings have always told themselves to make their way in the world.

But what draws kids like Owen to these movies is something even more elemental. Walt Disney told his early animators that the characters and the scenes should be so vivid and clear that they could be understood with the sound turned off. Inadvertently, this creates a dream portal for those who struggle with auditory processing, especially, in recent decades, when the films can be rewound and replayed many times.

The latest research that Cornelia and I came across seems to show that a feature of autism is a lack of traditional habituation, or the way we become used to things. Typically, people sort various inputs, keep or discard them and then store those they keep. Our brains thus become accustomed to the familiar. After the third viewing of a good movie, or a 10th viewing of a real favorite, you’ve had your fill. Many autistic people, though, can watch that favorite a hundred times and seemingly feel the same sensations as the first time. While they are soothed by the repetition, they may also be looking for new details and patterns in each viewing, so-called hypersystemizing, a theory that asserts that the repetitive urge underlies special abilities for some of those on the spectrum.

Disney provided raw material, publicly available and ubiquitous, that Owen, with our help, built into a language and a tool kit. I’m sure, with enough creativity and energy, this can be done with any number of interests and disciplines. For some kids, their affinity is for train schedules; for others, it’s maps. While our household may not be typical, with a pair of writerly parents and a fixation on stories — all of which may have accentuated and amplified Owen’s native inclinations — we have no doubt that he shares a basic neurological architecture with people on the autism spectrum everywhere.

The challenge is how to make our example useful to other families and other kids, whatever their burning interest. That’s what Team Owen seems to be talking about. How does this work? Is there a methodology? Can it be translated from anecdote to analysis and be helpful to others in need?"



"The room gets quiet. It’s clear that many of these students have rarely, if ever, had their passion for Disney treated as something serious and meaningful.

One young woman talks about how her gentle nature, something that leaves her vulnerable, is a great strength in how she handles rescue dogs. Another mentions “my brain, because it can take me on adventures of imagination.”

A young man, speaking in a very routinized way with speech patterns that closely match the “Rain Man” characterization of autism, asks me the date of my birth. I tell him, and his eyes flicker. “That was a Friday.”

When I ask the group which Disney character they most identify with, the same student, now enlivened, says Pinocchio and eventually explains, “I feel like a wooden boy, and I’ve always dreamed of feeling what real boys feel.” The dorm counselor, who told me ahead of time that this student has disciplinary issues and an unreachable emotional core, then compliments him — “That was beautiful,” she says — and looks at me with astonishment. I shrug. He’d already bonded in a soul-searching way with his character. I just asked him which one.

It goes on this way for an hour. Like a broken dam. The students, many of whom have very modest expressive speech, summon subtle and deeply moving truths.

There’s a reason — a good-enough reason — that each autistic person has embraced a particular interest. Find that reason, and you will find them, hiding in there, and maybe get a glimpse of their underlying capacities. In our experience, we found that showing authentic interest will help them feel dignity and impel them to show you more, complete with maps and navigational tools that may help to guide their development, their growth. Revealed capability, in turn, may lead to a better understanding of what’s possible in the lives of many people who are challenged."



"For nearly a decade, Owen has been coming to see Griffin in this basement office, trying to decipher the subtle patterns of how people grow close to one another. That desire to connect has always been there as, the latest research indicates, it may be in all autistic people; their neurological barriers don’t kill the desire, even if it’s deeply submerged. And this is the way he still is — autism isn’t a spell that has been broken; it’s a way of being. That means the world will continue to be inhospitable to him, walking about, as he does, uncertain, missing cues, his heart exposed. But he has desperately wanted to connect, to feel his life, fully, and — using his movies and the improvised tool kit we helped him build — he’s finding his footing. For so many years, it was about us finding him, a search joined by Griffin and others. Now it was about him finding himself.

“Owen, my good friend,” Griffin says, his eyes glistening, “it’s fair to say, you’re on your way.”

Owen stands up, that little curly-haired boy now a man, almost Griffin’s height, and smiles, a knowing smile of self-awareness.

“Thank you, Rafiki,” Owen says to Griffin. “For everything.”

“Is friendship forever?” Owen asks me.

“Yes, Owen, it often is.”

“But not always.”

“No, not always.”

It’s later that night, and we’re driving down Connecticut Avenue after seeing the latest from Disney (and Pixar), “Brave.” I think I understand now, from a deeper place, how Owen, and some of his Disney Club friends, use the movies and why it feels so improbable. Most of us grow from a different direction, starting as utterly experiential, sorting through the blooming and buzzing confusion to learn this feels good, that not so much, this works, that doesn’t, as we gradually form a set of rules that we live by, with moral judgments at the peak.

Owen, with his reliance from an early age on myth and fable, each carrying the clarity of black and white, good and evil, inverts this pyramid. He starts with the moral — beauty lies within, be true to yourself, love conquers all — and tests them in a world colored by shades of gray. It’s the sidekicks who help him navigate that eternal debate, as they often do for the heroes in their movies.

“I know love lasts forever!” Owen says after a few minutes.

We’re approaching Chevy Chase Circle, five minutes from where we live. I know I need to touch, gently, upon the notion that making friends or finding love entails risk. There’s no guarantee of forever. There may be heartbreak. But we do it anyway. I drop this bitter morsel into the mix, folding around it an affirmation that he took a risk when he went to an unfamiliar place on Cape Cod, far from his friends and home, and found love. The lesson, I begin, is “to never be afraid to reach out.”

He cuts me off. “I know, I know,” he says, and then summons a voice for support. It’s Laverne, the gargoyle from “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”

“Quasi,” he says. “Take it from an old spectator. Life’s not a spectator sport. If watchin’s all you’re gonna do, then you’re gonna watch your life go by without you.”

He giggles under his breath, then does a little shoulder roll, something he does when a jolt of emotion runs through him. “You know, they’re not like the other sidekicks.”

He has jumped ahead of me again. I scramble. “No? How?”

“All the other sidekicks live within their movies as characters, walk around, do things. The gargoyles only live when Quasimodo is alone with them.”

“And why’s that?”

“Because he breathes life into them. They only live in his imagination.”

Everything goes still. “What’s that mean, buddy?”

He purses his lips and smiles, chin out, as if he got caught in a game of chess. But maybe he wanted to. “It means the answers are inside of him,” he says.

“Then why did he need the gargoyles?”

“He needed to breathe life into them so he could talk to himself. It’s the only way he could find out who he was.”

“You know anyone else like that?”

“Me.” He laughs a sweet, little laugh, soft and deep. And then there’s a long pause.

“But it can get so lonely, talking to yourself,” my son Owen finally says. “You have to live in the world.”"
autism  learning  parenting  comics  disney  health  movies  communication  fables  myths  legends  morals  ablerism  capabilities  abilities  differentlyabled  capacities  howwelearn  howweteach  neurotypical  psychology  dignity  interestedness  connection  love  howwelove  friednship  teaching  listening  folklore  via:timmaly  ronsuskind  interested 
march 2014 by robertogreco
BlindSide: A Game for Players Who Can't See : The New Yorker
[Sara followed up on this one: http://ablersite.org/2013/12/09/a-video-game-with-nothing-to-see/ ]

"Built to entertain blind players as well as those who can see, the audio-only game’s accommodation of disabled gamers is a pleasant anomaly in the gaming industry, even though the number of gamers with disabilities is significant. The latest Americans with Disabilities report, which draws on 2010 census data, estimates that nearly fifty-seven million Americans, or roughly nineteen per cent of the population, have a disability, with over thirty-eight million suffering from what the report considers to be a “severe disability” of a physical, mental, or communicative nature. While nearly twenty million Americans “had difficulty with physical tasks relating to upper body function,” more than eight million over the age of fifteen have difficulty seeing and seven and a half million reported difficulty hearing. There is certainly overlap with the fifty-eight per cent of Americans who, according to the Electronic Software Association, play video games; the Able Gamers Foundation, a charity organization for disabled gamers, estimates that there are thirty-three million gamers with some kind of disability.

In the nineteen-eighties, gamers like John Dutton, a quadriplegic who learned to use the Atari 2600 joystick with his mouth and chin, drew attention to the need for hardware that disabled gamers could use. In 1988, Nintendo released the NES Hands Free, a video-game controller designed explicitly for disabled gamers, which was worn like a vest. It had a chin stick for movement and a tube that players breathed in and out of to control the “A” and “B” buttons. In the nineties, attention shifted to making in-game control schemes more accessible, leading to releases like Shades of Doom, a first-person shooter for visually impaired gamers. More recently, the Call of Duty franchise, inspired by the quadriplegic professional gamer Randy Fitzgerald, introduced a special button layout for disabled gamers which makes it easier to aim, while the Able Gamers Foundation has published a guide that shows developers how to design more accessible products."



"“There are gamers out there who are anxious for more accessible content, and very little, if any, of it is coming from established publishers,” Astolfi said. “People with disabilities are a group that has, in general, not been targeted by major video-game releases. But as the indie game movement continues to grow, I think we’ll see more games designed specifically for this audience.”

Yet a large part of BlindSide’s success seems tied to the fact that it doesn’t feel like a game that’s been designed for disabled players. A game with no visual stimulus can be just as engrossing for players who can see as for those who cannot, it seems. “Our favorite feedback on the game was actually a negative comment,” Astolfi said. “It was a three-star review from a sighted player who said he found the game too scary.”"
blind  blindness  papasangre  games  gaming  videogames  blindside  2013  accessibility  play  disability  disabilities  sensors  audio  johndutton  randyfitzgerald  kinecy  ios  aaronrasmussen  michaelastolfi  thenightjar  sarahendren  ablerism 
december 2013 by robertogreco
All Technology Is Assistive Technology — Medium
[Another "read the whole thing" post from Sara]

"1. Question invisibility as the assumed goal. …

2. Rethink the default bodily experience. …

3. Consider fine gradations of qualitative change. …

4. Uncouple medical technologies from their diagnostic contexts. …

5. Design for one. …

6. And this is perhaps the most important: Let the tools you make ask questions, not just solve problems."

[Dead link, try here: https://medium.com/backchannel/all-technology-is-assistive-ac9f7183c8cd ]
sarahendren  technology  ability  disability  design  assistivetechnology  canon  ablerism  askingquestions  bodies  humanbody  disabilities  questionasking  body 
september 2013 by robertogreco
All Technology Is Assistive Technology — Thoughtful Design — Medium
"First, it’s a false divide to make a we/them: either able-minded, able-bodied, or disabled. After all, how cultures define, think about, and treat those who currently have marked disabilities is how all its future citizens may well be perceived if and when those who are able-bodied become less abled than they are now: by age, degeneration, or some sudden—or gradual—change in physical or mental capacities. All people, over the course of their lives, traffic between times of relative independence and dependence. So the questions cultures ask, the technologies they invent, and how those technologies broadcast a message about their users—weakness and strength, agency and passivity—are important ones. And they’re not just questions for scientists and policy-makers; they’re aesthetic questions too.

Second, in many cultures—and certainly in the US—a pervasive, near-obsession with averages and statistical norms about bodies and capacities has become a naturalized form of describing both individuals and populations. But this way of measuring people and populations is historically very recent, and worth reconsidering."



"So how might designers and artists engage these myths about what’s normal, and make more visible, critical, and expansive technologies that keep these questions alive? …

Undoing the distinctions between design for disability and design in general yields a couple of goods: It brings new attention to technologies that are profound in their use and impact on physical and political accessibility. The advanced replacement limbs, all-terrain wheelchairs, and exoskeletons you can find now are evidence of this new attention.

It also brings a productive uncertainty and a powerful friction to the task of designing technologies of all kinds. Whether you’re designing for an established need or seeking an application for a technical novelty, you might take more time before confidently assigning it to a user, or to over-determining its modes of deployment—it might be for practical ends, or for play, or for something else you’ve not yet imagined.

Instead of labeling some technologies and not others as assistive, let’s start like this: We’re all getting all kinds of help from the things we make. All kinds of help, all the time, for our many material and social and educational and political needs. Private needs and public ones. No one is exempt. Then the questions get really interesting: What can a body do? What needs are you interested in? Who might use which thing for what? Where might the surprises be? How might a familiar thing morph into something else altogether?



In the name of good friction, then, I want to suggest some possible dispositions for designers and artists taking a look at ability and disability.

1. Question invisibility as the assumed goal. …

In other words, one strand of design might be devoted to making hearing aids as discreet as possible—to hide its function from view. But another round of questions becomes more interesting altogether: What might a hearing aid also do—or do instead—that’s never even been considered? …

2. Rethink the default bodily experience. …

Instead of approximating a hand movement with joystick directionality, this system exploits a built-in sensitivity goldmine, protected from outside elements. Sometimes heightened functionality is about reconsidering typical adaptations entirely, inverting the expected sensory mechanism.

3. Consider fine gradations of qualitative change. …

So many medical technologies for treatment are just that: medicalized. They operate with the assumption that a change in ability is primarily a biological condition, without thought for the broader ways the built environment can expand and shift to welcome multiple kinds of bodies and experiences.

4. Uncouple medical technologies from their diagnostic contexts. …

What happens when a tool used for therapeutic reasons also points outward from a diagnostic mode toward something more ambiguous, entering the realm of the poetic? Why shouldn’t a critical object like this one possess more affect, be more responsive? When an object’s uses and users get less clearly marked, new stories about that object and its users can suddenly emerge.

5. Design for one. …

6. And this is perhaps the most important: Let the tools you make ask questions, not just solve problems. …

Yes—of course—some users want discreet tools! But others roundly reject the notion that all bodies should conform to some standardized or performative ideal.This kind of variability and disagreement should also be a generative friction for the designer. Designed artifacts that reveal psycho-social or cultural dynamics not typically housed in an ability/disability framework can destabilize easy notions of dependence and autonomy, passivity and agency."

[Dead link, try here: https://medium.com/backchannel/all-technology-is-assistive-ac9f7183c8cd ]
sarahendren  2013  assitivetechnology  technology  canon  design  disability  ability  ablerism  disabilities 
september 2013 by robertogreco

Copy this bookmark:





to read