Publicity still for the Universal Kitchen (see link below)
Faye Ginsburg, NYU, has been working on issues related to disability and its public presence as a scholar (currently on a project funded by the Spencer Foundation with Rayna Rapp entitled Cultural Innovations and Learning Disabilities) and as a parent activist (Vice President of the Familial Dysautonomia Foundation). Both projects inevitably lead to questions about the built environment and accessibility, which fall under the rubric of Universal Design, an idea that goes back to the rehabilitative needs of WW II vets, although the term first came into use in the 1980s as “the design of products and environments to be usable to the greatest extent possible by people of all ages and abilities.” Later, barrier-free movement influenced legislation that removed physical barriers in the environment.
This is a helpful digital exhibit about its origins:
Here is the link to a video about Faye’s daughter, Samantha Myers who has become an active media presence advocating awareness about the Jewish genetic disease Familial Dysautonomia. The video was made by Faye’s niece and underscores the profound importance of kinship in the embrace or denial of disability (in this case the former).
More on Universal Design, from Wikipedia:
Universal design is a relatively new paradigm that emerged from “barrier-free” or “accessible design” and “assistive technology.” Barrier free design and assistive technology provide a level of accessibility for people with disabilities but they also often result in separate and stigmatizing solutions, for example, a ramp that leads to a different entry to a building than a main stairway. Universal design strives to be a broad-spectrum solution that helps everyone, not just people with disabilities. Moreover, it recognizes the importance of how things look. For example, while built up handles are a way to make utensils more usable for people with gripping limitations, some companies introduced larger, easy to grip and attractive handles as feature of mass produced utensils. They appeal to a wide range of consumers
As life expectancy rises and modern medicine has increased the survival rate of those with significant injuries, illnesses and birth defects, there is a growing interest in universal design. There are many industries in which universal design is having strong market penetration but there are many others in which it has not yet been adopted to any great extent.
Universal design is a part of everyday living and is all around us. The “undo” command in most software products is a good example. Color-contrast dish ware with steep sides that assist those with visual problems as well as those with dexterity problems are another. Additional examples include cabinets with pull-out shelves, kitchen counters at several heights to accommodate different tasks and postures and low-floor buses that kneel and are equipped with ramps rather than lifts.