By Royze Adolfo
This week, crowds filled the Berkman conference room to hear Prof. Rosemarie Garland-Thompson from Emory University share her expertise on critical disability theory and insights on accessible technologies that increase opportunities for inclusion for people with disabilities.
Many of the Berkterns who attended today’s luncheon claimed to be fascinated by Rosemarie’s ideas, the transformation of disability discourse over the centuries, and countless modern day examples because they required us to look at life, people, history, art, and the notion of possibility through a different lens.
Rosemarie began her talk by sharing the history of stigmatized disabilities discourse. She drew from classical artistic examples including Pieter Brueghel’s painting The Cripples and pop culture examples including: Glee’s inclusion of characters with disabilities; Lady Gaga’s incorporation of disability drag in her Paparazzi music video; and actual examples of authors, athletes, photographers, dancers, models, and celebrities with disabilities making great strides. But art and media aren’t the only areas where the disability landscape has been transformed.
Buildings and alternative spaces are constantly transforming, too. Many architects, today, are solution-oriented designers who provide equitable, flexible, simple, and intuitive technologies and structures that increase quality of living for all. During her talk, Rosemarie illustrated the increasing thoughtfulness of architects in developing elegant “human-centered” and “barrier-free” designs of buildings, drinking fountains, ramps, door knobs, wheelchairs, sanitation stations, and transportation systems. Furthermore, more engineers are exploring and developing more innovative solutions and functional technologies (e.g. wheelchairs, crutches, touch screens, prosthetics, etc.) to build a more inclusive world.
Today, various technologies from crutches to ramps to “hipster hearing-aides” [hyperlink to example] make it more possible for people with disabilities to be included in public spaces, to openly disclose their disabilities, and gives those without disabilities an opportunity to explore alternative forms of beauty as opposed to eliminating them. As we all pursue our own technology-related research Rosemarie’s talk injects some highly valuable insight on the importance of designing for all.