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What Can a Body Do?: How We Meet the Built World

by Sara Hendren

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1022270,285 (4.33)1
A fascinating and provocative new way of looking at the things we use and the spaces we inhabit, and a call to imagine a better-designed world for us all. Furniture and tools, kitchens and campuses and city streets--nearly everything human beings make and use is assistive technology, meant to bridge the gap between body and world. Yet unless, or until, a misfit between our own body and the world is acute enough to be understood as disability, we may never stop to consider--or reconsider--the hidden assumptions on which our everyday environment is built. In a series of vivid stories drawn from the lived experience of disability and the ideas and innovations that have emerged from it--from cyborg arms to customizable cardboard chairs to deaf architecture --Sara Hendren invites us to rethink the things and settings we live with. What might assistance based on the body's stunning capacity for adaptation--rather than a rigid insistence on "normalcy"--look like? Can we foster interdependent, not just independent, living? How do we creatively engineer public spaces that allow us all to navigate our common terrain? By rendering familiar objects and environments newly strange and wondrous, What Can a Body Do? helps us imagine a future that will better meet the extraordinary range of our collective needs and desires.… (more)
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I was a bit worried when the author mentioned being mom to a kid with Down's syndrome, that this might be from an outside perspective about what's good for disabled people; but this book is actually full of very human accounts of being disabled and navigating the world, and the author lets these disabled people tell the reader what's good for themselves.
I appreciated learning the history of the Independent Living Movement, and about Deafspace, and the complexities of a life that relies on machines for basic functions. I would've loved a book twice as long! But this book certainly packs a lot of information, perspective, and compassion at the length it is.
This book deserves a read by anyone interested in disability justice, disability history, or human diversity in general. ( )
  EmberMantles | Jan 1, 2024 |
Artist, design researcher, writer, teacher, and parent Hendren examines the title question as well as "who is the world designed for?" (and how can it be different?). By examining prosthetics, chairs, indoor spaces (such as Gaulludet University and an independent living setting for people with dementia), outdoor spaces (e.g. city sidewalks and streets), and time, she reveals many people's stories and examples of technology and tools that help us interact with the world, from an OXO Good Grips vegetable peeler to custom cardboard chairs.

See also: Disability Visibility; The Design of Everyday Things

Quotes/notes

Is a desirable future one that only restores what was lost? Or is a new set of possibilities asking to be imagined, or reimagined? (Author's Note)

Who is the world designed for? (10)

The idea of normalcy - a normal, average body or mind - is so ubiquitous and mundane that it's settled into sleep in much of our collective cultural imagination. (10)

Medical vs social models of disability (15)

Which choices are the ones that matter, and would we make the same choices if and when the misfit story becomes ours? (30)

Design for the Real World, Victor Papanek, 1971: "shroud design," a preoccupation with the way things look on the outside, at the expense of how they should function and how robustly and sustainably they're made. (77)

"the dark twins of styling and obsolescence" (Papanek, 78)

Universal design, Ronald Mace (83)

Other disabled students made the connection: Must we accept and bend to the norms of the institution? Or can we insist, together, that the institution also bend for us? (Rolling Quads at Berkeley, 116)

Dementia: confusion --> anxiety --> agitation --> pharmacology --> passivity (De Hogeweyk in Weesp, 154)

Is the clock of industrial time built for bodies at all?
The pace set in contemporary schools and workplaces presumes a form of able-bodied productivity, and ideal of speed and efficiency. (167)

...tools and technologies both follow, and lead, and follow again from the ideals that cultures value. (Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization, 1934, p. 174)

Economic productivity - a life performed in normative, regulated time - is still the unquestioned and overwhelmingly dominant metric for human worth. (180)

interrogative design (Krzysztof Wodiczko) - making things not only for solving problems, but to ask questions (202)

social imagination (Maxine Greene) is "thinking of things as if they could be otherwise." (203) ( )
  JennyArch | Jul 12, 2022 |
Showing 2 of 2
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A fascinating and provocative new way of looking at the things we use and the spaces we inhabit, and a call to imagine a better-designed world for us all. Furniture and tools, kitchens and campuses and city streets--nearly everything human beings make and use is assistive technology, meant to bridge the gap between body and world. Yet unless, or until, a misfit between our own body and the world is acute enough to be understood as disability, we may never stop to consider--or reconsider--the hidden assumptions on which our everyday environment is built. In a series of vivid stories drawn from the lived experience of disability and the ideas and innovations that have emerged from it--from cyborg arms to customizable cardboard chairs to deaf architecture --Sara Hendren invites us to rethink the things and settings we live with. What might assistance based on the body's stunning capacity for adaptation--rather than a rigid insistence on "normalcy"--look like? Can we foster interdependent, not just independent, living? How do we creatively engineer public spaces that allow us all to navigate our common terrain? By rendering familiar objects and environments newly strange and wondrous, What Can a Body Do? helps us imagine a future that will better meet the extraordinary range of our collective needs and desires.

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