Highlights from Making Access Critical: Disability, Race, and Gender in Environmental Design, by Aime Hamraie
The reliance of accessibility on rehabilitation models and data produced a regime of ignorance. Because the rehab model presented itself as scientific and data driven, disabled bodies came to appear legible only throughout measurement, such as in those graphic standards images that I showed, even then, only some disabled bodies. But ideological commitments to whiteness, compulsory rehabilitation, and hetero normativity were illegible. Then these epistemologies of ignorance were reproduced by resulting disability rights laws, as well as in some versions of the architecture professions’ attempts to diversify education and practices.
We can see this direct line of continuity here between rehabilitation, research, law, and education, as well as how the reduction of disabled bodies to measurements obscured, for example, the race and housing status and it didn’t in any way challenge the gender norms of the representation of the disabled user as a mother and homemaker. These ways of knowing in turn shaped the disabled worker and productive spatial citizen as a consumer for whom getting access requires productivity and buying power.
Reorienting universal design toward disability justice lets us imagine futures in which designers and activists do not invoke post-racialism and other narrow conceptions of the user to define who counts as all. But these futures also requires realigning universal design’s relationship to disability. If the stories we tell about bodies and users matter for questions of justice, then it is with more accountable, historical, knowing-making that we must begin. Thank you.