Research Programs: Public Scholars

Period of Performance

9/1/2017 - 8/31/2018

Funding Totals

$37,800.00 (approved)
$31,500.00 (awarded)

A Scissor, A Shoe, The Sidewalk’s Slant: Disability and the Unlikely Origins of Everyday Things

FAIN: FZ-256534-17

Sara A. Hendren
Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering (Needham, MA 02492-1200)

Research and writing leading to publication of a book on the concept of disability, based on the stories behind everyday objects designed to accommodate disabled people.

This book, under contract with Riverhead in 2019, is about the unexpected places where disability is at the heart of design, borne out in everyday objects and environments. From daily kitchen tools, to the invention of the telephone, to the shape of city sidewalks and architecture, the built world is packed with unknown origin stories that are shaped by the experience of disability, an experience that tends to be understood exclusively as a medical condition and rarely seen as the resource that it is: a generative, fascinating lens to begin thinking and re-thinking about the world around us. The book’s distinctive argument is that the experience of disability has historically been a site of invention and creativity, and that its politics simultaneously carry enormous implications for human rights. Nowhere is this creativity and urgency more convivial, resonant, and provocative than in the designed material world.

Associated Products

What Can A Body Do? How We Meet the Built World (Book)
Title: What Can A Body Do? How We Meet the Built World
Author: Sara Hendren
Editor: Rebecca Saletan
Abstract: A fascinating and provocative new way of looking at the things we use and the spaces we inhabit, and an invitation to imagine a better-designed world for us all. The built world—furniture and tools, living rooms and city streets—is constructed on a set of hidden assumptions. The design of a chair, the shape of a doorknob, the steps to a house: nearly everything human beings make and use is assistive technology, meant to bridge the gap between body and world. Yet unless, or until, the misfit between our body and the world is acute enough to be considered “disability,” we may never stop to consider—or reconsider—the ideas on which the everyday world is based. In a series of fascinating stories and provocative explorations that draw on her own practice and cutting-edge disability theory, Sara Hendren translates this secret language of design and invites us to reboot it. What might a technology based on adaptation rather than “normalcy” look like? Can architecture foster interdependence as well as independence? How might a city be engineered to help us all better navigate our common terrain? By rendering familiar objects and environments newly strange and wondrous, What Can a Body Do? helps us to imagine a world that better meets the extraordinary range of our needs and desires.
Year: 2020
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Type: Single author monograph