A Future of Desired Disability?

I feel as if our current cultural climate is one of awareness. Those who were deemed ‘other’ are speaking out and asking for the rights that they feel as if they’ve been denied –and are obviously entitled to – and the public is finally starting to listen. While there are truly a bevy of communities looking for equal rights and representation, lets look specifically at those who are handicapped. Early on in 2016, there was a successful movement to change the handicapped sign from one that focuses more on ability than disability. The past sign seemed to convey inactivity and therefore invisibility. This coincides with what Pullman discusses, that, “the priority for design for disability has traditionally been to enable while attracting as little attention as possible.” The intention in disability design seems to have been to make something as unobtrusive and discretionary as possible so that those with disabilities don’t feel as if they’re singled out and stigmatized. The intentions there are obviously good but that in and of itself rings of the age-old aphorism: the road to hell is paved with good intention. The danger that Pullman posits about a signal being sent out that to be disabled is something to be ashamed of is spot on and therefore it’s time to change it.

In the beginning of the reading, the author talks about how Ray Eames started to make sculptures out of spare leg splints that were not being used for the betterment of soldiers. This along with several other factors – notably the work of Charles Eames – contributed to the birth and success of plywood furniture in the 1940’s and 50’s. While the visual languages made by Eames wasn’t the driving force behind the plywood boom, it was certainly a factor. This got me thinking about art and how it can introduce concepts into the world. Eames turning of disability tech into an art form opened awareness to a disability and it got me thinking about how disability is portrayed in today’s media.

Aimee Mullins is an award-winning athlete who happens to have prosthetic legs. She’s one of many poster children for disability tech not being discrete yet the artificiality of Mullin’s prosthetics is controversial still. The author posits that this could be gender related and I certainly won’t deny that that could play a big part of it but what I want to take a look at is how and where we’ve seen these before in media.

The following clip is from the movie The Kingsman. It was a hit in the box office and is still talked about in a cult-classic sort of way. This particular clips shows a fight between the protagonist and Gazelle, a women who has the some prosthetics that Aimee Mullins has.

Obviously this film isn’t lauded for it’s subtly. It features people doing incredible feats of strength and is meant to cause wonderment. Gazelle possesses just as much superhuman ability as our protagonist yet she runs into the same issue that Aimee does with her insurance company in customizable prosthetics. On the one hand Gazelle is being viewed as able-bodied. Her disability doesn’t seem to be too much of a disability in this scene. On the other hand, her disability is featured but she sort of seems to rise above it in a way. I mean think about her name itself: “Gazelle”. It seems to suggest that she’s almost superhuman. Gazelle isn’t looked down upon, especially if you’re a fan boy, in fact she’s fawned over. She’s sleek, she’s sexy and she can kick your ass.

So an interesting dilemma is brought up here: should disability design make those with disabilities more “able-bodied seeming” and “normal” or should it elevate the disabled community above that, to a place where they unique. Are we moving to a realm in which because of the advances of technology it’s…cool to have disability tech? The same thing happened with eyewear. It became sleek and fashionable. No one saw Forrest Gump and thought I wish I had those braces but people who have seen Minority Report or any other science fiction film for that matter can’t help but think, “Wouldn’t it be cool if I could see through walls with my eyes”?

That’s sort of what I’m curious about after this reading. What is the next step for disability design and what is the relationship between disability design and the lighting fast growth of technology. Will I want to replace by failing limbs in my old age with prosthetics. Will “disability” be chic or redefined?

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