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Aimi Hamraie on Building Access: Universal Design and the Politics of Disability

Aimi Hamraie on Building Access: Universal Design and the Politics of Disability

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May 17, 2018

Aimi Hamraie wearing a blue shirt and brown sweater, next to their book Building Access: Universal Design and the Politics of Disability

Ideas on Fire and Cathy Hannabach are organizing this Author Meets Critics session at the 2018 Cultural Studies Association conference. Aimi Hamraie will be discussing their new book Building Access: Universal Design and the Politics of Disability. Come on by!

Aimi Hamraie

in conversation with Cathy Hannabach

an Author Meets Critics session

When: June 2, 2018. 1:30–3:00 pm ET

Where: Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA

Participants: Aimi Hamraie (featured author) and Cathy Hannabach (discussant and session chair)

Registration: Cultural Studies Association website

Listen to a recording of this event on episode 67 of the Imagine Otherwise podcast!

About Building Access: Universal Design and the Politics of Disability

“All too often,” wrote disabled architect Ronald Mace, “designers don’t take the needs of disabled and elderly people into account.” Building Access: Universal Design and the Politics of Disability investigates twentieth-century strategies for designing the world with disability in mind. Commonly understood in terms of curb cuts, automatic doors, Braille signs, and flexible kitchens, Universal Design purported to create a built environment for everyone, not only the average citizen. But who counts as “everyone,” Aimi Hamraie asks, and how can designers know? Blending technoscience studies and design history with critical disability, race, and feminist theories, Building Access interrogates the historical, cultural, and theoretical contexts for these questions, offering a groundbreaking critical history of Universal Design.

Hamraie reveals that the twentieth-century shift from “design for the average” to “design for all” took place through liberal political, economic, and scientific structures concerned with defining the disabled user and designing in its name. Tracing the co-evolution of accessible design for disabled veterans, a radical disability maker movement, disability rights law, and strategies for diversifying the architecture profession, Hamraie shows that Universal Design was not just an approach to creating new products or spaces, but also a sustained, understated activist movement challenging dominant understandings of disability in architecture, medicine, and society.

Illustrated with a wealth of rare archival materials, Building Access brings together scientific, social, and political histories in what is not only the pioneering critical account of Universal Design but also a deep engagement with the politics of knowing, making, and belonging in twentieth-century United States.

About Aimi Hamraie

Aimi Hamraie is an assistant professor of Medicine, Health, & Society and American Studies at Vanderbilt University, and director of the Mapping Access project and the Critical Design Lab. Their interdisciplinary feminist research spans critical disability theory, feminist and crip technoscience, new materialisms, and design.

Aimi is the author of Building Access: Universal Design and the Politics of Disability (University of Minnesota Press, 2017). Their articles on disability and design appear in Disability Studies Quarterly, Foucault Studies, Design and Culture, Hypatia, philoSOPHIA, and Age Culture Humanities, as well as Disability Space Architecture (Routledge, 2017) and The Politics of Place and Space (Cambridge University Press, 2012). Their research has been funded by the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Arts, the Social Science Research Council, the National Humanities Alliance, and the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation.

Aimi’s current project, grounded in the environmental humanities and permaculture ethics, examines the politics of health, disability, and more-than-human relations in the design of “livable cities.” Alongside this project, they also co-organize Office Ecologies, an art-science-design collaboration, and work to promote urban food forests as a permaculture designer in Nashville, Tennessee.

Check out our other events at CSA this year

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