One in four adults, or 61 million people, are disabled in the United States, yet the myth of the able body persists. The fact is, all bodies have different needs and abilities over their lifetimes. As these books show, creating an imaginative and accessible world helps everyone.
In Sitting Pretty: The View From My Ordinary Resilient Disabled Body, Rebekah Taussig shares her experiences of disability in eight provoking and lyrical essays. As a child, Taussig moved her body with joy and confidence. But as she grew older, her environment told her a different story about her body. She noticed how many spaces weren’t made for her needs, saw the pitying looks strangers gave her and heard ableist narratives from the media, in which disabled bodies like hers were either weak or objects for other people’s inspiration. Gradually, she stopped feeling comfortable in her body. In her book, Taussig discusses everything from how the disabled body is left out of feminist conversations, to uncomfortable experiences with kindness, to love, sex and marriage as a disabled person. This collection is essential reading, and its intimate writing style will help readers see disabled folks as the human beings they have always been.
In “More Than a Defect,” Taussig describes teaching her high school students two models of disability: the medical model and the social model. The medical model is the most common way of viewing disability; it views the disabled body as an object to be fixed. In the social model, the environment that surrounds a disabled body is the object that needs to be fixed. When we use the social model, we begin to see how our culture stereotypes disabled bodies and creates inaccessible environments.
What Can a Body Do? How We Meet the Built World by Sara Hendren focuses on these created environments through seven essays that look at specific objects of design. In the chapter titled “Chair,” she tells the story of a cardboard chair created by the Adaptive Design Association and how it benefits Niko, a toddler with a rare genetic condition called STXBP1. The chair is sustainable, affordable and adaptable to individual needs.
Through stories like Niko’s, Hendren shows that the purpose of accessible design should not be to fix a body, but rather to meet the body where it is. Reshaping and expanding the built world can accommodate many ways of being human. For example, sidewalk curb cuts were created for wheelchair access, but parents with strollers and travelers with rolling suitcases also benefit from their implementation. By applying “what if” questions to practical design, we can build spaces that accommodate every body. What Can a Body Do? is a fascinating look at the ingenuity behind these accessible designs.